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A quick overview of shower types

A 50plus Shower-Man guide

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There is a huge range of showers to choose from so let's begin with a quick run through of types:

  • Electric showers have a cold water only feed and heat and pump the water as it flows through. The heating requires a lot of electricity so a direct separate supply from an electrical consumer unit (fuse box) is required. Typical flow rate 4 to 5.5 litres per minute.
  • Power showers are also electric but simply pump the hot & cold supplies, the hot water being heated by the household water heating system. They require only limited electricity. Typical flow rate 12 to 14 litres per minute.
  • Digital showers are are usually a variant of a power shower with a controller in the shower linked to the main apparatus which is in the loft or elsewhere.
  • Mixer showers run on the hot and cold water supply and need no electricity. They come in two temperature control types, thermostatic and manual and two mounting types, recessed (the body is hidden in the wall) and exposed. Typical flow rate 5 to 8 (bar shower) and 6 to 20 (mixer valve) litres per minute; higher rates require a shower pump.
  • Balancing showers are usually a variant of the mixer shower but unlike regular mixer valves can operate with differing hot and cold water pressure.
  • Shower pumps - are used to pump water to mixer showers, increasing the pressure considerably. They replicate the power shower with the pump in a separate location.

Notes on installation and repairs

Electric showers

It is uncommon for problems to arise with the electrical supply, the most frequent problems arise with the shower units themselves.

The cost of electric showers has fallen in the last few years to the extent that in many cases the cost of the shower itself is only around 20% of the overall installation cost. This also means that it is frequently more cost effective to replace a faulty electric shower than try and repair it, particularly in hard water areas where scale builds up over time inside the shower. Remember when replacing an electric shower that the wattage must not exceed that which the cable can supply. For a guide check here. A safe bet is replace a shower with one of a similar wattage.

A new electric shower installation requires a power supply being run in 10mm cable from the consumer unit via a switch near the shower (usually a ceiling pull cord) and cold water from a suitable point - most electric showers require mains water pressure. The consumer unit must have an RCD fitted, if not a 'shower consumer unit' can be fitted to supply just the shower. The installation has to be certified and notified to Building Control under Part P of the Building Regulations. Adequate earthing and equipotential bonding is essential for safety. Unless the building's electrical installation is to post 2007 standards supplementary bonding is also required in or near the bathroom.

Electric shower ceiling pull switches are relatively straight forward to replace but the large (often 10mm) cables are not easy to fit into what is often a quite small switch box and this can extend the time required for the job. If just the cord has broken then it's often a good idea to replace the switch as there's a strong possibility it's demise will follow the cords.

Power showers require only limited electrical power and so can be run (via fused spur) from an existing ring main. As with electric showers the consumer unit must have an RCD fitted, if not a fused spur with an integral RCD can be fitted to supply just the shower. The installation has to be certified and notified to Building Control under Part P of the Building Regulations. Adequate earthing and equipotential bonding is essential for safety. Unless the buildings electrical installation is to post 2007 standards supplementary bonding is also required in or near the bathroom.

Shower mixer valves - most thermostatic models have a 'cartridge' which is replaced as a single unit and can cost into three figures for the part. The correct cartridge is required to match the plumbing supply characteristis, typically low pressure (gravity), high pressure e.g. combi-boiler or pumped. If a repair is required the first step is to identify the make and model of mixer valve, not always an easy task as many are unmarked. A photograph is often useful as there are pictures or diagrams of most models, both current and past, on spares web sites. Once spares are on hand the hot and cold water supplies need to be isolated for the parts to be fitted. In hard water areas a shower which has been dripping for some time may have damaged the body as well so it may be worth considering a complete replacement. To install a new shower mixer requires plumbing in hot and cold supplies. The time to do this and the type of mixer required is very variable from installation to installation and is dependent in part of the type of water heating system in the property.

Shower pumps are typically located in an adjacent airing cupboard, under the bath or in another convenient location. In most cases a regular (positive head) pump can be used. Water needs to be fed from a storage facility; cold from the header tank, hot from an immersion cylinder with a suitable 'flange'. If the pump is not located well below the cold water tank a 'negative head' pump will be required. From an electrical perspective shower pumps are similar to power showers and have similar electrical supply requirements.

Shower pumps and power showers cannot be used with combi-boilers which should themselves provide an adequate water flow rate as the both the hot and cold supplies will be at the mains cold water pressure.

 

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