What Are The Different Types Of Shower System? | An In-Depth Guide
Yes! It’s time to select the shower system for your bathroom renovation. You get to wander the aisles of your local hardware store and decide which set of taps and head will look best in the new shower enclosure.
But before you make a choice based solely on appearance, you need to understand what the different types of systems are available, their perks, problems, and compatibility in your modern home.
In this post, I’ll explain what the main types of shower systems are, as well as some factors you’ll need to consider when selecting one. So you can make the best choice possible.
Let’s get into it!
What To Consider When Choosing A Shower System
Before you run out to the showroom for sanitaryware or spend big on a shower system at your local hardware store, make sure that it will work well with your water supply. Some systems are not compatible with certain types of boilers or if you have low water pressure.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a shower system:
The Type of Hot Water System in Your House
The most common type in Great Britain is the combi-boiler which not only heats the water for your radiators but also heats water for use throughout the home in a single highly efficient unit. These produce good hot water pressure and an endless supply.
A gravity-fed system stores water at the highest point of the house or building to create acceptable water pressure. Hot water is heated and stored in a separate tank, traditionally in an airing cupboard near the main bathroom. You get a large amount of hot water, but the pressure may be disappointing.
An unvented hot water system uses the pressure from the mains water supply and heats it in an unpressurized tank using electricity or propane. There is typically just enough hot water available and pressure relies entirely on the city supply.
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How Much Water Pressure Do You Have?
Your landlord is required to provide a minimum of 1 bar of water pressure to your home. This is enough to deliver water to all your taps, but your shower may feel more like a gentle rain rather than a pleasant thumping on your skin.
Some shower systems demand a minimum of 1.5 bars to work well. You need an accurate measurement before you decide on which shower is right for your home.
How Big is Your Hot Water Cylinder?
Assuming you don’t have a combi boiler. Do you have enough hot water stored in your cylinder for a nice long shower? A shower that is pressurized at 1.5 bars or higher may use as much as 18 litres of water per minute.
If you have a small cylinder sufficient to wash a sink of dishes, you may want to opt for an electric shower able to heat the water at the shower head.
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Are You Replacing or Upgrading Your Shower?
If you are replacing a damaged system, but have never been happy with your shower experience, it can be tempting to opt for the expensive upgrade. However, if you have always had an electric shower with poor water pressure, changing it to a thermostatic mixing valve will do nothing to address the underlying problem.
Consult with a licensed plumber to review your water storage, pressure, and hot water heating system to decide if upgrading other parts of your home will provide a final and more effective solution.
A Surface Mount vs. Hidden Connection
Your new shower may come with new controls and taps that must be mounted in the shower enclosure. If you are not planning on replacing tiles or even the shower panels, you may need to look for cover repair plates that will hide new holes created to make the connection to your water pipes.
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The 5 Top Types Of Shower Systems
Find the perfect shower system for your home and lifestyle using our complete product guide. Look for the one that fits your budget, your home’s water supply, and your demand for hot water.
The images used are only intended as guides. There are many, many different styles and finishes available for each type of shower system.
An electric shower is one of the most popular kinds of shower systems found throughout the UK. It hooks directly into your cold water supply and then uses an electric heating coil to supply hot water directly to your shower head.
They demand minimal water pressure to achieve a nice warm wash for your morning routine. It has a knob that you use to adjust the temperature and an on/off button. It mounts directly to the wall, separately from the showerhead bar, so you can place it at your preferred height.
Some homeowners find that a simple electric shower can be disappointing. If you have poor water pressure in the house, it does not increase the water stream. However, you might save some money compared to a shower that draws water from an unvented hot water cylinder or combi boiler, as you only heat the exact amount of water needed for your shower.
The type of electric shower can vary by kilowatt rating. A higher kW number means that it can instantly heat more water, improving your shower experience. The lower rating will be less expensive, but will not deliver the same result.
PROS for Electric Shower System:
- Easy to install
- Works even on low water pressure
- Does not need a hot water tank or combi-boiler
- Works best with a gravity-fed water system
CONS for Electric Shower System:
- Can lack water pressure
- Sudden pressure changes can result in scalding
- When the power goes out, so does your shower
A power shower takes your electric shower with bad water pressure to the next level. Like an electric shower, there is a control panel mounted to the wall inside the shower. The panel ties into both the hot and cold water lines. It uses a mixer valve to achieve the proper temperature for your shower and then amps up the fun using a water pump. You can still position your shower head and bar wherever you like in the shower enclosure.
Power showers were developed for homes with very poor water pressure and a gravity-fed water system. They are not suitable for homes with combi-boilers or an unvented hot water tank. The built-in pump speeds up the rate that water flows as it travels down the gravity system, resulting in a shower capable of delivering massaging pulses or a nice hard stream.
The control panel on the power shower has one knob for mixing the water temperature, one for turning on the pump, and one for opening the water valves. However, the pump does add some noise to your shower.
If you have a sudden drop in cold water pressure because somebody flushes a toilet, a traditional mixer power shower may give you a blast of scalding hot water. However, you can upgrade to one with a thermostatic mixer valve to prevent sudden temperature changes.
PROS for Power Shower System:
- Adds water pressure to low-pressure homes for a more comfortable shower
- The mixer valve maintains a steady temperature
- Easy to control and operate
- Works well with gravity-fed water supplies
CONS for Power Shower System:
- Not for use with unvented or combi-boiler systems
- Requires electricity to operate
- Can use more energy due to the pump
Manual Mixer Shower
The manual mixer shower uses no electricity and relies solely on the pressure in the pipes to deliver a pleasant pulsing stream of water. The valve is directly connected to both the hot and cold water supply. It works best in a home with steady water pressure and takes advantage of large quantities of hot water stored in a cylinder or delivered via a combi-boiler. If you have low water pressure from your gravity-fed system you can add a water pump to improve the bathing experience.
Mixer valves are available in different styles, surface mounted or concealed. Such as a single knob mounted to the wall of the shower where you pull up or out to start the water flow and then swing the knob to the left or right to find the right mix of hot and cold. Or a bar (pictured above) where one side controls the flow and the other side the temperature. Simply twist to achieve your desired settings.
You can use mixer valves with any type of water system including gravity fed, unvented tanks, and combi-boilers. And they even keep working with the power goes out!
However, if your other half turns on the kitchen taps while you are in the shower, you might get a zing of hot water until the cold water pressure recovers.
Due to its simple design, you can find mixer valve showers in a wide range of finishes from traditional chrome to brushed nickel and even brass.
PROS of Manual Mixer Valve Shower System:
- No electricity required
- Easy to set your preferred temperature
- Can be installed with any type of water supply
CONS of Manual Mixer Valve Shower System:
- Sudden pressure drop results in sudden temperature changes
- Best results are only achieved with steady water pressure
- Requires both hot and cold water supply
Thermostatic Mixer Shower
The thermostatic mixer takes the function and performance of a manual mixer valve and sends it to the next level.
Instead of adjusting the mix of hot and cold water each time that you step into the bath, the thermostatic control maintains your preferred setting. It also works to resist sudden temperature changes due to drops in hot or cold pressure. It is a safer option for families with kids or for those that may have trouble jumping out of the way of a scalding stream of water.
The mixer valve is connected to both the hot and cold water service. It can be surface mounted or hidden behind the shower wall leaving only the tap exposed. It does require above average water pressure, but can be used with any type of system including gravity-fed, unvented, and combi-boilers.
If your gravity-fed system does not have sufficient pressure, the thermostatic mixer shower is also compatible with pumps. You will pay a little bit more for your thermostatic valve, but the reliable performance is worth the added investment.
PROS for Thermostatic Mixer Shower System:
- Set-it-and-forget-it temperature control
- Works with any type of water supply system
- Delivers excellent pressure for an enjoyable shower
CONS for Thermostatic Mixer Shower System:
- More expensive than manual mixer systems
- Demands higher pressure–may require an additional pump
- When the heat goes out, your shower will not be hot
A digital shower is the latest addition to the available types of shower systems. The part that connects to your water supply is the same as a manual or power mixer valve. However, your controls are entirely digital.
The control pad can be mounted on the wall of the shower or just outside the enclosure. You can set your preferred temperature, water pressure, and even duration for the shower. If you have multiple shower heads at different levels, you can assign pressure to each one.
You can even connect a Digital shower system to your Amazon Alexa or Google Home system. Meaning you only need to speak to your assistant and it will start your shower. You can even create different settings for different family members, so you can enjoy a really hot shower while your child gets a safe and warm wash.
Since you are adding an electronic control to all the water valves, the cost of a digital shower is typically more expensive compared to a traditional mixer or power shower. You may need to work with an electrician to ensure proper grounding for the unit.
It’s best to install a digital system when you have open access to the walls behind the shower. Digital showers can be connected to gravity-fed, unvented systems, and combi-boiler hot water delivery. It works with all levels of water pressure, too.
PROS for Digital Shower System:
- Easy to use
- Customizable shower experience for every family member
- Can be paired with your smart home technology system
- Works with all water supply systems and water pressure
CONS for Digital Shower System:
- Much more expensive compared to any other system
- Hard to retrofit an existing bathroom
- May confuse guests
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There you have it. The different types of shower systems and everything you need to know so you can pick the best option for your new bathroom.
Be sure to check that the shower you want is compatible with your home’s hot water system and provides all the features you’re after.
Happy shower shopping!
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Michael is a KBB designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom installations for over eight years now, and before that, he was an electrician and part of a KBB fitting team. He created The Bathroom Blueprint in early 2020.