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 gallons per minute. Since then, the EPA has limited showerheads to 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.
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.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.