What are we, medieval peasants? Of course we will hack our showerheads.
Showerheads used to be easy to hack. And never doubt the need to do so. What do we want out of a shower? We want fantastic amounts of water pouring down on our heads, ideally like the waterfall we see in movies and art. At very least, this requires pulling out the government-mandated flow stopper after the purchase and before the installation.
In recent years, these stoppers have become more difficult to remove. Some are downright impossible. A few years ago, I bought an expensive showerhead and spent Saturday afternoon with hammers, ice picks, drills, and the experience ended in total frustration.
So yesterday, I decided to settle the issue once and for all. I sprung for 5 different showerheads – purchased based on what I perceived to be their hackability – and tried it out on each one. I’m astounded and thrilled at the results. It turns out to be ridiculously easy and cheap to bypass the bureaucrats and enjoy a decent shower.
Bad showers by government mandate are one symptom of a larger problem. Beginning in the 1970s, and in the most stealthy way, government at all levels began to unravel the gains civilization had made over the century in household management. Through regulations, bans, restrictions, and controls, essential domestic functions have been seriously compromised.
Think of all the great advances: indoor plumbing, showers and baths, washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and flush toilets. What would life be like without them? None of us can even imagine. But the government apparently can imagine it because its regulatory apparatus is gradually taking them all away.
To be sure, government once pretended to do good things for us like build parks, boost income, bring electricity to rural areas, and the like. Today, it is the opposite. It sees its role as restricting and tearing down what the private sector creates — for our own good. This is why it is constantly telling us that it must curb our lifestyles. The regulators restrict what we consume, control what we do, crack down on our ability to live a good life.
If some activity is going well, some new item is making life better, some food or gadget is newly popular, you can be sure that some bureaucrat is plotting to restrict its use or ban it. Politicians on both the left and the right imagine that their main role is thinking of ways to control how we live, direct how we spend what money we make, and take away freedoms and rights once taken for granted.
A glorious morning shower is one casualty of this regulatory invasion.
If you head to the Delta Faucet site, you will see a notice about flow restrictors in their showerheads. “While it is possible to remove flow restrictors from showerheads, we strongly advise against it for several reasons. Flow restrictors for faucets are an integral part of most aerators and it is generally not possible or desirable to remove them.”
Is that so? Of course it is not so. Showers in the old days were fantastic. They covered us with water — hot water — and kept us clean. Then government got involved to regulate how much water the bureaucrats think we should be using. The result was the mandate that every showerhead had to be deliberately degraded. The words on the Delta website reflect fear of government and have nothing to do with reality.
Today smaller manufacturers have found profits in advertising showerheads with “removable” flow restrictors. These are best but you can also remove them from the parts you get at the big-box hardware stores. Once I had to actually take a drill to the thing to make it happen but it can be done. And it must be done or else you find yourself running around in the shower trying to get yourself covered with the pathetic trickle that the government has mandated for us.
You might have some vague memory from childhood, and perhaps it returns when visiting someone who lives in an old home. You turn on the shower and the water washes over your whole self as if you are standing under a warm-spring waterfall. It is generous and therapeutic. The spray is heavy and hard, enough even to work muscle cramps out of your back, enough to wash the conditioner out of your hair, enough to leave you feeling wholly renewed — enough to get you completely clean.
I was just in Brazil, a socialist country. Many terrible things are happening in this country but one great thing never changes. The showers are amazing. Amazing, I tell you! Go to Brazil and take a shower and you will never readapt to the terrible American ones.
Somehow, these days, it seems nearly impossible to recreate this in your new home. You go to the hardware store to find dozens and dozens of choices of shower heads. They have 3, 5, 7, even 9 settings from spray to massage to rainfall. Some have long necks. They glisten and look amazing. Masterful design!
Some you can hold in your hand. Some are huge like the lid to a pot and promise buckets of rainfall. The options seem endless. But you buy and buy, and in the end, they disappoint. It’s just water, and it never seems like enough.
Why do we believe that a showerhead can magically cause us to have better showers? The head part is only as good as the flow, and the flow needs to be as unimpeded as possible. It’s pretty simple if you think about it. All the rest is just marketing.
Here is one example of why your showerhead cannot be good, from the Santa Cruz City Water Conservation Office: “If you purchased and installed a new showerhead in the last ten years, it will be a 2.5 gpm [gallons-per-minute] model, since all showerheads sold in California were low consumption models beginning in 1992.”
And it is not just crazy California. The Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandates that “all faucet fixtures manufactured in the United States restrict maximum water flow at or below 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 pounds per square inch (psi) of water pressure or 2.2 gpm at 60 psi.”
Or as the Department of Energy itself declares to all consumers and manufacturers: “Federal regulations mandate that new showerhead flow rates can’t exceed more than 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at a water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch (psi).”
As with all regulations, the restriction on how much water can pour over you at once while standing in a shower is ultimately enforced at the point of a gun. Manufacturers must adhere to these regulations under penalty of law, and to be on the safe side and adjust for high-water pressure systems, they typically undershoot. If you try your showers right now, you will probably find that they dispense water at 2 gallons per minute or even less.
Together with other regulations concerning water pressure, your shower could fall to as low as 1.5 gallons per minute! This is not a modern shower. This is medieval peasantry. Poverty. Pathetic, state-of-nature stuff.
Sign of Prosperity, Gone
A rotten shower creates a rather serious problem for nearly everyone in the country. In the post-war period, Americans fell in love with luxurious showers, just because we could. A long shower with a blasting spray is a sign of prosperity, individualism, and good health. Popular lore holds that Americans are some of the most showered people in the world. If so, part of the reason is that we had great showerheads.
Clearly, the regulators, who regard it as their job to crush luxury and convenience whenever possible, wanted to put a stop to this. That’s the reason for the flow restrictors. Forget all that talk about saving water: these restrictions have a negligible effect on overall water use. In any case, whether we use more or less water should be governed by market forces.
To be sure, some companies have tried to get around the regulations by making models with multiple showerheads. This worked for a while because the regulations, if read literally, only regulate the amount of water a per-shower-head basis. But the companies that make double and triple-headed models have also faced investigation and harassment.
But then what can the government do about the length of showers? After all, there is no real way to regulate how much water we use and pay for. Maybe the shower heads have to have timers on them. And maybe the feds need to put up little monitors in our showers to make sure that we have stopped and started them.
You might say that water needs to be conserved. Yes, and so does every other scarce good. The peaceful way to do this is through the price system. But because municipal water systems have created artificial shortages, other means become necessary. One regulation piles on top of another, and the next thing you know, you have shower commissars telling you what you can or cannot do in the most private spaces.
You Pay for What You Use
And also consider this. According to the government’s own water usage statistic, domestic use constitutes only 1 percent of the total, and that includes all the water we use on our lawns. In other words, whether we use a lot or a little bit of water in our showers means absolutely nothing as regards our nation’s consumption of water. Why are they doing this to us then? Just to spread that sense of obedience and misery, I suppose. But has central planning ever been more ridiculous, intrusive, and self-defeating?
Most manufacturers adhere to the regulations, and the government has pushed them to make their products ever more useless. But savvy consumers know how to get around the problem. Many people now hack their showers — or customize them, if you prefer.
You can take your shower head down, pull the washer out with a screwdriver, and remove the offending intrusion that is restricting water flow. It can be a tiny second washer or it can be a hard plastic piece. Just pop it out and replace the washer. Sometimes it is necessary to trim it out using a pen knife.
Using such strategies, you can increase your water flow from 2 gallons per minute to 3 and even 4 gallons per minute. You can easily clock this using a stopwatch and a milk carton.
Using this method, I was easily able to expand my gallons per minute on each shower in my house to an average of 3.4 gpm, thereby recreating that childhood sense of gushes of water pouring down.
But Which One?
Fancy, huh? I can’t be sure but I’m guessing that you can’t hack it. It does no more to get water on you than the cheapest one. But it can be intimidating even just shopping. We all want a good shower, and most of us know that our showers are terrible. Surely spending more will improve our lot in life? Surely? Here is the shocking answer: no. It will not be better. It will be fancier but not better.
I bought 5 affordable ones, and hacked 4 of the 5 (the 5th one I destroyed and still couldn’t hack).
There was one showerhead that was the easier to hack. I pulled out the washer and pushed in long-nosed pliers. The flow stopper came right out. I put the washer back in and put it in the shower. The results are absolutely spectacular.
But here is the shock. The right showerhead is the cheapest one they offer. It costs $1.97. It is plastic. Light. Pretty. Easy to hack. Forget the supposed performance rating. Once hacked, this beauty is an 11.
You know the old rule that you get what you pay for? Maybe that is true in a pure free market. But in our regulated, truncated, tricked-up consumer marketplace, illusions abound. Sometimes you are just paying for what you think will be better but is actually not. This is the #1 example I’ve ever seen.
And you know what? I love that I’ve written this article, especially if you follow my advice. You will be thanking me every day for the rest of your life.
Here is my image post-hacking. I used the one tool pictured here and the offending flow-stopping was easily removed.
Government is often working to roll back the gains markets have made over the centuries and slowly unravel the resulting civilization, driving us back and back. Fortunately government is doing this more slowly than private markets are building civilization, which is why we continue to see progress all around us. It’s a race between them and us. How long can we keep outrunning them? I don’t know, but insofar as we are able, we must keep trying.
Hacking your showerhead is a great start. It is a way to be part of the solution. After all, it will only set you back $1.97 and about 10 seconds of your time.
You don’t even have to take the risks of dealing with a black-market showerhead dealers, as in this famous Seinfeld episode.
Jeffrey Tucker is a former Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education.
EDITORS NOTE: This FEE column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.