Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A "High Pressure" Shower


The "Low Pressure" Problem

Low water pressure is a common complaint of both rental tenants and wives.  So weather you are an apartment manager or or a married home owner, you may find yourself faced with this complaint.  But lets determine what we are actually addressing.  When someone says they have "terrible water pressure", they aren't talking about their toilet or their dishwasher.  No one ever complains about not being able to flush enough or about not being able to get through 3 loads of  dishes in a night.  When we say "terrible water pressure" we mean that our shower was less than desirable.  My earlier post (Shower Temperature) addressed the hot water part, but that's only half of a good shower.  There are a few ways to handle "low water pressure", but first we need to address our vocabulary, just to make sure we are on the same page.

When we say "Water Pressure" we are usually referring to the actual experience of forceful water at a sink or in the shower.  This is actually a combination of both the water pressure and the rate of flow.  I point this out to say that turning up your water pressure is not the only way to get a better shower.
Pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and is how much force the water is exerting on the pipes it's in.  Volume is the actual amount of water that can come out of the pipes in a measured amount of time.  You can't do much about volume since it is determined by the pipes in your house and the flow rate set by your water provider.
What we want for a good shower is adequate water pressure and well directed flow.  Here are a few ways to deal with both of these.

 Adjust Your Pressure Reducing Valve

WARNING:  Do not attempt this if you are not confident you can follow directions and trouble shoot the situation if the adjustment doesn't seem to work.  Every home is different and your's may not work exactly like explained here.  Changes in plumbing locations and differing building codes and requirements may mean different situations.  You can cause a pipe to burst if you increase the pressure too high and could cause major flood damage.
For the very handy, keep reading.
Your local municipality, who provides your water, will generally have very high pressure in the pipes leading to your house since they usually service fire hydrants on the same systems.  The water pressure at the street may be anywhere from 150 - 200 psi, which is way more than you need and more than the pipes and fixtures in your house can even handle.  This pressure is usually decreased at a Water Pressure Reducing Valve immediately after entering your house.  (this is usually at the front wall of your basement or crawl space or in the water heater closet in houses without basements or crawl spaces)  These valves are factory set at 50 psi, which is a little low in my opinion.  60 - 70 psi is where most residents will have noticeably "good" water pressure.  80 psi is too high as you risk damage to pipes and fixtures.
You can adjust the pressure yourself with the use of a few simple tools.
  1. Install the pressure test gauge on your outside hose bib (you can either run upstairs after every adjustment or get a friend with a cell phone to stand outside and tell you the reading)
  2. Loosen the retaining nut on the front adjustment post.
  3. Turn the screw or nut head on the end of the shaft to adjust the pressure.  Clockwise Increases pressure & Counter Clockwise Decreases pressure.  (Don't go over 80 psi or you may cause more problems!)
  4. After the desired pressure is attained, tighten the retaining nut.




Replace Your Shower Heads

Changing your shower head isn't hard and it won't fix the problem unless you install the right head.  Most heads purchased off the shelf at the hardware store are both water saving and aerating.  The water saving usually means that they just decrease the flow.  Aerating just means that air is mixed into the water before it come out.  People often try removing the plastic disc in the neck of the shower head to address this.  This will increase flow and may mess with the aeration but this is not how the shower head was designed to work so you still get a crappy shower.  Instead, replace it with a Non Aerating shower head.  Aerated water feels "softer" since air is softer than water (go figure), but it also cools the water during the mixing process which is just something else I don't like about them.  This illusion of good water flow is fine for washing your hands but is a let down in the shower.
Here are two shower heads I can recommend.  If you can't find them, just make sure to look for a simple non aerating head.
For a cost effective solution, try the Niagra Shower Head  from Home Depot Supply (this is the web based sales site for multifamily and construction, not the actual big box store).  I've installed literally hundreds of these in apartments over the years.  At only $7, it's a great way to eliminate a complaint from a tenant right from the start.
If you want a high end unit, try this.  The "fire hydrant" line of shower heads from Water Management are designed specifically for the problem of having low water pressure.  It's a water saving, high impact shower head that is available in a variety of designs and finishes ($46 - $158)

Clean or Replace Your Faucet Aerators

 If your faucets seem a little low on the flow, you can always replace or clean the Aerators.  Just use a pair of pliers to unscrew the aerator.  Visually inspect the back filter for debris.  Use your finger and running water to clean it out and re-install it.  If you still have problems, or if you just want to get rid of the nasty hard water build up, you can buy a new one for a few bucks at your local hardware store.
You can see in these pictures the difference between the aerated water and the non-aerated water.  This aerator also reduces the water use by about 30%.



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