Water-saving shower heads are becoming standard issue today, and represent the minimum price of admission to conserving water in the bath of your sustainable or zero-energy dwelling. Many of these low-flow shower head products are also certified under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense program to save water while still providing a reasonably-enjoyable showering experience, and can also help you earn points under many green building certification programs, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program.
By specification, WaterSense-certified shower heads reduce the water flow to 2.0 gpm or less, a minimum 20% reduction over the current U.S. federal standard of 2.5 gpm. But what if you want to be in total control of restricting the water flow through your shower head, rather than relying on the shower head itself to dictate the rate? One can simply adjust the water volume with the shower valve handle, correct?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question in some cases will be no, as the volume control has been eliminated entirely on many newer shower valves. So, if you want to dial your shower back to something less than the 1.5 or 2.0 gpm flow rate delivered by the WaterSense shower head, a change is in order.
Now, rather than call a plumber to rip and replace your entire shower system for something with an integral volume control valve (yes, they are still available), you can easily install a shower head shut-off valve on your existing setup and get infinitely variable water, ranging from zero gpm up to the maximum flow of the current fixture. These simple shut-off valves are fitted inline between the end of the shower arm and existing shower head, and are operated by turning a simple mechanical lever or handle to the desired setting.
The valves are quite easily installed by most homeowners: Simply unscrew the existing shower head using an adjustable wrench, install the shut-off valve on the exposed shower arm, replace the shower head, and then tighten the fittings with the same wrench. While you are wrenching your way to less water, wrap a length of Teflon plumber’s tape around the male threads on both the shower arm and the valve to get insurance against future leaks. And, voilà, you are back in total control of your shower flow rate.
We shopped a few local big-box home improvement stores and were unable to find any of these valves on the shelves that matched the style and finish for the Kohler and Moen fixtures we have in the Digitized House Zero Energy Living Lab house. As we pivoted to online shopping, using the search string “shower shut-off valve” yielded a wide variety of such valves. We were able to find minimalistic valves that perfectly matched each shower fixture, at a cost of less than $10 each.
You can’t go wrong with these valves, a stylish yet functional route to the incredible lightness of water you are seeking in the sustainable home.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.