Showering alone accounts for about 17% of all water use in the home. Since the United States passed the Energy Policy Act in 1992, federal laws require shower heads to flow at a rate of no more than 2.5 gallons per minute, in order to conserve water and reduce waste. In New York City, Colorado, and California, maximum water flow is reduced even further.
To comply with these rules, many manufacturers have installed shower flow rate restrictors in shower heads or sold flow restrictors as after-market products to be installed in existing shower heads.
Advantages of Restricted Flow Shower Heads
Restricted flow shower heads have a lot of advantages, which is why they were adopted and eventually mandated.
Reduced water consumption is good for the environment
There is a limited supply of fresh drinking water in the world, and it's important to use it wisely to ensure adequate water for growing urban populations, agriculture, and preserving natural ecosystems.
Saves money on water utility bills
Using less water for every shower reduces your water utility bills, and the effects are magnified depending on the number of people in your household.
Saves money on energy bills for heating water
Using more water in your shower increases the energy cost of heating the water, and the effect is likewise magnified when there are more people in your household.
Disadvantages of Low-flow Showers
However, as many people have discovered, low-flow showers also have some unfortunate drawbacks.
In showers with low water pressure, the flow can be reduced to a weak stream
A weak stream of water can make a shower less enjoyable, and make it more difficult to feel clean.
It can make showers actually take longer, offsetting the reduced flow rate
If a person has to take a longer shower, because the weak flow makes it take longer to wash and rinse, they may not actually be using less water per shower.
For these reasons, many people opt to remove the flow restrictor in their shower heads. In many cases, instructions for removing the flow restrictor are included in the manufacturer's instructions for the shower head itself. If the manufacturer has provided you with instructions, follow them in order to remove the flow restrictor.
Tools To Remove a Flow Restrictor From a Shower Head
You will need:
A channel wrench
A paperclip or something similar
Pliers or a corkscrew
The restrictor valve will be located in the base of the shower head, just inside its connection to the hose or pipe. In handheld shower heads, the flow restrictor might instead be located in the bracket where it mounts to the wall.
The flow restrictor looks like a small disc of vented plastic that completely fills the pipe or fitting, blocking most of the water flow while allowing a smaller amount through. They are easy to identify and remove, because they are usually the only obstruction in the water flow.
How to remove a shower head flow restrictor
Wrap your pipe or connector in a piece of cloth to protect it from tool mark.
Use a channel wrench to break the seal and unscrew the shower head.
Remove the showerhead from the wall or disconnect it from the hose.
Use a brush to remove any old Teflon tape and clean the threads.
Look inside the shower head and identify the flow restrictor.
Generally speaking, you can use a straightened paperclip to remove the O-ring that holds the restrictor valve in place.
Use needle-nose pliers to remove the restrictor valve itself. If you can't grip the valve, you can also use a corkscrew to screw into the plastic valve and get a secure grip to pull it out. Be careful to not introduce any debris or sediment into the interior of the showerhead where it may obstruct the flow of water.
If you have an old shower head, it isn't a bad idea to clean it inside and out while you have it detached. A thorough cleaning can also improve water flow and make your showers more satisfactory.
Wrap the shower head threads in new Teflon tape.
Screw the shower head back into place, hand tightening it securely. Then use a channel wrench to tighten by quarter-turns, turning it on and checking for water leaks as you go.
Keep the restrictor valve and O-ring when you are done, in case you need or want to replace the flow restrictor at a later date.
Consider Replacing Your Shower Head With a High-efficiency Model
Instead of removing your flow restrictor, consider replacing your shower head. With the time and effort, it takes to remove your shower head and remove the flow restrictor, you could just as easily replace the entire shower head.
Many modern shower heads are high-efficiency models, producing flow rates well below the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum, without impacting the quality of your shower. Instead of reducing water usage with flow restrictors, many new shower heads reduce water flow and improve efficiency with improved design, inside and out, so they deliver satisfying water sensation and pressure from the nozzles while still using less water overall.
You may also consider simply cleaning your old shower head. Mineral deposits and limescale build-up can also reduce the flow of water over time, reducing or redirecting spray from the nozzles and making your shower less satisfying. Sometimes a simple cleaning and removing of old deposits can make an old shower head perform better without an upgrade at all. Many times the flow restrictor itself can pick up deposits that further reduce water flow, and simply cleaning and replacing it is all that is necessary.
Removing a flow restrictor from a shower head is a fast and easy job, and most people can do it without any special knowledge or skills. While you are at it, consider simply cleaning and replacing your shower head for better pressure and a more satisfying shower, or replacing your shower head altogether. A replacement is almost easier than removing a flow restrictor, and there are many new shower heads on the market that are affordable and efficient.
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