Types of Showers

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What type of shower should I install?

If you want a shower that is enjoyable to use and will be reliable, then it is very important to make sure that the shower unit is compatible with your plumbing system. You also need to consider economy and safety, and the latter is crucial where young children or elderly people will be using the shower. There are three basic types of shower: mixer, power, and electric.
All three basic types can be either non-thermostatic or thermostatic. So let's start with an explanation of what that means.

Thermostatic showers

A thermostatic shower only allows water to flow at a preset temperature. The temperature is controlled by a digital processor unit, so these showers may sometimes be referred to as digital showers. The processor uses a thermostat and valve to mix hot and cold water to the temperature that you select. It will automatically adjust when water is turned on somewhere else in the property, so you will not get sudden increases or decreases in temperature. It will not allow scalding hot water to flow through.
A good quality thermostatic shower will mean that young children or the elderly can use the shower without any fear of scalding. You can get all basic types of showers with this thermostatic control. It will cost more but it is worth it in order to have the comfort and safety. 

Mixer valve showers

These are showers that control the water flow with a mixer valve. In a lot of homes, the water is gravity-fed to the mixer valve. The cold water flows from the cold water storage tank in the attic and the hot water comes from the hot water cylinder. The water pressure is directly related to the position of the hot and cold water tanks and there needs to be at least 3 metres between the tanks and the shower. Is this distance is not possible (or if the pressure is still too low) a pump will have to be installed to boost the pressure between the tanks and the shower. This set up is what is known as a 'pumped' shower. An alternative to a 'pumped' shower is a power shower, which is described further on in this article. 
If your plumbing system features a combi boiler or is a sealed system, your mixer valve shower should have enough water pressure without the need for a pump. A modern system which achieves somewhere in the region of 1.5 bar of pressure is unlikely to require a pump. 
A mixer valve shower is a good choice where there is enough water pressure and where there is a plentiful supply of hot water. Mixer valve showers are not expensive either. However, if there is not a lot of pressure, rather than getting a pump installed, you may prefer a 'power' shower. 

Power showers

A power shower could easily be confused with an 'electric' shower, but they are different. A power shower has a pump inside the unit. An 'electric' shower (which will be described next) may or may not have an inbuilt pump. Water that is gravity-fed from your hot and cold water tanks will be pressurised by this inbuilt pump. This produces a great shower; but keep in mind that it also empties the hot water tank very quickly! 
If you have a low pressure gravity-fed system, installing a power shower may be easier than getting a 'power' shower (which means getting separate pump installed somewhere between your tanks and the shower), but power showers are often quite expensive to buy. 

Electric showers

Electric showers heat the water inside the unit. There are two types of electric shower: mains fed and gravity fed (where water flows by gravity from your hot and cold water storage tanks). Gravity-fed electric showers have a pump inside them (making them very similiar to a power shower) to create enough water pressure for a pleasant shower. This is why they are referred to as 'pumped electric showers'. If you are supplying water to your shower directly from the mains, then you will need a 'mains-fed' shower. However, in some cases the pressure from the mains is low, which means that you will need a 'pumped electric shower' (the type used for gravity-fed systems). 
All 'electric' showers contain a heating element which heats the water instantly. Because there is instant hot water, electric showers are a great choice for properties where a plentiful supply of hot water is not easily available. Usually, using an electric shower is going to be more economical than showers that need hot water provided by an immersion heater. 
Electric showers mean that you can have a hot shower at any time with no need to wait around for water to heat up. Another advantage is that they are inexpensive. Disadvantages of electric showers include noise, limescale build-up, and they may not produce as much pressure as power showers or pumped showers.

Shower heads

Even if you have carefully chosen your shower system, you can run into problems if you don't use the right shower head. The wrong shower head can result in too much water flow, which lowers the pressure and is wasteful. Or too little water may flow, which can cause unwelcome rapid on-off cycling of the pump, as well as an unsatisfactory shower experience. It is wise to stick with the shower head recommended by the manufacturer. In the case of (non-pumped) gravity fed showers with low pressure, a shower head with lots of very small jets can produce a very nice pressurised spray of water. The volume of water flow will be less, which is both good and bad. The good: you save on water water. The bad: the flow may not be enough to create the kind of shower that you are used to!

It really does pay to take your time and do your research before buying a new shower. You need to know what your current plumbing set up is and what your water pressure is like, whether the supply is from storage tanks or from the mains. A good plumber or plumbing supplies merchant will be able to give you the right advice.
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