Can You Save Money and Still Have an Awesome Shower?
In brief, this post reviews:
1) How much your shower actually costs,
2) how much you could save with a water saving shower head, and
3) the shower experience from testing a number of water saving shower heads.
Often during my morning shower my naturally inquisitive and quantitative mind would wonder how much each shower actually cost me. Also, exactly how much was the cost of the water vs. the cost of the energy to heat the water? I knew there were many variables involved, from the length of the shower, to type of water heater you have, to how hot you like your shower, as well as things like the incoming temperature of your tap water (which changes throughout the year).
I hadn’t spent the time to figure out the true cost of a shower because I thought of it as a fixed cost: I loved my showers and didn’t want to change anything about it, so there was no benefit to crunching numbers to optimize it further.
That was until I heard there were newer water saving shower heads out on the market that finally didn’t suck – I know, I was skeptical at first too. So, I set out to create a spreadsheet that would allow me to input and change values for our unique situation and to calculate what each shower cost and how much a potential lower flow shower head could save (to determine if it was even worthwhile exploring this further).
What Does The Average Shower Cost?
After creating the spreadsheet and plugging in various averages across the U.S from 2016-2018, which includes the average shower length of 8.2 minutes at 105°F, here’s what the average shower costs:
- If you use an electric hot water heater, the average shower costs about $0.57 per shower
- 45% of the cost comes from the actual cost of the water used ($0.25)
- 55% of the cost comes from the electricity to heat the water used ($0.32)
- If you use a natural gas hot water heater, the average shower costs about $0.40 per shower (that’s assuming a 61% efficiency of the hot water heater).
- 64% of the cost comes from the actual cost of water in this case (still $0.25)
- The other 36% of the cost comes from the natural gas (which is pretty cheap right now) to heat the water used ($0.15)
Some of the Other Variables
For the super nerds reading this, I walk through an example calculation with each of the shower variables on the tools page where you can download your own copy of the Shower Cost Calculator. However, I think it’s important to point out here that there can be really misleading information out there on the cost of water.
Water & Wastewater
While water can be as cheap as $0.0015 per gallon, this typically doesn’t factor in the cost of wastewater fees being charged on each gallon used. The wastewater fee can often be 2 times or 3 times the cost of the water itself. In the calculator, I used the true cost of water here in Richmond, VA which is 1.35 cents per gallon (0.4 cents for the water and 0.95 cents in wastewater fees).
If you typically take a longer or hotter shower (like my wife does) and want to more accurately figure out your own costs, you can go ahead and make those tweaks in a copy of the shower cost calculator and input your own values (both imperial and metric calculation options available).
The temperature of the incoming water can make a big difference. I used an average “cold tap water” temperature of 50°F, which works for us in Virginia here, but if you live in a northern state, Canada, UK, etc., you could be looking at incoming temperatures closer to 40°F, which means it takes a lot more energy to heat up your water to a comfortable shower temp.
For example, I did another round of example average shower cost calculations on the metric tabs in the spreadsheet using data from Toronto, Ontario, and the average cost of a shower in Toronto with an incoming water temperature of 41°F (or 5°C) looks more like $0.75 per shower if using an electric hot water heater or an average of $0.47 per shower using natural gas.
How to save on each and every shower!
Great, now we’ve solved the curiosity about the actual shower cost. But what I personally find even more exciting is the super easy opportunity to cut down on these shower costs by 30%-40%+, which can quickly add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars saved over a few years!
My Experience: Low Flow Sucked
My previous experience with “low flow shower heads” from the early 2000’s had been horrible. As an example, I vividly recall how during my first year of college, the maintenance staff in my dorm building switched out the “regular” shower heads with low flow shower heads on all of the dorm showers. The change in the shower was horrendous: showers were now cold, uncomfortable, and you could barely get the soap washed off of you. These new shower heads didn’t last for long as students either “modified” the low flow shower heads by drilling larger holes in them (no longer making them low flow) or taking of the shower heads off entirely so water just came out of the pipe directly.
I had similarly bad experiences installing my own low flow shower heads at home that came with water saving kits from the local utility or community group.
Showers Are Sacred
As an environmentalist (and generally frugal dude) I wanted to save where I could but only to a reasonable level of sacrifice to my perceived quality of life. Messing with a nice warm shower that wakes me up in the morning or thoroughly cleans me after a sweaty workout – that’s just going too far. I value those few moments of great relaxation in an otherwise busy day too much to give them up.
So when we moved into our current home with 2.0 gpm (gallon per minute) shower heads, I thought that was the best we could do. I will admit I even took a step in the opposite direction and switched out one of the shower heads to a wider 2.5 gpm dual shower head for an even more luxurious shower experience (gasp)! I thought that was the best trade off between $ spent and shower experience.
There’s a New and Different Breed of Water Saving Shower Heads
HOWEVER, I am here to say things have changed! I first caught wind of decent water saving shower heads when I read an article from a blog I respected and the writer claimed the shower was great. I found it hard to believe. But that definitely started the process of research and number crunching, and sure enough, I found a half dozen shower heads at 1.5 gpm that had solid reviews.
I ordered and tried out 5 different models with the best reviews and, even between all of these highly rated models I thought there was a night and day difference between most. Some had too narrow a spray area so the sides of your body would get cold – yuck. Or, the shower wasn’t powerful enough and it felt like you couldn’t easily wash the soap out of your hair – lame. But out of the 5 shower heads I installed, there were two clear standout options, and I actually settled on both: the SPEAKMAN “Reaction” in our first shower and the KOHLER “Awaken” in the other.
Winning Water Saving Shower Heads
SPEAKMAN “The Reaction” 1.5 gpm (also available in 1.75 gpm)
- Transparent, available in grey, or funky blue and green if you have a creative flare and can pull it off.
- Brushed or stainless steel.
I Love My Showers Even More
I can attest there is no decrease in the enjoyment of my shower. In fact, I actually enjoy it more knowing I brought the cost of each shower down from $0.53 to $0.35! With both of these 1.5 gpm “water saving” shower heads (I personally think the term “low flow” does shower heads like this an injustice), there is still great coverage across my whole body and it’s not weird, cold, or otherwise uncomfortable as my experience had been with other shower heads.
The water seems to ever so slightly pulsate out of the shower head rather than a continuous stream. With the Speakman model, because it’s transparent, you can actually see a spinning disk that is breaking up the water stream – I assume this is how it reduces the water output while being able to keep the broad coverage.
My wife was very skeptical at first (just as I was). She didn’t want to have anything to do with a change to her shower. However, after convincing here to give it a shot, I was actually quite surprised how quickly she came around after just a few showers! In fact, I never heard a single complaint. We’ve been using these for over a year now and have been happily saving water, energy, and money ever since!
One additional and unexpected benefit we’ve also experienced since installing these water saving shower heads is an improvement when running simultaneous showers. While I’ve always considered the water pressure at our house as good, if you were already in the shower and someone else started another shower (or the clothes washer started running), we used to experience a noticeable decline in the water pressure. It wasn’t the worst, but it was enough to put off taking a shower if possible until the other person was finished. Now however, because each shower is using less water, I can’t tell whatsoever when someone else starts showering or using a lot of water. I realize everyone’s household plumbing situation is different, but this was definitely a nice improvement for us!
How Much the Green Geek is Saving
From these new water saving shower heads, I have calculated we are saving over $110 a year. (It would be a lot more if our kids were showering, but that won’t be for a few years yet.) Not only are we saving on expenses, but we are saving energy and carbon emissions that is equivalent to saving over 750 miles driven in the average passenger car each year.
Over a period of 15 years (and investing the savings at an inflation adjusted return of 7%), savings from this simple action works out to a cool $3,000. Not too shabby.
Not only is changing out your shower head really quick to do and requires no maintenance, but it’s also a great thing you can do if you rent your place and want to save on utilities and reduce your environmental footprint.
Step-by-step instructions for changing out a shower head:
This is a super simple DIY job that anyone can do in a matter of minutes.
- Use an adjustable wrench to remove the old shower head (turning counter clockwise).
- Optional: add a little Teflon tape wrapped clockwise around the thread of the shower arm/pipe.
- Hand tighten the new shower head onto the shower arm until it’s snug.
Done! – Check for leaks (tighten or add Teflon tape if needed)
- Here’s a link to the Green Geek’s shower cost calculator
- You can calculate not only the cost of your current shower, but also how much you could potentially save with a new water saving shower head.
- For those that have never changed a shower head before, here’s a link to a quick youtube video to get you going
- I think this video is a little overkill (I’ve never used a pair of slip joint pliers to hold the shower arm – just use your hand), but you’ll get the general idea.
Best of luck, and hopefully a few others can get an awesome shower while also lifting a pit of weight off the planet and your pocket book!
-The Green Geek