Smart bathrooms

Smart application of technology improves bathroom function, cleanliness and sustainability

Alex Smith
8 October 2021

4 min read

Modern consumers want spa-like bathrooms, but beauty is not enough. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with increasing awareness of environmental degradation, they also want products that deliver improved sanitation and a reduced environmental footprint. To discover and deliver these breakthroughs, product-makers increasingly turn to technology.

The average person spends over two years of their life in their bathroom, making it one of the most important places in our homes. Updating a bathroom also represents one of the best investments a homeowner can make: Remodeling magazine reports that in 2021, homeowners can expect to recover more than 60% of what they invest in a bathroom remodel; in some markets, homeowners can even expect to return a profit.

347

The number of gallons waster per year by a single faucet dripping 10 times a minute

Today, however, homeowners are demanding more from their bathrooms than comfort and beauty. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, and with growing awareness of climate change and other environmental issues, they also want their bathrooms to be sanitary and sustainable.

“I believe COVID-19 turned everyone into a germaphobe,” said Shea Pumarejo, owner and principal interior designer of Texas-based Younique Designs, and a member of the United States’ National Kitchen & Bath Association. “Anything we can do to limit our exposure to germs by touching surfaces will decrease our likelihood of getting sick.“ Solutions include touchless technology, which exists in faucets, self-flushing toilets, soap dispensers and hand dryers. Another innovation that is taking off is the use of anti-microbial technology such as Microban, which is baked right into tiles and countertops. These approaches have been used in hospitals for years, but since COVID-19, are becoming more popular in the residential market.”

On the sustainability front, conserving water, energy and even toilet paper can significantly lower a home’s environmental footprint. For example, a single faucet dripping 10 times a minute wastes almost a gallon of water a day, or 347 gallons a year, the US Geological Survey estimates. However, presence-detecting technology installed in a faucet can alert users to an incomplete shutoff, avoiding such waste.

“Technology can make a big contribution if it is used for the right reasons, rather than simply to add gadget features,” said Hugo Volpei, founder and CEO of French toilet designer and manufacturer Trone. Volpei points to the water jet featured on many toilets in Japan, which can reduce the need for toilet paper. Atomizing nozzles on a shower head, meanwhile, can control how the stream of water breaks up and disperses, reducing waste.

Efficient designs through simulation

Technology plays a significant role in such innovations, from the design stage to the user experience. For example, digital technology used in the bathroom can control the thermostat to save energy, manage the volume of water coming from taps or project entertainment and information onto mirrors.

Simulation software plays a significant role in creating more efficient designs in bathroom fixtures. From ceramic structural resistance, toilet flow simulation, electromagnetic compatibility between devices to a full virtual compliance of standards, simulation tools give the manufacturer the ability to optimize and improve the design sooner in the product development process which accelerates the time to market and reduces cost. For example, using a virtual model to simulate the flush of a toilet or the flow of water from a shower nozzle helps manufacturers identify which parts of the design are creating inefficiencies and improve upon them.

Image courtesy of Trone

“The idea is not to create objects connected to gadget functionalities, but to tackle the problems we face every day.”

Hugo Volpei, founder and CEO, Trone

Virtual models also allow manufacturers to be more sustainable. For example, they can help anticipate the shrinkage that occurs when a ceramic bathroom fixture like a toilet or a sink is fired. This process usually requires two or three rounds of physical molds. By creating and testing the model in the virtual world, not only is the overall cost of the design process reduced but fewer materials are wasted by eliminating unnecessary physical prototypes.

Finding sanctuary

While consumers want technology-enabled conveniences in their bathrooms, however, they want it to remain unobtrusive.

“This moment of our day is quite special, as it provides a brief escape from constantly connected technology,” Volpei said. “However, we believe that technology can improve our comfort, while respecting this moment of disconnection. For example, we are looking to integrate a patented technology into toilets that purifies the air and eliminates even the slightest odor by releasing ozone. The idea is not to create objects connected to gadget functionalities, but to tackle the problems we face every day.”

Pumarejo also believes technology can enhance the bathroom experience without intruding on the respite many people seek in the space.

“I believe a bathroom should be a sanctuary,” she said. “I love using ambient lighting in a bathroom to create a spa-like experience. I love designing a shower system that creates an experience for the user, whether it be with the use of body sprayers, a rain shower head, or even an aromatherapy system.”

Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet (image courtesy of Kohler)

For those who like a little techno-glitz, however, the Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet from Kohler, for example, offers a heated seat, Bluetooth speakers, ambient colored lights and Amazon Alexa integration, providing the ability to ask the toilet about the weather as you start your day. The Toto Flotation Tub, meanwhile, simulates a weightless, zero-gravity experience while you’re in the bath, and comes complete with massage jets, LED mood lights and a capacitive keyboard. And there is more coming: the global smart bathroom market reached a value of US$ 4.46 in 2020 and is expected to have strong growth in the next five years.

Options abound

The industry trend, then, is all about options: smart bathroom technology can simultaneously help homeowners feel good about environmentally sound choices while enhancing sanitation and improving relaxation. Whether looking for a simple moment of disconnect or a gadget-filled, futuristic experience, people have more options than ever when it comes to designing their dream bathroom.

“We all appreciate amazing lighting and shower systems at upscale hotels,” Pumarejo said. “Why shouldn’t we have that same experience at home every day?”


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