Sales of shower towers topple under water limits

Federal government tightens loosely interpreted water-saving rules

Published: May 23, 2014 04:15 PM

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Count shower towers as one of the luxury bathroom trends that won’t be returning even as the housing market picks up. Turns out the multiple-head showers that could gush as much as 12 to 20 gallons of water per minute violated 20-year old federal regulations that restrict a showerhead’s water flow to 2.5 gallons per minute. Since then the rules have been clarified to explain that a shower system with multiple nozzles is considered one showerhead. As a result, water-wasting shower towers have largely disappeared from the market in the past year.

Sure, you might see a shower tower for sale at your plumbing store but you won't find one that lets you turn on all heads or sprays at once. The models we've seen recently prevent you from using a combination of nozzles together. So even products such as Moen’s vertical spas, which formerly let you luxuriate in water from both a fixed showerhead and a handheld, now allow water to run through only one nozzle at a time.

It was Consumer Reports’ own showerhead testing five years ago that first alerted federal authorities to the loose interpretation of 1994 regulations that allowed shower towers to limit each nozzle to the legal maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute but that put out much more water when turned on all at once. One of the showerheads we tested, the Hudson Reed Theme Thermostatic AS333, actually exceeded the federal limit with its main showerhead alone, delivering an average 3.95 gpm. Hudson Reed was later fined $1.9 million by the Department of Energy for that and 63 other products.

Fortunately, the disappearance of these water-wasters doesn’t mean you can’t get a refreshing shower and also save water and the energy needed to heat it. Many single-nozzle showerheads in our showerhead tests satisfied our panelists’ judgments of force, coverage, and droplet size—and kept hot-water temperatures consistent. The multi-setting Moen Velocity 6320, $190, and American Standard FloWise Dual Function Water Saving 1660.717, $50, and the single-setting American Standard Easy Clean 8888.075, $20, were among models that won top honors. If you’re replacing your showerhead, check out our showerhead buying guide.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore)

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