California is widely known for having some of the strictest water conservation laws in the country. As such, homeowners are sometimes left wondering whether or not certain appliances and fixtures are legally allowed – rain shower heads being one of them.
While rain shower heads are legal to purchase in the state of California, they cannot have a flow rate that exceeds 1.8 gallons per minute (GPM). Unfortunately, due to this low flow rate, rain shower heads provide a less-than-desirable showering experience.
Has it always been this way?
On July 1, 2016, the Energy Commission of California reduced the allowable flow rate for shower heads from 2.5 GPM to 2.0 GPM. Then in July 2018, they further reduced the allowable flow rate from 2.0 GPM to 1.8 GPM.
Meanwhile, the federal limit is still at 2.5 GPM, as defined in the 1992 Energy Policy Act. The law went into effect on January 1, 1994 (source).
Despite the federal limit being significantly higher than California’s, the state has the right to set its own regulations. Due to extreme drought and water conservation efforts, any showerhead sold to California residents must have a flow rate of 1.8 GPM or less.
Also to note, EPA incentivizes manufacturers to limit the flow of water to 2.0 GPM to get the WaterSense certification.
Why rain shower heads aren’t popular in California?
With such a reduced flow rate, it is nearly impossible for brands to sell a rain shower head that performs adequately.
With diameters ranging from 8 to 12+ inches, the increased surface area of a rain shower head is unable to produce an adequate amount of water pressure while maintaining a reduced flow rate. As a result, most brands and retailers have stopped selling models as it would inevitably lead to a frustrating shower experience.
What can you do to increase your water pressure?
If you are adamant about having a rain shower head, then you have two options available to increase pressure:
- Go with a smaller diameter: Try opting for a shower head with a 6″ or smaller diameter. This will increase the water pressure, and you will likely still be able to achieve the “rain shower” effect without sacrificing too much of your comfort. Just know, though, the smaller diameter will not cover as much of the body to provide that rainfall effect.
- Multiple spray patterns: While very few rain shower heads feature multiple spray patterns, some brands do offer the option. Switching to a jet spray can help to offset the reduced flow rate when rinsing off shampoo or soap.
We discuss these, and a few other options, in more detail in our guide to increasing water pressure.
What about installing two shower heads?
California law states the following:
…the combined flow rate of all showerheads and/or other shower outlets controlled by a single valve shall not exceed 1.8 gallons(6.81 L) per minute at 80 psi.https://files.ceqanet.opr.ca.gov/221458-6/attachment/COZx-dz9xUhVxsNMElHrqUA7IFPM_BzUoX7FW6FRavt8vix70kYviuZmSxPGxa6ksuKJctdy3AzKnFde0
So installing a rain and handheld combo with a diverter valve is a viable alternative as you would still be able to adequately clean yourself with the wand. However, you cannot use both at the same time. We review a few of these combos in this buying guide.
On the horizon
On September 28, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom of California stated his intention to sign Senate Bill 1157 into law (source). This bill, commonly known as the California 2025 Water law, looks to reduce the amount of water used within each home. The goal of the bill is to limit the use of water in each home to 47 gallons per day by 2025 and 42 gallons per day by 2030 (source). Previously the goal for total home water use was 55 gallons per day.
Fortunately, individual homes aren’t required to meet these goals, but rather the water agencies within the state should average the total use of water per household. For example, if you use 50 gallons per day and your neighbor uses 44 gallons per day, the total for your agency would be 47 gallons per day.
What does this mean for rain shower heads? Well, not much right now. But it could be a sign that the flow rate limit for shower heads could be lowered in the future. It could also mean that manufacturers could be incentivized to produce shower heads with better performance at reduced flow rates. Only time will tell.