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Water-Saving Shower Heads: Worth It?

January 26, 2016

A hot shower on a cold morning - there’s nothing quite like it. Showers aren’t the most efficient uses of water, however - the average 8-minute shower wastes about 20 gallons.

That’s why many environmentally conscious home and business owners choose to install water saving, low-flow showerheads. Many others, however, aren’t so sure. Are water-saving shower heads worth it?

What’s the big deal?

Shower Head

Most people love their showers. They might not love waking up for work in the morning, but they relish the opportunity to step into a steaming hot shower, relax and reflect for ten minutes or so before they start their day. Why mess with that?

Most shower heads flow at 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). Older shower heads use even more water than that. Most Americans shower for about 8 minutes, meaning they use 20 gallons of water every time they bathe. If you’re used to long, luxurious showers, then you’re using even more water than that.

In the United States, water is relatively cheap - on average, pumping and delivering water into your home costs only 20 cents per 100 gallons. The cost to heat the water for the shower is also low - about 45 dollars a year for a single person. In total, that’s about 17 cents per shower. Not too bad.

From a cost standpoint, then, it might not seem like there’s much incentive to conserve water. From a sustainability standpoint, however, there’s every reason not to waste water when you shower. Worldwide, droughts are common and fresh water is scarce. If there’s no financial reason to compel you to actively save water, there are plenty of good reasons not to waste it.

Aside from that, wasting water at a large scale evenutally will lead to rising water rates, making everything from showering to running the dishwasher that much more expensive.

Do water-saving shower heads really help?

Outdoor Shower Head

Water-saving shower heads operate by restricting water flow. Some more advanced models even combine this restricted flow with air to provide the kind of shower experience you’re used to with a full-flow showerhead.

The average shower head uses about 2.5 gpm. Some water-saving shower heads use only 1.5 gpm, saving you at least a gallon a minute. If you shower once a day, you’ll save 365 gallons of water a year. For the average four-person home, that’s 1,460 gallons a year. If the owner of an apartment building switched out his or her shower heads for about 14 tenants, they’d save enough water each year to fill a swimming pool.

Do water-saving shower heads lead to worse showers?

Here’s the real question, though: will you still get a satisfying shower with a water-saving shower head?

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you probably already have an opinion on this. There’s an episode (aptly titled “The Shower Head”) where, among other misadventures, Jerry finds that his landlord has replaced his building’s shower heads with low-flow, water-saving shower heads to save money. As it turns out, the new shower heads can’t even wash the shampoo out of Jerry’s hair. He ends up illcitly buying a new shower head out of a van on the street.

That’s hyperbole, but there are a few potential downsides, as outlined by this Wall Street Journal article.

Some homeowners report that they don’t get the water pressure that they’ve become accustomed to with their old showerheads. They get just as clean - it just doesn’t feel like they think a shower should.

Other homeowners complain that they can’t get their showers as hot as they used to. That’s because, with lower flow shower heads, the water that sprays out forms smaller droplets, which cool faster as they travel from the shower head to your skin. You might save on water, but you also might end up cranking up the heat to compensate, which wastes energy.

It’s nothing you couldn’t get used to, and better technology is on the way to solve some of these problems. But it’s worth keeping in mind.

So: are water-saving shower heads worth it?

From an environmental perspective, yes. As water shortages become increasingly common, it’s important to conserve where you can. Most people would choose to take more energy- and water- efficient showers rather than to shower less, and a water-saving shower head can make that goal a reality.

But if you have low water pressure, or if you like your showers scaldingly hot, then a water-saving shower head might not be for you.

Related Topics: Bath, General