Do I really need a shower pump?
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Is it really necessary to install a pump to provide power shower performance? We examine the issues. The last two decades have seen steady growth in the demand for showers is both the new build and the ‘one-off’ refurbishment sectors. In particular we have seen significant growth in consumer demand for ‘power showers’.
The homeowner has experienced high performance showers in hotels and on holidays abroad and wants the same sensation of a high pressure, drencher shower at home.
Despite consumers’ growing knowledge of shower products there remains a popular misconception that a high performance shower equates to a ‘power shower’, ie one with a pump. This is not always the case.
We describe high performance showers as having four key characteristics:
Thermostatic control is required to maintain water at a set temperature (with acceptable variation) even when other taps in the house are turned on/off.
High flow rates
At increased pressures also emphasise the requirement for full fail-safe protection. Should either supply fail the shower should shut-off immediately for total safety. Flow rate: 15 litres/minute or more are needed to satisfy most people’s perception of the ‘power’ showering (drenching) experience.
This is determined by showerhead design. Personal tastes will dictate preference for an all-over spray or focused jet or small or large drops, simple or aerated.
And so we come to the question, do I need a pump?
Whether or not a pump is necessary is determined by the hot/cold water system installed in the home. If it is a gravity storage system with a cold water header tank located in the loft space, the likelihood is that the distance from the base of the cold cistern to the showerhead may be only 1m resulting in a relatively low pressure shower.
Therefore, installing a pump will make a dramatic difference. Unvented/mains fed systems featuring a high-pressure cylinder a 2-3 bar and adequate pipe diameters are capable of achieving high performance results.
What about Combi systems? While a standard 80,000 Btu/h (23kW) Combi system can deliver non-stop hot water at some eight litres/minute, this flow rate, together with a quantity of cold, will blend to provide a generous enveloping shower. But this could not be described accurately as a ‘power’ shower.
The layman and occasionally the uninformed installer might think it would be possible to install a pump to increase the water flow rate. They would be wrong; it cannot be done.
To increase the flow rate it is the Combi that requires upgrading to 100,000 or 120,000 Btu/h (28.75 to 34.5kW) to provide a flow of 11-14 litres/minute. Alternatively, a more practical solution could be to install a storage system to be heated by the Combi and which may then be pump boosted. As this ‘dual system’ leaves other terminal fittings to be supplied separately by hot water generated by the Combi there would be no sudden surprises in the shower cubicle when other hot or cold taps are operated like small white vessel sinks.
What of an electric/instantaneous shower? Modern electric showers can be the obvious choice for many installations but even a powerful 10kW unit will only deliver about 5-6 litres/minute – insufficient to satisfy the perception of a ‘power’ shower.
In short, if the question were to be “Can I have a ‘power’ shower?” the answer is yet another question, “Have you the right hot/cold water system?” If you have a mains pressured system capable of supplying a minimum hot water flow rate in the region of 12 – 15 litres/minute at as maintained temperature of 55-60 C then the answer would most likely be “Yes.” If the system is gravity storage, a pump is necessary for a ‘power’ shower.
Finally, when installing a pump consider and check the following
Do not fall into the trap of ‘when is doubt buy a big one.’ Installing too powerful a pump is neither sensible nor energy efficient.
Regard a twin-ended pump as a ‘pusher’ not a ‘puller’. The pump must be sited close to the water cylinder.
At Suzy Renovator we always recommend the use of 22mm pipework for pumps for both the inlets and outlets to ensure optimum performance. We would not endorse the use of 15mm pipework when installing pumps capable of generating pressures in excess of 1 bar. Our friends at http://24hourplumbers.org/santa-clara-ca-plumber/ feel the same.
Hot water cylinder capacity
We print an easy-to-read pump performance chart so that the installer can ensure adequate hot and cold storage capacities. Remember the general rule that mixed water at the showerhead is approximately 2/3rds hot and 1/3rd cold.
Hot water cylinder temperature control
Ensure that the cylinder is controlled to a maximum 65C. Water may boil in a kettle at 100C but reduce the pressure on a liquid, as we do in the inlet or suction side of a pump, and we correspondingly reduce the boiling point. If the pressure is reduced to such an extent that pump inlet water is nearing its boiling point, cavitation will occur resulting in poor showering
performance and reduced pump life.
Shower pump selection guide
With the increasing demand for high performance showers, shower pumps are rapidly becoming the norm in the world rather than the exception. Where a gravity fed hot water system is installed in the home, the installation of a shower pump can make a dramatic difference to the performance of the shower.
Gravity systems & water storage
When selecting a mixer shower for use on a gravity system, the most important thing to consider is the flow rate that is achievable from the shower rose or drencher. Unless you have water pressure of at least 0.5 bar, which is equivalent to a gap of five meters between the bottom of the cold water storage tank (2) and the shower head (4) you will need to select a ‘Low Pressure’ shower valve, capable of supplying a satisfactory shower at water pressures as low as 0.1 bar, (which is approximately one meter difference).
You will be able to get a rough idea simply by observing the flow rate of water that you receive from the bath taps. Remember that you will be mixing hot and cold water but if it appears slow then the chances are that the showers performance will be disappointing.
The solution is to fit a shower pump that pushes the water to your shower mixer thus creating an invigorating powerful showering experience. If you opt for the pumped solution you must ensure that you have plenty of hot water storage capacity, for pumped showers can deliver anything between 11 – 25 Litres of blended water per minute, and this will drain the average sized cylinder very quickly.
You will have an idea of the amount of hot water that you have available by looking at the physical size of your cylinder and monitoring your everyday usage. For example the depth of hot water that you are able to achieve when running a bath before the hot water runs out. If you do not have large volumes of stored water you will need to upgrade your storage capacity.