April Showers
Ralph Masullo
Installing a new showerhead is one project that won't cost a lot, require you to solder pipe in cramped corners or result in an outrageous bill from a plumber. So if you haven't replaced your showerhead in the last five years, it's time for an upgrade. There are dozens of great showerheads and handheld models on the market that will make your morning a lot nicer -- and save water to boot.

Conservation and SafetyIf all you're looking for is a showerhead that will make you want to get up in the morning, safety and conservation may seem a little off the subject. But you can actually have both of these pluses without sacrificing comfort. As part of a federally mandated effort to conserve water, today's showerheads must flow at a rate of no more than 2.5 gal. per minute (gpm). It's amazing what can be done with only 2.5 gal., but if there's a shower-loving teenager in your family, you can get even stingier. The Europa Elite from Resources Conservation Inc. costs less than $10, delivers just 2 gpm (in single-spray mode) and has an on/off valve to save water while you're soaping up. If your shower is used by small children or seniors, you need to consider antiscald protection. In new construction, code requires that this protection be provided by the mixer valve; but replacing your old valve with a new antiscald model requires some serious plumbing. You may want to consider an antiscald fitting (made by Scaldsafe and Flowguard, about $16) that installs between the shower arm and your new showerhead. There are also showerheads, like Europa's Mondo Massage antiscald model ($20), that use this concept. Showerheads That Do It All Being good to yourself is a great reason to buy a new showerhead. It can make getting clean fun and relaxing. "Intense pulsing spray is what people usually look for when shopping for a new showerhead," says Les Petrie, a certified kitchen and bath designer based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. "The massage function is great for stress relief, but a good showerhead should also offer a wide, even spray pattern for washing and rinsing off." You'll find a wide price range when you're shopping, from less than $10 up to $100 for a model like Hansgrohe's Clubmaster. Its wide-spray, aerated-spray and massage settings click firmly into place on the large dial that surrounds the head -- a feature you'll appreciate if you don't like fussy adjustments. An attractive marriage of chrome and plastic, the Clubmaster even has a pleated rubber boot that covers the joint between the head and the shower arm. Cheri Antozak, a certified kitchen and bath designer in Grandville, Michigan, likes the "trickle" setting you'll find on some showerheads and handheld showers. "The trickle adjustment restricts most of the flow," she explains. "I like to think of it as 'pausing' the water, so you can lather up your shampoo or shave your legs." There are quite a few expensive showerheads that don't feature a trickle option; Speakman's Anystream 2000 (about $45) is one that does. Tall folks don't need to suffer with a showerhead that's set too low on the wall. To move the showerhead up higher, you can buy an arm extender ($18) that attaches to any standard shower arm. Or go with Teledyne Water Pik's Flexible Shower Massage Showerhead ($30), with its bendable arm. Both of these products adjust up or down. If your doing a full bath remodel, you'll probably want to consider a full shower set that includes the showerhead, matching mixer valve and, if required, a tub spigot. Though more expensive, an integrated shower upgrade can really pump up the personality of your bathroom. Major manufacturers like Delta, Moen and Ondine have broad selections of shower sets. Prices range from less than $100 to more than $500. "For a cost-effective upgrade, you'll have to buy a shower set with compatible components," explains Antozak. "For example, if your shower has separate hot and cold controls, you can't install a single mixing valve without making expensive changes in your plumbing and shower wall." If you're looking at polished-brass and chrome fixtures, make sure to ask about the special protective coatings that are available on some product lines. "Delta's Brilliance and Moen's LifeShine are among the high-tech finishes I can recommend," Petrie says. "Neither of these finishes reacts to the minerals in your water or to cleaning agents. As a result, you get years of good looks instead of the usual tarnish and discoloration."
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