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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

How to get higher water pressure in the shower easily and inexpensively - The Washington Post

How to get higher water pressure in the shower easily and inexpensively - The Washington Post

(Aart-Jan Venema for The Washington Post)

Several years ago, I moved into a condo in San Francisco. My wife said we might not be able to stay. Stepping into the shower, we were greeted by a sad trickle rather than a blast of water. No amount of fiddling was of any help. The plumber told me there was nothing he could do.

An online search led to salvation: hundreds of specialized nozzles that amp up water pressure even with meager volumes of water. Soon, we rinsed the shampoo out of our hair with ease. I confidently unpacked my things.

Most of us assume more water means a better shower. But that’s not true. Today’s high-pressure shower heads are designed to deliver the same experience that once required three times as many gallons per minute. Consumer Reports suggests today’s low-flow models can do even better.

A recent study out of Britain suggests that higher pressure appears to entice people to spend less time showering. (iStock)

But these thrifty shower heads not only use less water. Because they deliver a satisfying jet, they might also encourage you to turn off the faucet sooner, saving even more water, a recent U.K. study suggests. Higher pressure alone appears to entice people to spend less time showering.

You and the environment win.

Here’s how to upgrade to a water-saving solution we may all be able to agree on.

What is a low-flow shower head?

Showers are a sacred time for many. Teenagers can escape their siblings. Parents find momentary refuge from their children. There’s solace in the steam after a hard day. But it’s also a huge drain. Showers account for roughly 20 percent of total household water consumption. And water is just the start of it. Your shower also burns energy: Just under half of a home’s hot water is used for showering.

Americans’ showering habits add up to about 1.2 trillion gallons of water annually, estimates the Environmental Protection Agency, roughly as much water New York and New Jersey use in a year for everything.

Regulators tried to reduce water waste in the mid-1990s by mandating more efficient shower heads. While succeeding at reducing the average flow rate from 5.5 gallons per minute to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), early models were awful. Users complained of weak water streams. One Seinfeld episode about “low flow” left Kramer and Newman unable to wash shampoo out of their hair.

The culprit? Manufacturers merely added gaskets restricting water flow, instead of redesigning shower heads to work at these new flow rates.

But since then almost all manufacturers have gotten better at saving water without sacrificing performance, redesigning nozzles to work best at low-flow rates, said David Malcolm, founder of High Sierra Showerheads, a manufacturer specializing in low-flow designs.

“We’re trying to create ideal spray and droplet size at the ideal pressure,” he says.

Low-flow shower heads save water across the country. The EPA’s WaterSense standard of 2.0 gpm (or less) is expected to cut about $5 billion off our national water and energy bill, states the agency.

But what if everyone started taking shorter showers as well?

The path to a shorter shower

Ian Walker, an environmental psychology professor at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, was researching ways to conserve water. His team used temperature and pressure sensors to covertly track water use in 290 shower stalls and suites over 10 months.

Of the 86,000 individual showers they tracked, the median lasted six minutes — although the range stretched from 30 seconds to more than an hour. But one consistent finding stood out: The higher the pressure, the shorter the shower. On average, total water consumption fell as shower pressure rose, mainly because people spent less time under the water, according to their findings in a preprint undergoing peer review.

Crucially, more powerful streams of water consumed much less water overall — with the most savings from shower heads that combined high pressure with a low water flow.

“No one had any idea pressure would do this,” says Walker. “At any given flow rate, high pressure is better.”

Not everyone agrees with this conclusion. After reviewing Walker’s initial data, Erik Ansink, a water economics expert at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, suggested that the type of shower head, not the pressure, may be the determining factor in shorter showers. He called the study’s findings “too good to be true.”

Walker admits more research is needed to answer key questions: Why are high-pressure showers shorter? What other factors affect how long someone stays in the shower? Will these findings translate in the average home? But he argues, even after reanalyzing the data, the relationship between water pressure and shower duration remained: “Pressure affects consumption through causing people to shut off their showers sooner,” he said.

How to save water without sacrificing satisfaction

The bottom line is you can now save water without having to compromise. A good shower, it turns out, delivers just the right physical sensation of water droplets hitting your skin, regardless of how much water you use.

Malcolm says that in almost all cases today’s modern shower heads are designed to work at a pressure mediated by the shower head, rather than what’s in your pipes. So even people with low pressure in the United States can enjoy a refreshing blast of water.

Upgrading your shower head can cost less than $20. For its 2024 shower-head guide, Consumer Reports tested more than a dozen products based on adjustability, spray quality — “robust pressure, satisfying water droplet size, and good coverage” — as well as their ability to maintain high temperatures and save water.

“Our testing found that water flow really doesn’t predict performance,” says Bernie Deitrick, a test engineer for Consumer Reports. “In fact, the two best shower heads we tested earned top marks for both shower feel and water consumption, and the top model used only about half the legal limit.”

Consumer Report’s top choice, the HOPOPRO High Pressure Fixed Showerhead, sells for just $18 and uses just 1.3 gallons per minute, around half the standard shower head.

And switching out your shower head is not much harder than changing a lightbulb. (Here’s a video on how to do it.)

“The equipment changes your behavior in a good way,” says Walker. “You stop showering when you feel you have had enough.”

It may be one of the best $20 investments you can make in your home. It was for me."

How to get higher water pressure in the shower easily and inexpensively - The Washington Post

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