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How to Change a Shower Head & More

Replacing your old shower head is one of the easiest home repairs you'll ever do. Select and install a new one that conserves water and invigorates you.

Shower head running. iStock

Installing a new shower head 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 shower head in the last five years, it's time for an upgrade. There are dozens of great shower heads and handheld models on the market that will make your morning a lot nicer—and save water to boot.

How to Change a Shower Head

It’s easy to replace your old shower head and install a new one. Here’s how: 1. Remove your old head with a strap wrench. If you don’t have one, use an adjustable open-end wrench or adjustable pliers. You can avoid marring the finish on the shower head nut by wrapping it with masking tape or cloth before loosening it. 2. Wrap the threads on the shower arm with Teflon tape or pipe dope as a thread sealant. Some manufacturers specify Teflon tape only. 3. Screw on the new shower head and tighten with a wrench. Avoid overtightening the connection. A half turn beyond finger tight should seal the joint.

Types of Shower Heads

Hand-Held Shower Heads

Some shower heads are attached to 4- to 6-ft.-long hoses that let you direct the spray as well as wash the dog or rinse down shower walls. With these, you have the option of placing the head in a holder on the shower arm or holding it in your hand. Most have adjustable spray settings. “Try before you buy” is good advice for anyone considering a hose-mounted shower head, according to Antozak.

“You don’t have to get wet, but it is important to see how securely the shower head fits in its holder, and if the holder can be adjusted to direct the spray where you want it,” she says.

Also, you might want to check out some of the newer hose-mounted shower heads with handles that are cushioned or textured for easier handling when wet. Teledyne Water Pik’s Adjustable Shower Massage Shower-head ($29), for example, has an easy-to-hold cushioned, D-type handle. The shower head fits in a holder mounted on the shower arm.

Hose and bar systems consist of a vertical bar (24-, 36- and 48-in. lengths are available), a hose-mounted, handheld shower head and a shower head holder that can be adjusted up and down on the bar. Height adjustment combined with handheld operation make this setup suitable for anyone, including children and the disabled. And they allow you to shower without getting your hair wet.

The InTouch II system from Ondine Interbath offers the range of bar and handset options Antozak often recommends in shower upgrades. “It’s an a -la- carte system of bar-mounted accessories,” she says. “There’s a soap dish with slots for water drainage, a shower basket for shampoo, a V-shelf for sponges and toothpaste and a no-fog mirror with 2x magnification.”

Prices start at around $250. The bars on these systems must be securely fastened to the shower wall, a process that often includes drilling through ceramic tile. The products come with instructions.

Water Saving Shower Heads

If all you're looking for is a shower head 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 shower heads 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 shower head. There are also shower heads, like Europa's Mondo Massage antiscald model ($20), that use this concept.

Pulse and Massage Shower Heads

Being good to yourself is a great reason to buy a new shower head. It can make getting clean fun and relaxing. "Intense pulsing spray is what people usually look for when shopping for a new shower head," says Les Petrie, a certified kitchen and bath designer based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. "The massage function is great for stress relief, but a good shower head 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.

Flow Restrictors

Cheri Antozak, a certified kitchen and bath designer in Grandville, Michigan, likes the "trickle" setting you'll find on some shower heads 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 shower heads 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 shower head that's set too low on the wall. To move the shower head 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 Shower Head ($30), with its bendable arm. Both of these products adjust up or down.

Shower Sets

If you’re doing a full bath remodel, you'll probably want to consider a full shower set that includes the shower head, 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."

Where to Find Shower Heads:

Delta Faucet Co.
55 E. 111th St.
Dept. TH400
Box 40980
Indianapolis, IN 46280

Hansgrohe Inc.
1490 Bluegrass Lakes Pkwy. Suite 209
Dept. TH400
Alpharetta, GA 30004

Moen, Inc.
25300 Al Moen Dr. Dept. TH400
North Olmsted
Ohio 44070-80221

Ondine Interbath
665 N. Baldwin Park Blvd.
Dept. TH400
City of Industry, CA 90242
800/423-9485, ext. 424

Resources Conservation Inc.
39 Maple Tree Ave.
Dept. TH400
Stamford, CT 06906

Speakman Co.
Box 191
Dept TH400
Wilmington, DE 19879

Waterpik Technologies
1730 E. Prospect Rd.,
Dept TH400
Fort Collins, CO 80553-0001