Get to Know Your Shower Head

Whether you want to save water (and money) or make it rain, this guide will point you in the right direction.

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I just made a considerable life change: I swapped my dribbling shower head for a competent, detachable one, and my showering experience has transcended to a whole new level of paradise. It was cheap and easy, too: I spent less than $25 and screwed the new shower head on in less than a minute (then proceeded to accidentally blast myself in the face with water, but ignore that part).

Inspired by my purchase — and the years I spent taking miserable showers, because I never knew any better — I asked Roto-Rooter’s Paul Abrams to teach me everything he knows about all kinds of shower heads, so I can spread the good news onto you.

Low Flow Shower Heads
The concept behind low flow shower heads is all about saving water while still providing a decent showering experience. In most states, the maximum flow rate for shower heads is 2.5 gallons per minute — although California has lowered theirs to 1.8 gallons per minute to battle against droughts — but low flow shower heads use 2.0 gallons per minute or less. While saving the planet is always nice, of course, low flow shower heads can help you save on your water bill, too, albeit not a huge amount — a family of four could save an estimated $135 a year by switching over.

Abrams points me toward one brand of low flow shower heads in particular, which uses only 1.5 gallons per minute, and he claims it feels just like a normal shower head and provides a surprisingly authoritative spray. “I personally tested one in my shower,” Abrams tells me. “I liked it so much that I installed them in the other two showers in the house.”

While water savings are one thing to consider, low flow shower heads can help you save on your electric or gas bill, too. “These shower heads also put less strain on your water heater, translating to $143 in annual energy savings if you have an electric water heater and $91 in annual savings with a gas water heater, according to the manufacturer,” Abrams says. Make it rain! Speaking of which…

Rain Shower Heads (and Panels)
Rain shower heads are wider, more luxurious and just generally shoot out more water than their low flow counterparts, meaning they tend to be more toward the upper limits of legal flow rates for shower heads — and in some cases, even beyond that. “For about $30, you’ll get a shower head that will drench you fast,” Abrams says. “But it’ll also empty your water heater quickly if you remove the water restrictor.” The general idea here is simple — albeit not recommended, because saving water and not breaking the law is generally good — and involves removing the rubber washer put in place to limit the water pressure in your shower head. Thus, more pressure!

There are also some super opulent versions of these, but they require a lot more money and definitely some professional help to install. “Since these are considered luxury shower heads, our customers typically purchase them on their own, then call us to have them installed,” Abrams explains. “They’re typically piped out of the shower’s ceiling, instead of the side wall above the faucet, so it’s not really a DIY job and will require a plumber to install.” Of course, you can also get all kinds of fancy with these and install two or three in one shower, creating a truly wet and wild experience.

Detachable Shower Heads
This is what I just installed, and man, it reaches all the spots you wish you could blast with water using a normal shower head. Another plus, if you have a pet — or even a small child — is that these do a fantastic job of washing them without too much trouble, and most prominent brands should suffice. “As far as handheld shower heads go, we recommend sticking with the name brand companies that have been manufacturing them the longest,” Abrams says. Detachable shower heads come in low flow versions, too, so be on the lookout for those if you want the best of both worlds.

And that just about covers it. My recommendation? Get yourself a detachable shower head and wash your butt. Trust me.