Showering accounts for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use and, there’s a good reason for it: you want to be comfortable in your shower. Not surprisingly, some people get very particular about their showers. They want a shower head that can deliver the perfect shower experience every single day.
Unfortunately, fresh water is getting really expensive.
The Low Down on Low Flow
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 requires that shower head manufacturers reduce the flow rate of all shower heads to 2.5 gpm. Because the lower flow threatened to effect the quality of the shower, makers needed to find a better way to maintain the effects of higher flow rate yet stay below 2.5 gpm. To make it work, they looked at three things:
- pressure compensation
- spray pattern
- spray intensity—flow must be powerful enough to rinse soap and shampoo lather
The quick and easy fix for many manufacturers was to install a flow restrictor or flow controller in their shower heads. This can be a washer with small hole in it or a small cartridge that’s similar to an aerator. In some homes with water pressure problems, removing this washer is typically the first thing the homeowner tries to improve the water pressure in their shower. Not surprisingly, their water bills go up, too.
Low Flow Shower Heads Save Water & Money
WaterSense shower heads are specifically engineered to have flow rates that are no higher than 2 gpm. Not only does this reduce water usage by 2,900 gallons a year, it also can save the average family more than 370 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually by using less hot water. One common facet of WaterSense shower heads is that they are designed to mix air and water in an aerator to increase water pressure and produce a sensation of fullness.
Rain style shower heads (or rainheads) cover you with water more gently than a regular spray shower head but do it over a wider area. Because they rely on lower pressure, they make good low flow shower heads. Detachable water massagers need good pressure to deliver their pulsing water jets. Some use aerators, some do not, but both rely on better design to save money. Single-setting basic shower heads are usually the cheapest, and some come with a built-in shut off valve so you can stop the water flow while you soap up, helping you reduce your water usage even more.
Fortunately, installing a shower head yourself is about as easy as changing a light bulb — although you’ll need a few basic tools:
- Crescent wrench or pair of water pump pliers.
- Plumber’s teflon tape
Installing a New Shower Head
Remove the old head. Fit your crescent wrench or water pump pliers where they can grip the flat spot on the connecting nut on the back of the shower head and turn the head counter clockwise. A 6 inch long crescent wrench will probably loosen most shower heads, and a long-handle 8 inch will loosen the really stubborn ones.
Replace the old plumber’s tape. Plumber’s tape is used on the threaded joints to prevent water from leaking around the threads and spraying every where. Apply new tape by wrapping some around the pipe threads three or four times. Wrap it in the same direction in which your shower head will screw on (clockwise) so that the tape doesn’t unravel when you screw on the shower head. Be sure to pull the tape so that it stretches and clings to the pipe threads.
Thread up and twist on the new head. Turn it clockwise to tighten it. Once it’s finger-tight, you’ll want to tighten it about one-quarter turn with a wrench. If you have trouble tightening it after threading it up and need to use a wrench or pliers, put a thin rag over connecting nut to protect the metal from getting scratched by the tool. Be careful not to over-tighten the shower head. Some shower heads with plastic connecting nuts will crack and break. If you’re not sure if it’s tight enough, run the shower. If it leaks, give it another quarter turn and test again.
Shower head cleaning tip— Clean the lime scale from your shower head once a year by filling a plastic bag with vinegar and immersing the shower head into the vinegar. Use a twist tie to keep the bag in place and leave it there over night. Keeping the shower head free of mineral build up keeps the water flowing free.