Everyone knows that taking a shower can make you feel great. But most people do not like the idea of a low-flow shower that drizzles rather than thunders.
Have a Great Shower While Saving Water
Architects and engineers who want to reduce potable water use for either LEED points or cost savings often do not consider the different low-flow showerheads. In multifamily, hotel, and dormitory buildings, showers can account for more than 10% of the total water use of the building. Installing low flow showerheads does not have to result in just a drizzle.
In many cases low-flow showerheads can provide a “better” shower than conventional flow showerheads. If architects and engineers carefully specify good-performing low-flow showerheads early on in design, projects can achieve significant water and energy savings while maintaining user satisfaction.
Conservation vs. Efficiency
Understanding the difference between conservation and efficiency is paramount in selecting the right low-flow showerheads. Conservation means using less and potentially sacrificing comfort. Efficiency means using less and maintaining the same comfort. By law, all showerheads sold in the United States must list the flow rate in gallons per minute (GPM) that the fixture uses. This is a great way to compare water conservation but not shower efficiency.
In other words, the GPM unit is a poor measure of the quality of a shower that a showerhead can provide. A quality shower requires a quality showerhead design. All showers use nozzles to control the rate, direction, mass, speed, shape and pressure of the water flow.
A quality showerhead can provide the correct rate, direction, shape and pressure of water flow to allow a person to shower in comfort in a reasonable amount of time.
A shower that creates little pressure will take longer to rinse out shampoo than a similar showerhead with a higher pressure flow. A shower that creates too high a pressure flow can be unpleasant to a bather (think water jet cutter). A quality shower requires a quality nozzle design in the showerhead.
Shower Quality Measures
Unfortunately, the plumbing industry has not yet adopted a universal measure of shower quality. Several leading manufactures have established their own measures of shower quality. Bricor has created a value called the FIT™ Values. Flow Impact Intensity (FIT Value) is a measure of a showerhead’s overall strength of flow delivery.
However, this is only useful to compare models that are made by the same manufacturer, as FIT™ values for other manufactures are not available. This lack of a unit to compare different showerhead manufacturers means designers must know the product that is being specified. You learn this by reading reviews, past experience, or, in my case, experimenting using difference showerheads.
Quality Design and Engineering
I am a fan of quality design and engineering. After reading about the Bricor “Vacuum Flow Venturi Physics System,” I decided to order one of the pricey showerheads and see how a quality design influences shower quality. I already knew that substituting my previous showerhead, a low-cost 2.5 GPM shower, with a 1.0 GPM Bricor B100 Max would have a simple payback period of six months. I also knew that the showerhead would save almost $200 a year in electric and water bills. I didn’t know what my wife would think about the quality of the shower.
To my surprise, we both found that the new 1.0 GPM showerhead performed better than the 2.5 GPM showerhead despite using 60% less water. That’s because the rate, direction, mass, speed, shape and pressure of the water flow was much better than the old 2.5 GPM showerhead. Our showers took less time, and were more comfortable.
It is possible to have your cake and eat it too. All it takes is careful showerhead selection based on good data, and a bit more upfront investment in the plumbing hardware. The result of this effort is a better shower experience, a great return on investment, and a smaller environmental footprint.
Michael Hamilton is a Green Building Consultant, LEED AP BD+C, in Paladino’s DC Office.