Shower heads

Updated: 28 Jul 2010
10aug-showerheads-hero

Introduction

If you have a mains-pressure hot-water system, changing to a low-flow shower head could cut your hot-water bill considerably.

Replacing a 12-litre per minute shower head with one that flows at 8 litres can cut your hot-water bill by $153 a year.

Our user trial of 7 low-flow mains-pressure shower heads found 3 that came close to the perfect combination of comfort and effectiveness.

Models we tested

This report contains test results and recommendations for the following low-flow shower heads:

The Aquatica Eco Smarte and Eco-Stream are identical. They’re marketed under two names and sold by different retailers.

About our trial

Over 9 days we got 8 people to assess our 7 low-flow shower heads for the best combination of comfort (felt good) and effectiveness (got them clean) without heating up the power bill. At the end of the 9 days we had 8 squeaky-clean people – and a pile of wet towels!

All the models were mains-pressure shower heads. (See Pressure and flow for more about mains pressure.)

The trial was conducted in the same shower cubicle using the same mixer-control and slide-rail each time. The shower head and hose were changed every day.

To make changing the heads easy, we selected hand-held shower heads with a flexible hose. The shower heads could also be clipped into either a wall bracket or on to a slide-rail. Many of the models can be bought as fixed heads.

Tip: The Aquatica Eco Smarte and Eco-Stream are identical. They’re marketed under two names and sold by different retailers. The Mitre 10 Eco-Stream version was significantly cheaper.

We measured the mains water pressure and then the water flow for each head. The Aquatica/Eco-Stream and Feltonmix heads could be configured as high- or low-flow by fitting the supplied flow restrictor into the handle. We tried them in both configurations.

What we found

Comfort

Aquatica / Eco-Stream shower head

Aquatica / Eco-Stream shower head

We asked our triallists how much they liked the feel of the shower on their hair and body and asked them to choose descriptive words for the feel of the spray. Most people who liked the feel of the shower on their body also liked it on their hair.

Overall

  • The Aquatica/Eco-Stream (low-flow setting) was rated highest overall for comfort. All our triallists “liked it a lot” or rated it “OK”. One summed it up as: “Enjoyed the shower: wide range of easy-to-use settings.”
  • The Englefield was rated next-most comfortable – everyone “liked it a lot" or rated it “OK”. One summary comment was: “Liked this one. Hope it’s eco-friendly.”
  • Least liked was the Feltonmix (high-flow setting). Half the triallists described the shower as “hard” or “needle-like”. One comment was: “This shower head is just not pleasant at this high flow rate.”

Effectiveness

We asked our triallists how effective each shower head was at wetting their hair and body – and how well it showered water over their bodies. We also asked them how effective it was at removing shampoo from their hair and soap or body wash from their bodies.

Overall

  • The Methven and Aquatica/Eco-Stream (high-flow setting) were rated the most effective heads. They both received positive ratings (“very effective”, “fairly effective”, or “OK”) from all triallists and no negative comments.
  • Next most effective was the Englefield. It had slightly fewer positive comments – but no negative ones.
  • Least effective was the Foreno.

Buying decisions

We asked the triallists to imagine they were about to buy a shower head and to rate how likely they’d be to purchase each model. We then repeated the question – after telling them the shower head would save $100 a year in hot-water bills.

  • The Aquatica/Eco-Stream and Methven were the shower heads most likely to be purchased.
  • The models most likely not to be purchased were the Flexispray Pulsar and Foreno.
  • The other heads were somewhere in between.

Self-dismantling
The Flexispray Pulsar fell apart when one triallist tried to change its shower pattern. We replaced the model and no further problems were experienced.

We recommend

Tick: Consumer Recommends
  • Aquatica Eco Smarte Multispray Hand Shower  SM MSHSS cp
    $246
    Good points

    Good effectiveness and comfort. Very good 7 litres/minute water-use rate. 5 spray patterns.

    But

    Removing the restrictor increased the head’s effectiveness - but its water use went up to 16 litres/minute and its comfort rating went from good to poor. This head achieved a higher overall score with the restrictor in place.

    Bottom line

    The most-liked shower head in our trial. On low pressure it also used the least hot water.

    Availability

    Sold at most plumbing merchants, but may have to be ordered in.

    User Reviews 0
  • Eco-Stream Multispray ECO MSHSS cp
    $157
    Good points

    Good effectiveness and comfort. Very good 7 litres/minute water-use rate. 5 spray patterns.

    But

    Removing the restrictor increased the head’s effectiveness - but its water use went up to 16 litres/minute and its comfort rating went from good to poor. This head achieved a higher overall score with the restrictor in place.

    Bottom line

    The most-liked shower head in our trial. On low pressure it also used the least hot water.

    Availability

    Exclusive to Mitre 10.

    User Reviews 3
  • Methven Kiri Satinjet Slide Rail Shower
    $289
    Good points

    Very good effectiveness.

    But

    Only OK for comfort. Its 9.4 litres/minute water-use rate is slightly high. Only 1 spray pattern.

    Bottom line

    Very effective but not as comfortable as other models.

    Availability

    Sold at most plumbing merchants.

    User Reviews 0
  • Englefield Elevation Plus Hand Shower 18523-CP
    $123
    Good points

    Good effectiveness and comfort. Good 8.1 litres/minute water-use rate. 3 spray patterns.

    But

    (No obvious bad points.)

    Bottom line

    A well-liked shower head.

    Availability

    Sold at most plumbing merchants, but may have to be ordered in.

    User Reviews 0

Pressure and flow

Shower
  • Pressure produces the squirt that forces the water through the tiny holes in the shower head.
  • Flow is the quantity of water that flows in a certain time.

Increasing the pressure will increase the flow (and vice versa) – but they’re not the same thing.

Kiwi homes have traditionally had low-pressure hot-water systems where the hot-water pressure was much lower than the cold. Low-pressure hot-water systems can sometimes lack enough pressure to give a decent shower – which means they’re often “dribbly” – but use less water.

Most new hot-water systems are mains pressure. So the hot and cold water are at approximately the same pressure. Mains-pressure showers can sometimes be "hard", causing stinging and using heaps of water.

Saving money

Piggy bank

If your current shower head flows at 12 litres per minute and two people take a 10- minute shower each day, you’ll use $458 worth of electrically heated water per year.

Change that head to one that flows at 8 litres per minute (like many in our trial) and the hot-water bill drops to $305, saving you $153 a year. It’s certainly worth doing.

WELS

At appliance stores you'll notice minimum energy performance (MEPS) labels on major appliances like fridges and TVs. These labels give you information about energy use.

A similar water-efficiency labelling scheme (WELS) is being introduced for appliances that use water. WELS labels (similar to MEPS but a different colour) will be applied to dishwashers, washing machines, showers, taps, lavatories and urinals. WELS labels will be required from April 2011.

 

Report by Bill Whitley.