By James Dulley from November 2013 Issue
Both my energy and water bills are increasing, so I plan to install low-flow showerheads. I tried them before, but my family didn't like them. Are they any better now, and how do I pick a good one?—Pat V.
After testing more than a dozen low-flow showerheads this year, I've found there are significant differences in the way their sprays feel among products with identical flow rates.
Whether you like a specific shower spray pattern and force is a personal matter. The type of spray pattern affects how warm the water feels on your skin. Showerheads that create larger water droplets feel warmer because they cool down less before they reach your body.
Some needle-spray pattern showerheads create very tiny water droplets that feel more forceful. But they might lose more heat moving through the air. Some showerheads mix air into the spray for more force—and that may make the water feel cooler.
When this happens, people may set the faucet handle to a greater percentage of hot water—and end up using more hot water and, as a result, more electricity than before.
Narrow needle-spray showerheads are usually small. For a fuller spray, look for many holes across a larger face. In an adjustable showerhead not all the holes are used at once; a needle-spray may be one of the patterns included.
Hot water for you, not down the drain
There are two inexpensive add-on devices that can help reduce water use on any showerhead.
One water-saver works before you begin. People often turn on the water faucet, then walk away while waiting for the hot water to reach the shower. Gallons of hot water may be wasted down the drain. With the Lady Bug valve by ShowerStart (also known as Evolve Showerheads), as soon as the water temperature at the showerhead reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the flow automatically slows to a trickle so very little hot water goes down the drain. Pulling the cord allows normal water flow to resume.
To save water during a shower, try a tiny push/pull trickle valve (also called a lathering valve) that's mounted between the shower arm and the showerhead. You can "pause" the water flow down to a trickle as often as you want by simply pushing the button instead of readjusting the faucet each time.
KNOW THE FLOW
Showerhead flows are rated according to gallons per minute (gpm). Federal energy-efficiency standards set a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gpm. Some new models can provide good water flow at 1.25, 1.0, or even as low as 0.5 gpm, and with the amount of energy they save, can pay back their costs in just a few months.