Pump up the volume and go with the flow

Kya deLongchamps offers an essential guide to showers, from an indulgent wet room to a traditional mixer or just an economical, easy way to rinse off the kids.

Given the nationwide rumblings regarding water charges, I began to wonder about showers and bathrooms. Would taking out a bath and putting in a shower devalue a house?

In the long term, I think not. If the space is there to re-install a bath big enough for Nero and his concubines, and the quality of the room’s fittings and features are bang on, the Irish shower-room as standard is surely on the way.

Under Pressure

The first thing to establish is whether you have high or low water pressure, which is measured in bars. A 0.3 bar rating would be considered low and 1.0-1.5 fairly standard. You can buy a water pressure testing kit at any DIY outlet. If you’re still unsure, your plumber will certainly know by investigating your boiler type and by running taps in the bathroom. Showers are suited to high, low or both types of pressure situations.

For a shower with greedy body jets you will need to rank up your pressure to at least 3.0bar. The greater the distance between the bottom of the tank feeding the shower and the top of the shower head, the better the shower will feel in a traditional ‘gravity fed’ shower. If you have a combi-boiler or an unvented heating system, you will already be enjoying high pressure through the taps, and you’ll feel the benefits through any mixer or electric shower without further mechanical help.

Low pressure can be muscled up using a flow-operated pump but keep in mind that once you boost pressure you also increase your litres per minute of water usage. Buy a power shower, and the pump is integrated within the housing of the unit. Some makes of electric showers also feature an integrated pump. Alternatively, you can install a separate pump to boost the performance of a mixer shower from less than 1bar to 3.0bars or more. Prices start at around €150 for a 1.5 bar centrifugal pump supplied with braided hoses.

Where the tank feeding the shower is a metre or more above the pump, a regenerative pump with a fast spinning impeller will do the work. They are more costly than a centrifugal model. More powerful 2.0 bar models will service two 15cm shower heads.

Where the tank is more than two metres above the pump, a centrifugal pump is often used. There should be as few twists and turns in the pipes as possible for this pump to be effective. A 1.5 bar model will serve a 10cm shower head, but for sinks, baths and showers in two bathrooms go for 2.0-3.0bar.

Some but not all pumps intended for 22mm pipe-work can be used with a reducer for 15mm pipe-work.

When choosing a power shower, the European Water Label can tell you more about the suitability of the shower for high/low pressure and its performance per litre. The flow rate will be represented in a light/dark water drop symbol for low/high pressure.

Electric showers of 8.5kW to 10.5kWs are highly economical, only heating the water needed for the shower instantly as it’s used. However, using a pumped version will reduce its water efficiency.

Mixing it up

Showers are broken up into three general types based on the delivery. Gravity fed mixers, electric showers (which can also be pumped) and power showers. There are digital thermostatic controls available for just about every shower type which can sit in or out of the shower regulating the temperature and displaying the readiness of the shower for use.

Gravity fed mixers (taking water from the cold tank and the immersion or combi-boiler) deliver a great shower in a standard-high pressure system. A separate pump can turn any gravity fed mixer into a power shower, but keep in mind this could mean a difference of 5-10l per minute down the drain. Choose a shower head to match your pressure system and look for flow-controls, now appearing as eco-settings to reduce the flow-rate. Spinning aerated heads save water and feel fabulous bubbling against the skin. If you like a fixed overhead rain-shower style, consider going the extra euros for a ‘diverter’ model which supplies a separate handset for younger children who may find a heavy monsoon overwhelming.

Enclosures and trays

Shower-bath, enclosure or wet-room, the crucial thing is that your shower’s situation is 100% watertight. A discreet ingress of water through a leaking tray or an improperly sealed set of frameless glass panels — it all adds up to damp, rot and expense. If you can’t handle the tanking of your shower, or have no understanding of matching a low-level tray to the flow rate of your shower, hire a registered contractor.

The Americans have long accepted plug ‘n’ play solutions of whole shower units in resinous plastics, but we are at least now open to optical grade acrylics in a variety of panels recalling glass and stone. Panel systems such as Grossfilex, start around €350 per metre width, and 2070mm high.

Low-profile trays shimmy down from 27mm to flush. The lowest you can go to the ground is the tiled-in-tray, where the floor is basically serving as a tray. Grading this correctly takes skill. Trays fitted with an integral waste make fitting easier.

Panelled screens are generally more suited to power showers for baths. If you have an idea that your walls are not ‘true’ ensure the model you choose has a ‘compensating profile’ that can be angled a few millimetres into a good tight fit against the supporting wall.

Shower sizes of 1200mm and up in square enclosures and rectangular extended enclosures are not unusual. Corner units and roomy trays of 1000mm in quadrants (quarter circles) can make use of the tightest space. Look out for detailing including magnetic door seals, easy-clean glass and concealed screw heads.

A single large plate of glass swinging out into the room can be problematic in a smaller bathroom or where it’s likely to bounce off the loo edge and moistly slap the user in the face. Consider sliders and panels instead.

The walk-in — a shaped arrangement of plates of glass or a set of curves that you step around and into the shower can give a sublime finish with frameless sheets of 8-10mm toughened glass hovering over a tray or self draining wet-room floor. Remember that walk-ins can demand as much length as an 1800mm bath.

Children’s allowance

Teenagers obsessed with using soap are facing a new Dickensian low. Despite the original threshold of 38,000 litres of free water, Irish Water has now proposed a substantial cut to the allowance per child (under-18s).

The prospect of one, scanty, limp shower of 49 litres and a single, seven-litre flush of the loo has been mentioned in the media, although the exact figure requested of the Commission for Energy Regulation has not been officially released.

If these sorts of numbers are anywhere near correct, and you currently enjoy a forceful power shower of 25 litres per minute, your children could be using days of free water allowance in a single escapade.

TDs at the Oireachtas Committee on Environment were informed of the change by Commissioner Paul McGowan earlier this month. We still have no price, from Irish Water, per cubic metre of water.

The bean counters are dealing with the financial blow of the Government’s refusal of the suggested €50 annual standing charge. Higher allowances require more costs for the water we do pay for, and, historically, we don’t enjoy change.

It’s vital to get your children motivated in limiting their use of water, getting into the habit of using mugs for tooth-brushing, and organising and timing every shower.

They can, and will, embrace the holistic notion of water as a precious commodity, given the right information and direction.

Go online to www.taptips.ie  for useful PDFs for younger children.


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