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Showerheads

Showerhead buying guide

Last updated: July 2012

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Tired of a shower that produces a weak sprinkle instead of an invigorating stream? Get a new showerhead. The best models we tested provide a strong flow and steady temperature, and some have adjustable settings for spray patterns ranging from a gentle mist to a forceful massage.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that showers account for more than 1.2 trillion gallons each year--about one-sixth of all the water used in U.S. residences for bathing. Before 1994, showerheads typically had a flow rate of 5 1/2 gallons per minute. Since then, the EPA has limited showerheads to 2 1/2 gpm to conserve not only water, but fuel for the water heater. Models carrying a "water saving" designation have even lower flow rates.

The good news is that the best showerheads we tested provided a pleasing flow while meeting the federal flow-rate standard. But the EPA is proposing voluntary WaterSense standards calling for even lower flow rates. The challenge for manufacturers will be to meet that new standard without affecting the feel of the shower, since an anemic flow can result in longer showers and even greater water use.

Water-efficient models can satisfy

Our male and female test panelists evaluated the force of each model's stream, the various settings, ease of adjustment, and other factors. Supplementing those subjective judgments are lab measurements of changes in flow rate and water temperature at various settings.

Not surprisingly, how well our panelists liked a showerhead often coincided with how much water it delivered. Most water-saving models achieved only middling scores. But our testers described one inexpensive water-saving model as "refreshing" and "stimulating," despite its modest 2-gpm flow rate.

Don't go by price

If you think you have to spend top dollar to get a strong performer, think again. Our top-rated multisetting showerhead costs a quarter of the price of the model that finished second. And among single-setting showerheads, the least-expensive model we tested was the clear winner.

Are you using too much water?

If you‘re wondering whether a new showerhead can reduce your water consumption, here's a quick way to measure your old model's flow rate: Place a bucket marked in gallon increments under the showerhead, turn on the shower at the water pressure you normally use, and time how long it takes to fill the bucket to the 1-gallon mark. If it's less than 24 seconds, you could save water with a low-flow showerhead.

Some plumbing-supply showrooms have working showerhead displays. Run the stream across your hand to see how it feels. With a multisetting showerhead, check the ease of changing the settings. For maximum flexibility, consider a handheld model that you can set in a wall bracket or remove to focus the spray.

Consider installation

Replacing most showerheads is a simple do-it-yourself project. Unscrew the old head with an adjustable wrench and remove the old plumber's tape from the threaded part of the shower arm. Then apply fresh plumber's tape over the threads for a good seal, and screw the new showerhead tightly in place. But some multijet "shower towers" require expensive plumbing alterations.

Note that low water pressure in your home might weaken the stream from any showerhead. A plumber can advise whether adjusting or replacing the pressure regulator would boost the flow.

Shower towers

Shower towers are touted as an easy way to make your humdrum shower into a spa. We tested three models with a chromed-metal finish to see whether they delivered on their promise. The main showerhead part of the units underwent the same panel testing as the regular showerheads. All three scored very good or better in temperature change.

Before you buy any model check with your town to see whether there are any water-use restrictions on adding a multi-head unit. Each head on a shower tower must have a flow rate of 2.5 gpm or lower. Since you'll probably use more hot water with a shower tower, you might need to upgrade to a higher-capacity water heater. Consult with your plumber about water-heater needs and installation.

Types

Even the simplest and least-expensive showerheads can provide a satisfying shower, but more money may provide more options. Here are the types of showerheads to consider.

Multisetting models

These showerheads let you adjust the flow pattern to as many as 12 settings such as mist, massage, pulsing, wide and narrow stream, and a water-saving trickle while you soap up. Some offer a continuously variable setting. Multiple settings generally met with our panelists' favor, but the mist setting on some models didn't impress.

Single-setting models

These simple showerheads provide only one setting, as their name implies. They tend to cost much less than multisetting models.

Shower towers

The three multihead models we tested promise a spa-like experience, but they're expensive to buy, install, and use. They have a fixed or handheld showerhead (or both), and several additional body jets, all mounted on a vertical strip. Shower towers generally get around the EPA's 2.5-gpm standard by limiting each head or spray to 2.5 gpm. Thus, if the unit has four outlets, it can legally use as much as 10 gpm. Before you buy a shower tower, check with your town for restrictions. And since you'll probably use more hot water, you may need to upgrade to a larger water heater. Consult with your plumber about water-heater needs and installation.

Features


Individual taste should determine which features you choose. Here are the showerhead features to consider.

Aerating showerheads

By mixing air with water, these showerheads form a misty spray to make the flow feel more substantial. Laminar-flow showerheads form individual streams of water instead. On the models we tested, aeration cooled the water from 5 to 15 degrees F on its way from the showerhead to where it would hit your back. Laminar-flow showerheads may cost a little more, but they save energy by maintaining the water temperature better. And they don't create as much steam and moisture, a plus especially if you live in a humid region.

Handheld showerheads

You can leave a handheld model in its holder or remove it to focus the spray on any part of your body. A rubber hose provides mobility.

Rain showers

With their large head and wide spray pattern to reduce pressure, they promise a soft, soothing flow, like raindrops falling on your head.

   

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