a black Watersense certified Delta shower head installed in a white subway tile shower and the words low flow vs high flow on the left

Federal government regulations mandate that showerheads shouldn’t have flow rates greater than 2.5 gallons-per-minute (GPM) to reduce water wastage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), showering accounts for 17% of the water consumption in your household. 

As you can get showerheads with GPMs lower than 2.5, should you stick with what’s mandated, or is it beneficial to opt for the former?

This article is a comprehensive guide discussing what showerheads with higher and lower GPM flow rates are. We will also cover the pros and cons of each type of showerhead so that you can buy the best one based on your requirements. 

Are High or Low-Flow Showerheads Better Overall?

Lower gallons per minute (GPM) showerheads are better than higher GPM variants in water efficiency and help reduce energy bills. However, higher GPM showerheads come in ahead of low-flow showerheads in heat retention, water temperature control, and ease of removing soap lather. 

What Are Higher GPM Showerheads?

Before the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct1992), it was easy to find showerheads with a maximum flow rate of 5.0 GPM. They were the original high GPM showerheads. 

However, the federal government decided to reduce this flow rate to less than 2.5 GPM to bring down water consumption in the bathroom in light of the growing concerns over water scarcity in the future. 

Therefore, showerheads that operate at the new maximum showerhead flow rate, 2.5 GPM, are what you can call the higher GPM showerheads of today.

Benefits of Higher GPM Showerheads

One way to know what type of showerhead to choose is to look at how you stand to benefit from it. For example, high GPM showerheads have a lot of upsides to them. 

Here are four benefits of this type of showerhead:

Considerable Reduction in Water Consumption

Compared to showerhead standards pre-1992, the newer requirements can help save significant volumes of water. For example, a 5.0 GPM showerhead used for eight minutes, the average length of a shower in the US, will consume 40 gallons (151.42 liters) of water. 

If you were to put this into the context of five-gallon (18.9 liters) water jugs, which you’ll find in the supermarket, that’s at least eight cans worth of fluids, which is a lot of water for a single shower. If you were to take a shower every day for a month, you’d be consuming 1,200 gallons (4542.49 liters). 

Showere head mounted on a tiled wall.

With higher GPM showers, you can cut your water consumption in half. For example, instead of 40 gallons (151.42 liters) for an average shower, it’s reduced to 20 gallons (75.71 liters). Similarly, this figure stands at 600 gallons (2271.25 liters) for a month.

With the water you save, you can have another 30 additional baths, which is impressive when you consider you only changed the showerhead in your bathroom.

Almost Instant Change to Water Temperature

There’s nothing better than showering when the water temperature feels just right. When you use a high GPM showerhead, the moment you turn the hot water knob, you’ll feel the change instantly, so you don’t have to wait when you change the hot and cold water mixture. This quality means you further reduce water usage.

Better Showering Experience

After a long day, hitting the shower with a high GPM showerhead will always feel amazing because it releases water at a higher pressure, which feels therapeutic when it touches your skin.

Another benefit of 2.5 GPM showerheads is that they don’t require a lengthy time to remove the shampoo and soap lather—the higher pressure and flow rate make washing anything off your skin easier.

Coupled with the fact that changing water temperature is instant, you’ll enjoy your shower time.

Reduced Shower Time

Another way high GPM showerheads save water is by decreasing your time in a shower. Rather than taking eight minutes, you can bring it down to five minutes. The higher flow rate can be a lifesaver if you’re in a hurry. 

Back silhouette of a woman taking a steam shower (and not wasting water) with a foggy glass shower door

Also, there’s the benefit of getting clean as fast as possible. For example, if you have kids and take them to football practice on a rainy day, they will return home caked in mud. However, with higher GPM showerheads, the dirt will come off quickly.

Drawbacks of High GPM Showerheads

Even though higher GPM showerheads are miles ahead of pre-1992 showerheads, it doesn’t mean there are no drawbacks. Knowing the disadvantages can help determine whether these showers are worth your money. 

Some of the downsides of high-flow showerheads include the following:

Expensive Water Bills

While higher GPM showerheads improve your shower experience, it comes at a cost. The higher flow rate means you’ll consume more water than you would if you use a low-flow showerhead instead. 

Generally, if you take quick showers, you may not see a significant difference in your water bill. However, you will notice a change in your utility bills if anyone in your household takes long showers.

In Florida, the median water bill for 1,000 gallons (3785.41 liters) is $15.55. If you live in a two-person household, you will quickly go over 1,000 gallons (3785.41 liters) if everyone showers daily. 

Now, let’s assume that you take, on average, 10 minutes to shower. You can see how this will impact your utility bill.

Increase in Energy Bills

Another downside of opting for higher GPM showerheads is the increase in energy bills. Baths and showers can account for 51% of the hot water you use in your household. 

As highlighted earlier, high GPM showerheads will use more water when compared to low-flow showerheads, which means you’ll see your energy bills go up as you’ll be using more hot water while showering. 

It can be a cause for concern if you’re not mindful of how long you spend in the shower. Also, this will increase your carbon footprint as you’ll require more energy to heat the water you consume while taking a bath.

A low-flow showerhead in a shower dispensing water

Not Always Compliant With Local Codes

Although federal regulations state showerheads shouldn’t have more than a 2.5 GPM flow rate, this isn’t the case nationwide. Local building codes vary depending on where you live in the US.

For example, in Florida, building codes stipulate that your showerhead is compliant as long as its flow rate doesn’t go above 2.5 GPM. However, if you had to move to California, Hawaii, or Washington, the local building codes only allow for 1.8 GPM flow rate showerheads.

What Are Low-Flow Showerheads?

Based on the old standard, all showerheads sold in the US post-1992 are low GPM. However, in this context, it is any showerhead whose flow rate is below the federal government mandates, i.e., 2.5 GPM. 

Currently, you can get showerheads with 2.0, 1.8, and 1.5 GPM. Also, any modern household will have low-flow showerheads. 

Benefits of Low-Flow Showerheads

Higher GPM showerheads already help you save significant amounts of water. So, why should you go with lower GPM variants? 

Some of the benefits of showerheads with lower flow rates include the following:

Significantly Improved Water Efficiency

One reason why the EPA promotes low-flow showerheads is because of their water efficiency. As the example above highlights, you can reduce your monthly water consumption by 50% when using higher GPM showerheads (before EPACT92).

While this is an excellent starting point, you can further reduce your water consumption. For example, if you install a 2.0 GPM showerhead in your bathroom, it will only use 16 gallons (60.57 liters) of water, assuming you follow the average length of a shower in the US, i.e., eight minutes.

In other words, you save 20% more water with a low-flow showerhead. Should you further lower your water consumption, say to the 1.5 GPM flow rate, the savings will increase to 40%. 

Further Reducing Utility Bills

The change from a 5.0 GPM flow rate to 2.5 GPM is already significant. However, the energy consumption for higher flow rates is greater than their lower GPM counterparts because low-flow showerheads consume lower water volumes. 

As a result, your heating system won’t have to work hard to heat large volumes of water every time you shower.

When you bring down your utility bill, you also diminish your carbon footprint. 

Higher Chance of Compliance in the Future

Federal government regulations can change at any time to keep up with the changes in the world. If there is a need to reduce water consumption in the household, it won’t be surprising if new mandates require low-flow showerheads in the future.

Although higher GPM showerheads are compliant in several states in the US, this doesn’t mean it will remain this way forever. However, when you have a low-flow showerhead, the chances you will have to replace it in the future are lower, even if regulations change.

My Own Low Flow Showerhead Choice

 When I was renovating the bathroom in our second netzero home renovation, I was looking for a low flow Watersense-certified showerhead that wouldn’t break the bank either.

I searched through dozens of them, but eventually landed on the Delta Trinsic 17 Series version. It’s unique because it has unique sprayers in the showerhead, which spread out the water so you feel like more is hitting you than really is. It’s a pretty great design and I’ve had it for over a year now.

Here’s what it looks like installed:

a black Delta Trinsic 17 Series Watersense showerhead installed in my white subway tiled shower

I picked it up on Amazon (see affiliate link here – no price changes by using it) as a total combo tub spout and handle as well.

There are many on the market, though, so you can pick the style you like best. To be safe, make sure it has the WaterSense label, which requires a low flow rate of no more than 2 GPM (gallons per minute) of water flow.

Drawbacks of Low-Flow Showerheads

The main benefit of choosing lower GPM showerheads is their effect on the environment. However, this comes at a cost, as you may have to give up on the creature comforts provided by higher flow rate showerheads. 

Several downsides of low-flow showerheads include the following:

Changes to Water Temperature Take Longer

It can be annoying to wait several minutes for hot water to come from the showerhead, even though you have already turned the knob to its highest setting. Not only will this waste water, but it can also increase your time showering. 

A homeowner in a shower holds her hand under the showerhead to test the water temperature

Also, if you change the hot and cold water mix while showering, the change won’t be instant. It can take a while, and you may not even get the desired temperature, so you’ll constantly be playing the game of finding the proper mixture. 

Hot Water Can Cool Quickly

Although low-flow showerheads have reduced flow rates, this doesn’t translate to maintaining water temperature. If you prefer hot water, you may notice that the water isn’t at the desired temperature, which can happen if you use aerating showerheads. 

As the pressure is lower than in higher GPM showers, aerating showerheads mix water and air, which creates a mist-like spray to account for the lower flow rate. However, the air is generally cooler than hot water, so it will take out some heat.

Lower Flow Rates Means Longer Shower Times

While lower flow rates have excellent water efficiency, they can affect how long you shower. The reduced flow rate means it will take more time to clean yourself. As a result, you’ll take longer showers.

High and Low-Flow Showerheads Ultimate Comparison

If you have to compare apples to apples, i.e., high and low-flow showerheads, one isn’t clearly a standout. Again, it comes down to your preferences and local building codes for showerheads. Also, improvements in low-flow showerheads mean you won’t really notice the reduced flow rate. 

For instance, hot water will cool down faster with aerated showerheads. However, switching to laminar flow showerheads ensures you get a consistent stream of hot water. Similarly, depending on your preferences, you can adjust these showerheads to increase the water pressure. 

From a compliance standpoint, low-flow showerheads will prevail as they are more likely to follow both federal and local building codes in the future. 

A dripping shower head mounted on a tiled wall

Also, the lack of pressure compared to higher GPM showerheads isn’t prevalent if you opt for WaterSense-certified variants. The EPA performs various tests to ensure the flow rate of low-flow showerheads doesn’t exceed 2.0 GPM. 

If you’d like to learn more about how much water you can save with WaterSense-certified showerheads, check out this article

While approving low-flow showerheads, the EPA also checks for spray intensity and pattern and pressure compensation to ensure minimal to no changes in your shower experience. 

Here’s a simple table to help you compare the two showerhead varieties:

FeatureLow GPM ShowerheadHigh GPM Showerhead
Flow Rate1.5 GPM, 1.8 GPM, 2.0 GPM2.5 GPM
Water EfficiencyReduce water consumption by 20% – 40% more than higher GPM showerheadsDecrease water consumption by 50% compared to pre-EPAct showerheads
Energy EfficiencyHigh as it uses lower amounts of waterLow when compared to lower GPM showerheads
Shower ExperienceAverage, but can be improved with WaterSense-certified showerheadsExcellent due to higher pressure and ease of removing soap and shampoo lather
Sensitivity to Water Temperature ChangeTakes several minutes to respond to changes in hot and cold water mixFaster response to changes in hot and cold water mix

Final Thoughts

When choosing a higher or low-flow showerhead, first determine which meets your local building codes. 

The differences between the two are becoming narrower every day due to considerable improvements in lower flow rate showerheads. We recommend getting WaterSense-certified showerheads as these products aim to provide the best shower experience, irrespective of the flow rate. 


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