1. Pick the Right Shower for Your Home
Avoid disappointment by ensuring your plumbing system matches your showers
Whilst we may all want a huge shower head that drenches us in water of just the right temperature in an instant, in reality many of us end up disappointed, with a shower that produces a rather embarrassing trickle — one that often either scalds or disappears altogether when a toilet is flushed. However, this does not have to be the case, and avoiding it is simply down to choosing the right shower for your hot water system.
Shop for the right shower for your project
There are three main systems in the UK:
Gravity Systems: Older homes tend to feature gravity systems. These have a hot and cold feed, with a cold water tank – commonly referred to as a header tank – usually located in the attic, and a hot water cylinder, often found in the airing cupboard. The contents of the cylinder can be heated by either an external heat source such as a boiler, or an internal heat source such as an immersion heater. The pressure of a shower connected to this system depends on the distance from the bottom of the tank in the attic to the shower head — known as the head of water. The greater the distance, the higher the water pressure, and it is recommended that this distance should be between 3-4m for adequate pressure. The good news for those with this type of system is that they can be fitted with booster pumps in order to increase the shower’s performance.
Mains Pressure Systems: Also known as ‘pressurised’, ‘unvented’ or ‘sealed’ hot water systems. In place of a cold water header tank providing gravity pressure at 1bar, the pressure in the mains water supply in the road is used to pressurise the hot and cold supplies. A minimum pressure of 1.5bar is necessary, but ideally 3bar. A pressure-limiting valve is usually used to keep the pressure from rising above 3bar. The hot water supply can either be heated directly on demand by a combination (combi) boiler, or via a thermal store. Alternatively, hot water can be heated in a cylinder, by a secondary coil on the central heating system. The cylinder has to be specially designed to store hot water under pressure, such as the Megaflo, by Heatrae Sadia (heatraesadia.com, 0844 871 1535). A pressurized system with an unvented cylinder will provide a powerful shower, without the need for a pump, and balanced hot and cold water pressure can eliminate the need for thermostatic mixer valves.
Combination (Combi) Boiler Systems: Pressurised cold water is heated on demand, and so in theory should never run out. If you want a powerful shower, the key is to make sure that the combi boiler is powerful enough to supply a hot water flow rate of at least 12-15 litres a minute. The larger the shower head, or number of nozzles, the greater the pressure required. With a combi it is best to choose a thermostatic shower mixer valve, to even out any temperature fluctuations.
2. Choose a Great Shower Head
Choose a shower head tailored to your needs
There are five main types of shower head: handheld, handheld on a slider rail, fixed (mounted on the wall), ceiling mounted, and finally those that are combined with a series of body jets.
Temperature and pressure is most commonly controlled by a thermostatic tap, which will detect changes in water pressure and temperature and respond accordingly. Some models now allow you to preset the temperature so that when you turn the shower on it is exactly as you want it to be. One step up are remote-controlled digital showers, which alert when the water is the right temperature.
Handheld should be considered, if only for a second shower head – some are available as pull-out fittings that ping back into their holding in the side of the bath – as they are handy when rinsing off messy children, cleaning the bath etc. They can also be fitted to a slider rail, which means their height can be adjusted easily.
The best bit about choosing a shower head is all in its design and features. Most are now available with multiple spray options. Huge shower heads, often ceiling mounted, have also become popular, designed to totally drench the showerer in seconds. Multiple jet showers are another big trend, comprising not just one shower head, but a host of side jets and sprays.
ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Raindance Rainfall Overhead Shower from Hansgrohe, £1,947 (hansgrohe.co.uk, 0870 770 1972); Grohe’s Rainshower Icon, £113.03 (grohe.co.uk, 0871 200 3414); Mira’s 360i shower head has a unique flipping mechanism that provides four alternative spray patterns, £88 (mirashowers.com, 0844 571 5000)
3. Don’t Scrimp on Your Tray
Tile after fitting the tray for a watertight seal
Unless you are opting for an over-bath shower, you will need a shower tray or base, where water can drain away. Some are designed for use with enclosures, others are designed to lie flush with the floor for walk-in units. Ceramic trays are regarded as the best option, being strong and stable. However, enamelled steel and acrylic are also options, as are those made from stone and waterresistant hardwoods.
When installing a tray, remember that you will need to be able to access the waste for maintenance.
4. …or, Go for a Walk-in Shower
Avoid fitting an enclosure smaller than 900mm
It is often seen as better to have a separate enclosure as opposed to an over-bath shower. However, do not squeeze an enclosure into a tight space as this will just result in a claustrophobic shower. Although there is no set minimum size for an enclosure, it is not advised to go smaller than 900mm² — smaller can feel, well, really small.
Enclosures are made up of panels, a door and a shower tray, and complete kits can be bought to be fitted on a DIY basis. Alternatively, make use of a recessed area, adding just a door and tray. Walk-in showers differ from enclosures in the sense that they are more of a showering area as opposed to an enclosed unit. They usually feature just one glass panel separating them from the bathroom, with no door. Walls and floors must be fully waterproofed, as with wetrooms.
5. All-in-One Systems and Cabins
An indulgence maybe, but definitely relaxing
Offering far more in the way of features than an ordinary shower enclosure, shower cabins are all-in-one units, incorporating enclosure, tray, shower and body jets, not to mention the extra options that most now offer, including LED mood lighting, seating, steam, fragrance and music — some even double as sunbeds. Shower panels, or columns, are another trend, featuring controls, shower head, body jets and various other features in one wallmounted unit. OK, they use a lot of water, but they will make your bathroom feel like a spa. Prices start at around £5,000.
6. Don’t Discount Electric Showers
They have come on in leaps and bounds
Electric showers have rather a poor reputation due to their flow rate being far lower than a mixer shower. This is due to the fact that they heat water on demand, taking it from the mains cold water supply and passing it over a heating element inside the shower unit. To get the other problems out of the way, they are generally a little more bulky than mixers and require a high-capacity electrical supply to be run directly from the fuse box on its own dedicated circuit. On the plus side, though, you will not run out of hot water with an electric shower. Their other advantage is that they tend to be less expensive than mixers and are also economical on the water usage side of things. Many of the more expensive models feature integral pumps, which can improve the flow rate and are also now available in a range of great designs. Electric showers remain a popular option for second bathrooms that are generally only used at peak times.
Need to Know…
Avoiding chills and burns: A shower that suddenly runs cold or hot is downright annoying — and dangerous. Temperature variations occur when the pressure between hot and cold water is not balanced. So, if someone flushes a toilet, the cold water flow is reduced and the shower will turn too hot. If the hot tap is used, the shower will run cold. A shower with a built-in thermostat will overcome the problem. They sense variations and then compensate. Models that cut out before water reaches too high a temperature are available.
Showers over the bath: Despite often being seen as second best to enclosures, over-bath showers make more sense for many bathrooms, especially those not large enough to take a separate enclosure, or in households with young children. Forget mould-riddled shower curtains and opt instead for a sleek frameless glass shower screen. Shower/baths are now also widely available, with a curved section at one end for a more spacious showering area. Choose a flat-bottomed bath to provide maximum showering space and to avoiding slipping over when climbing in and out.
Showers that save water: It used to be a given that a shower used less water than a bath — not so these days with power showers and enormous shower heads being the norm. Water-saving shower heads come in several forms. Some are aerating, mixing water with air to reduce the amount of water used. Others reduce the flow rate – hopefully whilst maintaining the power – or include a flow restrictor to the hose. Some are only suitable for use with mains systems. Many water-saving shower heads can be fitted to your existing shower, although they are not often recommended for use with electric showers, as these are already often low flow.