Help for low water pressure, annoying showers
December 15, 2015 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What kind of technology can help us have more water pressure in our shower? We have the kind of shower where there's a faucet down below and a showerhead up above, and you lift a little diverter doohickey within the faucet which causes the water to come out of the showerhead instead of the faucet (looks kind of like this).

We live in a low pressure zone (on top of a hill) and the city has measured our pressure as 40 psi at both the meter and the hose bib, which is standard for our zone and cannot be increased. The pressure in the shower is so low that the diverter can't be held up all the way and half of the water goes out the faucet into the tub instead of up to the showerhead. We have already removed the flow restrictor from the showerhead. Also our plumber has replaced the diverting tub spout twice. We have also already opened and closed all the valves in the house (recommended by the city water guys), which did not make a difference. The pipes in the house are copper/pvc but the pipe from the street to the house is still galvanized - but the Mr. says that even if we replace it, ($1000) we will get increased volume but not increased pressure (according to fluid dynamics). Our plumber said he would research alternative types of shower assemblies but hasn't come up with anything yet. We can live with the low pressure in the rest of the house, but the weaksauce showers are driving me crazy.
posted by matildaben to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of a way to increase pressure without some sort of dedicated system. But that seems like overkill.

Make sure the valve at the meter is fully open as well.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2015

For a temporary low-tech solution, can you use a rubber tipped clothes pin (or something similar) to hold up the diverter?
posted by blueberrypuffin at 11:13 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Can you remove the faucet completely?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:20 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you considered a shower booster pump? I don't have any specific recommendations, but the last place I lived in had a pump for the shower. I only rented and never inspected the equipment in the basement, but you could hear the pump kick on when you took a shower.

Interestingly, most of the hits I get when googling for examples are from the UK.
posted by cabingirl at 11:22 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Tough situation. I recently did a lot of research on shower heads because I have low pressure/ flow, and found a model that makes a lot more out of what water you do have. Without being able to fix the pipes or whatever, it did make it feel like 1/3 more water and rinse my thick hair much more quickly. Something about the direction of flow pattern?
Anyway, they have a lot of models with the technology, and I found a weird bronze color one at 70% off the price of chrome. Much happier now. Delta In2ition was the brand. Hope that helps!
posted by TenaciousB at 11:22 AM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

My dad lives on a hill and had to install a booster pump where the water comes into the house from the street. His pressure also meets the piss-poor standards. But the pump breaks a lot and requires replacing, so I'm not sure I can recommend it. But when it works it's awesome.
posted by cecic at 11:23 AM on December 15, 2015

Broadly, you have two ways to improve the situation. You can increase pressure by installing an booster pump near where the water line enters the house, and you can make the best of the pressure you have by jury-rigging the diverter, switching to a faucet setup that doesn't depend on water pressure to keep the diverter set properly, and switching to a shower head that is designed for low pressure. I'd start with the latter ideas because they're cheaper and easier, and then go to the booster pump if you're still annoyed.
posted by jon1270 at 11:25 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

the kind of shower head we found best for low pressure has a single "hole" that's about half an inch across. typically they're marketed as "vortex" or similar.

edit: ours looks like this one.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:34 AM on December 15, 2015

So two potential solutions:
  • Put in a pump and storage tank like houses on wells use. I've got a friend who lives at the top of a hill who just did this, it's pretty simple. There are off-the-shelf devices you just put in-line (they are fairly large though).
  • 40 PSI should be enough to drive a shower. Do you have old galvanized steel pipes that have accumulated enough cruft and corrosion internally that 40PSI just can't deliver enough flow to keep your pressure up? If you've got a hose setup close to where the water enters the house, see how long it takes to fill up a bucket there vs the bathtub spigot vs the shower head. If you can fill a gallon bucket at the hose faucet in 15 seconds but it takes 40 seconds at the bathtub spigot, your problem is in your internal plumbing. If it takes 40 seconds at the hose faucet, you may be getting the pressure from the city, but through some constricted pipes.

posted by straw at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

We just replaced our all our tub and shower fixtures with a kit from Grohe. The key thing in terms of your diverter problem is that they make several "dual function" valve trims (we bought this dual function thermostatic trim with control module). Instead of having a diverter knob built into the tub spout, the valve trim actually operates in two directions. Turn it counter-clockwise to fill the tub, clockwise to run a shower. This will eliminate the problem you have that your water pressure isn't high enough to keep the diverter in place.

Bad news 1: we spent about $2000 on parts and labor and we still have a new hole in a bedroom wall — a lath and plaster bedroom wall — that we have to get somebody out to patch. That was because the new shower retrofit kit needed an anchor and there wasn't anything to which to anchor it, since the old shower head had just been supported by the plumbing. If you just go with a simpler wall-mounted shower head, you might not need that extensive work, though.

Bad news 2: while newer shower heads are better at working with low water flow and pressure, that still might not solve all your problems with low flow, so you still might end up wanting a booster pump. We're not in the acknowledged low pressure area in DC, but our pressure isn't exactly high, and our shower does feel a bit borderline (my wife notices when she's rinsing her hair; I noticed when I needed the handheld to be on its "massage" setting and the resulting effort was … wimpy).

Bad news 3: the plumbers found the whole thing overwhelming (there's a rough-in box that has to be installed first, and then the valve body mounts into that) and I had to calibrate the thermostatic valve's temperature myself after they left. Not actually hard, but a little annoying.
posted by fedward at 11:44 AM on December 15, 2015

You appear to live in a city which mandates valves that prevent backflow from customers into the city system -- that same city sent us a letter telling us to install one 10+ years ago -- and the people we got ours from told us that most (perhaps all) such valves also limit the maximum pressure the customer experiences from the city supply (this may have been the proximate reason the city insisted we install one on our older house).

Ours was set at the default pressure of 35 psi, but could have been set higher by turning a bolt that came out of the bottom of the unit.

However, your plumber would probably have known about this and taken it into account, but it wouldn't hurt to make absolutely sure, I'd think.
posted by jamjam at 11:57 AM on December 15, 2015

Would a pressure tank help? I have one in my house with a well. It's not a reservoir, it stores no water, it just has an air bladder that raises the pressure in the plumbing lines. I have no idea whether this would work but it may be worth asking a plumber.
posted by Nelson at 11:58 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

We installed Something just like this. We also had a tub-shower combo that relied on water pressure to keep the knob on the faucet held up and diverting to the shower head. No more. This is more of a dial. We used to have problems with our low water pressure causing a dribble of water to come out of the faucet but the dial solves that issue and it can be retrofitted over what you currently have. It will not give you great water pressure but it will reduce your water waste and your annoyance.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:02 PM on December 15, 2015

could you attach a handheld shower to the tub faucet and hang it on a hook? I have a handheld that is part of the shower extension and the pressure on that puppy is WAY tf harder than anything coming out of my shower. I'm just thinking that since the problem lies with the diverter, you might not attach the handheld to the shower, since it would have the same issues, but I could be wrong since it takes so much less water to get a powerful spray out of the handheld.
posted by janey47 at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

a pressure tank by itself won't help - they just "store" whatever pressure comes in. if you have a well, then the pressure tank stores the pressure from the well's pump, so that the pump doesn't have to run all the time. they cannot "add" pressure.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lots of RV and other commercial systems that require constant pressure rely on. thing called an accumulator. I've seen them frequently attached to sinks, but not showers. I doubt this is an insurmountable install, but asking a plumer about an accumulator might be a step in the right direction.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:06 PM on December 15, 2015

an accumulator is another name for a pressure tank. it stores up the pressure from the pump so that the pump doesn't have to run continuously. but it doesn't add pressure beyond what the pump supplies.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:00 PM on December 15, 2015

Has your plumber checked for any blockage on the shower side? What happens if you take the shower head off and run the shower? Does the diverter stay engaged then?

We had a faucet similar to this in which a handheld shower hose attached directly to the faucet. This is maybe only worth considering if you've tested the flow from your faucet and your showerhead, and the faucet has more.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:08 PM on December 15, 2015

"What happens if you take the shower head off and run the shower?" check this.

If the diverter works with no shower head attached, see if your current shower head contains a flow restricter. Usually for most low flow shower heads it can be removed. Removing it may allow enough flow to keep the diverter engaged and will certainly improve your shower quality.

In normal circumstances this would increase your water usage, but in this situation with low pressure you are probably already using less than average...
posted by NoDef at 6:18 PM on December 15, 2015

I may be stating the obvious, but did you clean out your showerhead/try it with a new showerhead in place? Hard water deposits can gunk up the nozzles and/or crud from the pipes can lodge in the head, restricting water flow. Soak the head in vinegar or CLR for a couple of hours, either by tying a liquid filled bag over the head (fiddly method) or remove it completely and soak it in a bowl. Note to self: time to soak the showerhead.
posted by sarajane at 5:00 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

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