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As with all kitchen and bathroom fittings, the most durable are chrome plated. Chrome plating is a hard and durable finish, and generally requires little attention other than a standard clean.
Corrosive atmospheres and salt air can however have a detrimental effect on chrome finishes. If chromium plated fittings are exposed to these elements they must be washed frequently to be kept in correct working order. If green spots appear on chromium plating, prevent the rust from spreading by using a power recommended for enamelled and cast iron fixtures.
When showers go wrong, it is usually because the shower head starts spraying unevenly. This does not mean that you have to purchase a new head; it is likely to just be clogged with built up mineral deposits from the water supply.
Simply remove the face of the shower head and clean the back surface, poking blocked holes with a stiff needle. Modern shower heads are self cleaning, but in the case of both modern and traditional showers, investing in a water softener will help your shower flow smoothly.
To understand potential issues with your shower, or if you are considering having a new shower fitted, it is first worth considering the kinds of shower available and the possible problems which each.
There are three basic types of shower available:
Conventional Showers – Low Pressure, High Flow
Conventional showers merely mix the hot and cold water supply, and force it to spray. It is the most simple and cheap design, but how it performs depends on its water supply.
With a cistern-fed hot water supply, the shower is likely to be poor in power as there is little pressure. If the shower heads restriction is reduced, you can get a lot of water to pour out but with minimum force. As the water supply is external, temperature fluctuations are common, though a thermostatic can help this issue.
Combination boilers or a Megaflo will supply hot water at high pressure, but can still be affected by the resistance of the incoming rising main. Combination boilers usually have thermostatic valves as they can produce rapid variations in water temperature.
In standard showers, the hot and cold water supply must be in equal pressures, with the exception of a special valve which uses low pressure hot and high pressure cold. This valve is supposed to boost the hot water flow by taking advantage of the pressure of the cold water.
Electric/Instant Showers – High Pressure, Low Flow
Electric showers have built in pumps that store low pressure water, and instantaneously heat the cold water only supply with an electric element. These showers are fairly easy for a plumber to install, and as they require no hot water supply, allow the user to take continuous showers.
In the simplest electric showers, the water temperature is controlled by a choice of two powers and by varying the water flow rate. On top range models you will find electronic control of the heating element which allows for variable output.
The problem with electric showers lies in the power output. For example, in winter when you may want a hotter shower, the incoming water will be colder, leaving you with a lower flow rate. They can also be expensive to run, as they add to your electricity bill each time they are used. This may however be balanced by the fact that the hot water does not have be stored.
Electric showers have small but strong jet flows. The shower head is designed specifically to cope with this, and so you should use the head supplied to avoid any problems.
Pumped/"Power" Showers – High Pressure, High Flow
Pumped power showers contain an electric pump which boosts the water pressure and can improve the flow rate. From a plumbing perspective, they are easier to wire as the motor only requires a low current supply.
Unfortunately for owners of a combi boiler, Megaflo or multi-points, pumped showers must be cistern fed. There is too much resistance for it to work, but more importantly it is against water regulations to pump from the water main.
Pumped showers have an advantage over conventional designs in that they are less likely to be affected by variations in temperature, and can produce a lot of water with a lot of force. Some shower heads for these designs mix air with the water. What many people don’t realise however; is that power showers can be extremely wasteful of water.
The basic pumped or power shower is screwed to the wall and connected to your existing mixer and shower head with flexible hoses.
A disadvantage of power showers is that they can be noisy. This is fairly unavoidable for mounted showers, but if the pump is separate, flexible couplings supplied should reduce the noise of pipework vibration.
Some of the shower pumps use Safety Extra Low Voltage (SELV) at around 24V, and have separate transformers which are installed far from the water. Although, all approved mains pumps will have been designed and tested to high safety standards, and will be safe for family use if properly installed.
Some Plumbing Codes require bath and shower valves to be balanced in pressure to prevent scalding. Temperature control is easier with pumped and electric showers, but if the water heater is set lower this minimises the risk of scalds.