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Wash that water waste right out of your hair

​We all love a good hot shower. It can wake us up after a long night’s sleep, or invigorate us after a hard day’s work. In fact, hot water usage accounts for about 25 per cent of total energy use in our homes.* The only thing we use more energy for is space heating. Think about how you use hot water. I bet you bathing and showering takes up a good portion.

By switching to a low-flow showerhead you can save water, energy and money. But do you fear that by switching you’ll never get the shampoo out? Or maybe you think the one you’ve already got is low flow.

When big hair and high flow was the norm

If you were alive in the 80s you remember it was the decade of big. Big hair, big shoulders and water-gushing showerheads that flowed faster than the Cyclone at West Edmonton Mall’s World Waterpark. Some had flow rates as high as 16 or 20 litres per minute (LPM). But in 1992, a US federal standard of 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM) or 9.5 LPM was mandated. So you’re thinking, if showerheads have been low flow since as early as 1992, why am I getting all this grief for not switching mine out? Ask yourself. What year was your house built? Do you know the last time the showerhead was replaced? Yup. You could unknowingly be harbouring a water waster in your bathroom, and I’m not talking about your teenager.

Measuring the water collected from showerhead

Find out your showerhead’s flow rate

If you’re not sure if your showerhead is low flow, try this simple test. Turn it on at the volume you’d normally use to shower. Hold a bucket under the showerhead for exactly 10 seconds. Measure the volume of the water you collect with a measuring cup and times it by six to determine the flow rate for one minute. If the number you get is higher than 9.5 litres, you may want to consider replacing your showerhead.

You could save what!?

A friend, who refuses to switch to low flow, agreed to let me test the flow rate of her showerhead for this story, on the promise she’d remain anonymous. After all, who wants to publically admit to wasting water? Her home was built in the late 80s. The bathroom she showers in is original to the house, and by the looks of it, the showerhead is as well. My test revealed her showerhead uses almost 17 LPM! I would say my friend has a lot of potential for savings if she’d switch to a low-flow model. In fact, a month of five minute daily showers with a 6.5 LPM showerhead would save 1,620 litres of water. And with about 65 per cent of that water being hot, switching would save her about $47 a year on her natural gas bill.**

My friend's shower. You could power wash your house with this.

So many showerheads, so many questions

You’ve decided to shrink your environmental footprint a little (maybe even your energy bill) and invest in a low-flow showerhead. But you hit the plumbing aisle at the hardware store and are awash in a sea of confusion. This one feels like spring rain. That one has pulsating jets. Over there the outside of the package has a WaterSense® logo. Another has an EcoFlow logo. How come you can’t find one with an ENERGY STAR® logo? And why is this one $5 and that one $300?  How can you tell if a product is low flow, or any good for that matter?

Let’s recap. As of 1992 the maximum flow rate of a showerhead was regulated to a new standard of 2.5 GPM or 9.5 LPM. Since many of the showerheads we buy are manufactured in the US, and the BC Building Code mandated a maximum standard flow rate of 9.5 LPM in 2006, models that use less than 9.5 LPM or 2.5 GPM are considered low flow.

WaterSense, a partnership program from the US Environmental Protection Agency (of which the BC Ministry of Environment is a partner) works to protect water supplies by offering ways for consumers to use less. Its label is used to identify low-flow models similar to how the ENERGY STAR label identifies the most efficient appliances. If you find a showerhead bearing the WaterSense label, it uses at least 20 per cent less water than a standard model.

You can find other terms on showerhead packaging, such as EcoSense, EcoFlow and EcoRain, but those are mostly marketing terms made up by the manufacturers.

Showerheads with this logo mean they use at least 20% less than a standard one.

The low down on flow

Flow rate standards ​LPM ​GPM
​Prior to 1992 ​17-20 ​5-8
​1992 US standard ​9.5 maximum ​2.5 maximum
​2006 BC Building Code standard ​9.5 maximum
​WaterSense labelled models ​7.5 or lower ​2.0 or lower

Testing the waters

To quell the undying rumour that I’ll never get the shampoo out of my hair with a low-flow showerhead, I decided to take one for the team and try out a couple. You can buy a standard flow model for as little as $5 or an ultra-low flow for as much as $300. For the purposes of this article I’ve set the upper limit at $60.

The $5 showerhead was no bargain. At 9.5 LPM it was the maximum flow you can buy, but the trickle it produced was not even worthy of watering my plants. The $60 model was WaterSense labelled and even with the lower flow of 7.5 LPM, it provided a variety of settings with enough pressure for a satisfying shower.

So many showerheads. How do I choose?

This one's as big as my head. But will it get the shampoo out?

Not handy? Not a problem

You’ve decided to plunge into the deep and cut back on your water use with a new low-flow showerhead. But you think now you’ll have to call a plumber, so any hot water savings you see will go towards paying the plumber’s bill. Have you ever screwed a garden hose onto a hose bib? If the answer is yes—heck, even if the answer is no—you can install a showerhead. We even have a how-to video that will show you how. All you need is a wrench, some plumber’s Teflon tape (Most showerheads will come with a little roll, if not just ask the sales clerk at the hardware store.) and your new showerhead.

Waste not, save more

As for my friend, she’s singing in the rain with her new low-flow rain showerhead. She says she can’t believe she didn’t switch years ago. How about you? Ready to take the plunge into saving water?


*Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency, Residential Sector British Columbia, Table 2: Secondary Energy Use and GHG Emissions by End-Use

**Subject can save 1,620 litres of water a month by switching from a 17 LPM to 6.5 LPM showerhead taking daily five minute showers. Calculation: 1,620 *.65 (percentage of water that is hot) *4,187 joules (amount of natural gas it takes to heat one litre of water) *45 °C temperature rise of cold to hot water / .55 (efficiency of a standard storage tank water heater) = 305,232,300 joules or 0.305 gigajoules/month or 4.32 GJ/year. Savings of $47 is based on $11.05 per gigajoule April 2014 FortisBC natural gas residential rate in Lower Mainland.