Home & Garden

Low-flow showerheads vary in spray, force

Q. Both my energy and water bills are increasing, so I plan to install low-flow showerheads. I tried them before, but my daughters hated them. Are they any better now, and how do I pick a good one?

In 1992, all showerheads sold in the U.S. were limited to a maximum water flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute at a water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. Your showerhead now may be as high as 5 gpm. Many of the new low-flow showerheads provide very nice showers.

I have tested more than a dozen low-flow showerheads last year alone. There actually are significant differences in the showerhead sprays for ones with identical flow rates. The most efficient ones are as low as 1.5 gpm, and the savings can pay back their cost in a few months.

Whether or not you like a specific shower spray pattern and force is a personal matter. If your daughters are rinsing long hair, they may prefer a slower but fuller spray pattern.

There are a number of factors that determine how much water and energy will be saved. The water savings are determined directly by the gpm rating for the showerhead. The energy saving is affected by the gpm rating and how much hot water has to be mixed with the cold for a comfortable shower. Showerheads that create larger water droplets feel warmer on your skin.

Some needle-type low-flow showerheads create tiny water droplets. These cool down before they reach your body. If this happens, you will set the faucet to a greater percentage of hot water and you may actually end up using more hot water (energy) than before. Some showerheads also add air to the spray for more force, but it also cools the water spray.

It is easy to distinguish a narrow needle-spray design because they are usually small. For a fuller spray, look for ones with many holes across a larger face.

There are two inexpensive add-on devices that can help reduce water usage on any showerhead. One is a tiny push/pull trickle valve that is mounted before the showerhead. While you are lathering, push the button to slow the water to a trickle.

Another is a Lady Bug valve by ShowerStart. You can turn on the shower and walk away. When the water temperature hits 95 degrees, the flow is slowed to trickle so very little is wasted down the drain. When you are ready to get into the shower, switch it and the warm shower starts.

The following companies offer showerheads and systems: Alsons, www.alsons.com; Delta, , www.deltafaucet.com; Price Pfister, www.pricepfister.com; ShowerStart, www.evolveshowerheads.com; and Speakman, www.speakmancompany.com.