Showers come in a wide variety of styles and shapes, but, in essence, there are only two distinct kinds. Mixer showers which take hot and cold water from the domestic hot water system and blend them together to give you a warm shower and electric showers which take cold water and heat it up with electricity, much like a kettle. Although in the UK we seem to have a preference for electric showers, if you have the right kind of hot water system then a mixer shower will almost always give you a more powerful shower. The ultimate showers are provided by combining a high quality mixer shower and a shower pump. More information on the types of showers available can be found at the bottom of this page.
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Manual mixer showers take the hot and cold water and mix them according to the position of the temperature control on the unit. This provides a relatively low cost shower, but it means that the temperature will vary depending on the supply temperature of the cold water and the pressure in the household water system. Basically this means that you will need to move the temperature control in the winter and you may get an unpleasant temperature spike if someone turns on a kitchen tap or flushes a toilet when you are in the shower.
Better, but more expensive, mixer showers have thermostatic control. This means that once you have set the temperature control to a comfortable temperature the shower will maintain that temperature even when the pressure in the system changes or the supply temperature drops. They do this by dynamically changing the amount of hot and cold water that goes into the mixing chamber. Another advantage of thermostatic showers is that if for any reason the cold water supply were to fail the shower will shut down. With a manual mixer shower you would be scalded by the hot water.
Mixer showers come in a variety of styles, the terminology can be quite confusing until you get used to it! Bar showers have a long thin mixing unit with the temperature and flow controls at either end.
Concealed showers have the mixing unit hidden behind along with the pipework to the shower head.
Exposed showers have the mixing unit in front of the wall with exposed pipework carrying the water to the shower head.
Power Showers are simply mixer showers with a built in pump. If you have a combi-boiler or a high pressure (unvented) hot water system then you probably don't need anything more than a standard mixer shower. If you have low hot water pressure then a power shower may be a good solution. Although a thermostatic mixer shower with a dedicated external shower pump will give you more water flow if you want a really strong shower.
Digital showers are concealed mixer showers which have digital control units usually located away from the shower head. (They can be pumped or simply fed from the hot and cold supply). The benefits of digital showers are that they tend to look very sleek as the workings are hidden well away from the controls. They also give you the ability to turn the shower on without having to stand under it and get an initial blast of cold water! Different models have different features such as remembering the preferred shower settings of different members of the household.
Electric showers give a weaker shower then mixer showers. They have to heat cold water to the correct temperature in a very short space of time, they are like a very high powered kettle. The higher the kilowatt rating of the electric shower, the more quickly it can heat the water and the stronger the shower you will experience. However, even the most powerful electric showers (10.8kw) will not be anywhere near as powerful as quality mixer showers with good water pressure.
The main benefit of an electric shower is that you only need a cold water supply. If you have a tank fed system with low water pressure and you don't want to go to the expense of a power shower or mixer shower with a dedicated pump then it can be a good choice. If you are replacing an existing electric model and don't want to go to the expense of ripping out the tiles and putting in new plumbing for a hot water feed then they are the way to go.
Electric showers only require a cold water supply so are ideal if you have low hot water presusure or if you only have a cold water pipe running to the where you want the shower positioned. The higher the kilowatt (KW) rating of electric showers the faster they heat the water and the greater the water flow you will experience. Some higher end electric showers feature air-boost technology which further increases the power of the flow. High power electric showers (above 9.5kw) require a 10mm electric cable rather than the standard 6mm cable. If you want a higher power shower your electrician may have to run a new cable back to the distribution board, so its worth checking in advance!