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In the shower, custom features are flowing

The shower is increasingly becoming an individualized experience, with water- and wallet-saving features, fixtures that double as hand showers and electronic systems designed with watery nirvana in mind. Homeowners can customize their showers and make the process of freshening up their bathrooms as complex or as inexpensive as they'd like.

Averie Chatman, showroom manager at Ferguson plumbing supply in Lenexa, Kan., said the relative ease of switching out a fixture — and the significant difference it can make — "is a good idea for customers, especially if they're not looking to rip down their whole shower."

The growing focus on "green" showerheads connects many new fixtures.

Water-saving features come in various models, from a basic Delta H2Okinetic head or a low-level Waterpik EcoFlow showerhead for $20 to $30, to high-end electronic systems from Kohler or Moen that sell in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The EPA now offers Water Sense ratings for bathroom fixtures (think of the Energy Star ratings that are ubiquitous on major appliances) designed to tell consumers how to best conserve water and money when they move to new bathroom hardware.

The showerheads save water by cutting the flow rate from the industry-standard 2.5 gallons per minute to 1.6 gallons per minute. Other design improvements push the water out with greater force, so customers arguably can't notice much difference. The eco-friendly models are billed as cutting shower water use by about 40 percent.

"The heads we've tried out that are lower flow, I don't see much pressure difference; they're good showerheads," Chatman said. "But some customers are saying, 'We'll save the environment in other ways.' "

Another growing theme: convenience and customization, particularly in shower options a bit more accessible than the high-dollar, multihead shower systems.

American Standard, for one, has added a sliding button — dubbed the Monoglide — to its hand showers to make it easier for users to shift between the showerhead's multiple functions.

"Multifunction hand showers let the user choose the experience," said Michelle Troconis, senior product manager for residential products at American Standard Brands.

For those seeking customization on a bigger budget, there's a growing market of electronic showers to consider.

Starting at prices in the thousands and operating off of thermostatic valves, these top-of-the-line options — such as Kohler's DTV line or Moen's ioDigital — offer the ultimate in shower customization. They're not showerheads. Rather, they offer total control, and sometimes remote control, over water-flow rate and temperature. The DTV line also includes controllable music and light shows.

In the shower, custom features are flowing 03/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011 4:30am]
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