Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April Showers

Those interested in the facts and just the facts should scroll down to the section entitled "Technical Notes".

Living in California, you usually get the rainfall and snowpack readings as part of your nightly news. For the last two years, the newscasters have reported below average levels of snowpack, relentlessly reminded us to conserve water, reported on judge's decisions to rescue fish by reducing the human water supply and announced Al Gore's Nobel Prize.

I could wash my car a little less. Maybe once a year, instead of twice a year. This was working well until I noticed there was so much dirt on my car, I had to change my cloths after I smudged them first thing in the morning.

How about putting some mulch around my plants to conserve moisture. Less water is less work too. That should be good for about 1 quart per week.

I could also wear some of my cloths more than once. Like my jackets. Especially if I mince carefully around my car to avoid smudging...

I've tried to stay cool, calm and collected. I figured not sweating would reduce the need for personal hygiene and I could shorten my showers.

Then it occurred to me.

Without rain, there won't be anything to wash the pollen out of the air.

I am doomed to death by sneezing, aren't I?

Global warming must end. I have to do more. Action is needed.

I'll start by saving more water. Replacing the shower head with a low flow unit should do the job. Gooooooooogle!


Just what is the flow rate on my current shower head.

Gallons per minute. I need a flowmeter.

Also known as a bucket and a watch.

I already have a low flow shower head rated at 2.5 gallons per minute.

OK, I need an ultra low-flow shower head. Gooooooooogle!

It sure is confusing out here.

Aerating shower heads.
Misting shower heads.
Pulsing shower heads.
Mysterious shower heads sold in blister packs and no markings.
Mysterious shower heads without blister packs and no markings.

Wait a minute. A shower head with only 0.5 gallons per minute flow rate. Now that's low. Such a technical feat arouses my not-so-inner geek and I am moved to enquire about this shower head from an obscure company. The company webpages sport an equation to calculate shower head performance using such quantities as flow rate, water pressure and lots of engineer speak. It reminds me of the good old days when I was majoring in physics and had to solve equations like this before breakfast.

"We will need the psi of your shower." murmurs Marketing politely.


A vision of a mercury-filled barometer fills my eyes and I recall a lecture from freshman chemistry about Torricelli's experiment to measure air pressure. I identify some more with the company that will clearly never sell that many shower heads since many people might think this was a reference to a psychic rather than a pressure reading.

Never one to say no to a new gauge, I run around town until I end up at the plumbing store. The one that the plumbers use, not the public. The clerks are surprised to see someone swankly dressed for the office asking about this bit of esoterica but remain polite. I am surprised that such a cool widget is only $16. In the back of my mind creeps the thought that perhaps computers and electronics are overpriced...nah...

Gleefully, I remove my shower head to measure the pressure. It's pretty easy. I still feel great. Clearly, it's been too long since I've taken something apart. Also, I need to get a life.

30 psi.


30 psi

But this gauge is new

30 psi

Whap. Whap.

30 psi

Who'd thunk it?

I report back to Marketing, "One 0.5 gpm shower head rated for 30 psi. Please."

"30 psi?" replied Marketing faintly, "We have to talk to Engineering"

"30 psi!!!" stated Engineering. I can almost hear the laughter in the background. Even though we are conversing by email. " We can't sell you anything at 0.5 gpm. Buy the model rated for 1.25 gpm @ 30 psi. It will take us 10 days to build it."

They are going to build it? Doesn't sound like any of the shower heads sold in blister packs would have met the specs...

"The check is in the mail. Thank you"

The shower head arrives right on schedule. How lovely. Beautifully machined chromed metal. Trivially easy to install. I can toss....err... recycle or reuse my old one....

I turn on the shower.

Darn it.

It doesn't feel that much different from the old one.

Wait a minute.

It's using half the water and I barely detect the difference?

Wahoo! This is a great shower head.

Psst. It's the Bricor SuperMax 100. The current cost is $69.96 plus S&H of 9.95

I wish to state that my preference for the Bricor has nothing to do with the shininess. Like totally. 

Technical Notes

The water pressure gauge  (picture shown at the top of this blog) is commonly used to measure the water pressure for garden hoses and can be found at many garden and hardware centers. The part that was difficult to locate is the adaptor (pictured to the right in the photo) which converts the gauge to fit onto the shower arm. 

The Bricor SuperMax 100 rated at 1.25 gpm for 30 psi was compared to an old Teledyne Waterpik of unknown vintage. Both produced a "soft" spray with acceptable area of coverage. The Teledyne can be adjusted to produce a more vigorous spray but this narrows the water stream. Rinse time is slightly slower for the Bricor but the difference is less than one minute. The subject has shoulder length hair which she lathers 2x and conditions for a total shower time with the water on, of approximately six minutes for the Waterpik and seven minutes for the Bricor. Unlike the Waterpik, the Bricor is an aerating shower head. Such shower heads have been widely reported in the literature to reduce the water temperature after the water leaves the head. However, a very small increase in the hot water compensates for this effect in the Bricor.

It should be noted that the Bricor is a fixed shower head with a joint to control the angle of the spray. The Teledyne WaterPik is a handheld shower head and can be unmounted for free movement. Since the subject is completely average in height (5' 6") for a woman, this change required what she regarded as minor bit of extra effort with a washcloth. Others are sure to disagree.

For those who may not suffer from extremely low water pressure, there are other highly rated low-flow shower heads with lower prices. I relied heavily on the Metaefficient blog which offers a good series of reviews on shower heads and other devices for conservation and green living. The video on Green Gear was also very helpful. Be careful at the Green Gear site. The photo of the four men heading off to the showers offers much too much detail.

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