Most busy households use their showers frequently, especially during those morning hours when parents prepare for work and kids get ready for school. You might not realize it, but this regular use of your current shower heads may be contributing to a needless increase in your monthly water bill. That’s because older heads commonly put out a high volume of water during use.
If you switch to modern, low-flow shower heads, you could potentially save hundreds of pounds in utility costs every year.
How Much Do Water Do Older Shower Heads Put Out?
Prior to 1992, federal regulations allowed shower head manufacturers in the U.S. market to put out models that used as much as 5.5 gallons of water for every single minute of use. This means that, during a typical ten-minute shower, one of these heads will put out a whopping 55 gallons of water.
After 1992, regulators lowered the maximum output of a standard shower head to just 2.5 gallons per minute. At this much lower rate of usage, a ten-minute shower requires just 25 gallons of water. Since many American homes were built prior to 1992, many households still rely on old-fashioned, high-flow shower heads.
What’s the Difference in Water Costs?
Roughly 17 percent of all water usage in U.S. households goes toward showers, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. If they were to replace a single 5.5 gallon-per-minute shower head with a 2.5 gallon-per-minute model, the typical American family would reduce their annual water usage by approximately 27,000 gallons. Given the average cost of water across the county, this translates into a savings of roughly $260 a year.
It’s important to note that many manufacturers now make shower heads that put out just 2.0 gallons of water per minute, or even less. This means that, even if you currently have standard, low-flow heads installed in your bathrooms, you can reduce your monthly water bill even further by switching to a model with a lower flow rate. However, the savings you see won’t be as dramatic as the savings associated with switching from an outdated, high-flow shower head.
There’s Also Your Water Heater Costs to Consider
Whenever you take a shower, you rely on your gas-powered or electric water heater to bring the water for that shower up to your desired temperature. This means that every shower triggers a heating cost, as well as a water cost. Naturally, if you don’t use as much water while bathing, you will lower your heating-related expenses along with your water-related expenses.
It’s a little more difficult to estimate how much money you can shave from your heating costs by switching from a high-flow shower head to a low-flow shower head. That’s because there are two additional factors to consider in addition to the flow rate of your shower head: the temperature at which you set the water for your showers and the type of water heater you have installed in your home. However, we can still make some rough calculations that will help you get a good picture of your potential savings.
Natural gas consumption is commonly measured in units called therms. If your household of four has a gas-powered water heater and takes showers in 100 F water (which is probably a few degrees lower than the average), you will use up about 46 therms of gas to supply hot water to a 2.0 gallon-per-minute shower head throughout a single year. Electricity use is measured in units called kilowatt hours. If your household has an electricity-powered water heater and takes showers in 100 F water, you will use up roughly 870 kilowatt hours of electricity to supply hot water to a shower head with the same flow rate over the course of a year.
At a water temperature of 100 F, a 5.5 gallon-per-minute shower head will burn through a much higher 127 therms of natural gas in a single year. The same high-flow shower head will burn through approximately 2,393 kilowatt hours of electricity over the same span of time. If gas in your area costs 90 cents per therm (a reasonable average), you will spend approximately $113.85 a year to heat the hot water for your high-flow shower head. In contrast, you will only spend roughly $38.70 annually to heat the hot water for a shower head with a 2.0 gallon flow rate. If electricity in your area costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour (also a reasonable average), you will spend about $287 annually to heat the hot water for your high-flow shower head. However, if you have a 2.0 gallon-per-minute head installed, you will only spend approximately $104.40.
Combining Your Savings
When you add your water and heating costs together, the savings provided by changing your shower head from a high-flow to a low-flow model can be quite substantial. If you rely on natural gas to heat your water, the overall reduction in your annual utility costs could easily reach or exceed $300. Since you pay more for electricity than for natural gas, your savings could be even higher if you heat your water with an electricity-powered unit.
The Importance of Regular Head Cleaning/Replacement
Even if you already have low-flow shower heads installed in your home, you have plenty of incentive to either clean or replace the head in each bathroom on a regular basis. First, over time, calcium carbonate deposits in your water can gradually produce accumulations of a substance called lime scale on your shower heads. When it builds up in significant amounts, this scale can trigger clogging and substantially interfere with your heads’ normal function. In addition, the moist and warm environment of the typical bathroom renders your shower heads susceptible to the development of mold. Shower head replacement and shower head cleaning are both typically simple projects that you can complete in a short amount of time.
Speak With Your Plumber
If you have any questions about the available low-flow shower head options, take the time to speak with your local plumbing professional. A well-trained professional will be able to explain the difference between each type of head and direct you toward an option that will best suit your needs. Your local plumber can also help you if you run into any problems while installing your new shower head or performing routine shower head maintenance.
John Flynn is the owner of Orange Coast Plumbing, the premier residential and commercial heating and plumbing company in Huntington Beach, Ca since 1977, providing services for a wide range of customers who’ve come to depend on our high-quality professionalism, superior workmanship and an unsurpassed level of customer service.