Who remembers the good old days before showers got sophisticated? When we’d have to holler down to the kitchen to make sure nobody was using the dishwasher before we got into the shower? When it was supremely easy to get back at your brother by flushing the toilet while he was showering (and whatever he did to you afterwards was totally worth it)?
For the most part, those days are gone. Pressure balance and thermostatic showers have taken the nostalgia out of showering, but, more importantly, have also lowered the chances of being scalded. (And now that you’re a mature adult, you know that that’s a good thing.)
So what exactly is the difference between pressure balance and thermostatic? Why should you choose one over the other? That’s a question that our customers have asked our sales team countless times, and today we’re going to answer it for the masses.
Here’s the quick-start guide:
Pressure balance showers work by sensing the ratio of hot to cold water and adjusting one or the other to deliver your selected temperature. As you turn on the water, you control both volume and temperature simultaneously.
- Temperature: provides scald protection and maintains temperature within 3 degrees (+/-)
- Volume: essentially either off or at full blast, regardless of temperature; water flow changes as the temperature changes; cannot use more than one shower head at a time
- Ease of use: users must find the correct temperature each time they shower and may have to change throughout the shower
- Price: significantly more cost-effective than thermostatic
Thermostatic showers sense the actual temperature of the incoming water to maintain a steady temperature. These showers allow you to select the temperature and volume independent of each other.
- Temperature: provides excellent scald protection; maintains temperature within 1 degree (+/-); can set a temperature maximum regardless of the setting on the hot water heater
- Volume: controlled independently of temperature; water temperature stays constant whether the water is trickling or blasting; may use several shower heads simultaneously with individual volume controls
- Ease of use: “set it and forget it” – set optimal temperature just once and it will deliver the same even temperature forever (or until you change the setting). Multiple users will quickly learn the position of their favorite temperature.
- Price: several times more expensive than pressure balance
Thermostatic showers are far superior to pressure balance showers in virtually every aspect (except for price). If your budget allows for it, a thermostatic control is a great upgrade for your shower.
Here’s the breakdown:
As the name suggests, pressure balance valves operate by sensing the pressure ratio of the hot and cold water coming from the pipes rather than the actual water temperature.
If you’ve ever wondered how the old toilet-flush prank works, it’s like this: when the toilet flushes, it refills with cold water. The overall water pressure in the cold pipe is reduced, causing less cold water to reach the shower valve, which makes the shower water turn hot. Today’s pressure balance showers compensate for this by sensing the change in the cold-to-hot ratio and turning down the flow of hot water accordingly. (So with a modern pressure balance shower, you won’t get that hot-water shock, but you may experience lower water pressure when a toilet flushes or the dishwasher is running.)
A thermostatic shower also does just what its name implies: keeps the temperature stable. Thermostatic valves sense water temperature and mixes the hot and cold to deliver the perfect temperature.
Thermostatic showers have the advantage of being safer for children and the elderly, who are especially at risk of shower scalds, thanks to their “set it and forget it” property. Even if your water heater is set to a higher maximum, the water temperature will not exceed the maximum that you set on the shower control.
They’re also better for the lazy (or extremely busy) among us who don’t want to spend time fiddling with the controls to get the perfect water temperature.
A pressure balance shower control consists of one handle that controls both the volume and the temperature of the water. (A two-handled pressure balance shower has one handle for hot and one for cold.) The temperature is dependent on the volume of the water, and vice-versa; pressure may dip as the temperature of incoming water fluctuates, as explained above.
With pressure balance, you have fewer options for your shower (a pressure balance valve will not allow you to use more than one function, like an overhead shower head and a handheld shower or body spray, simultaneously),
Because you can control two shower components – the volume (or water pressure) and the temperature – thermostatic showers have two handles. One handle determines the water temperature and can be set to your ideal temperature at all times while you use the second handle to turn the shower on and off. Once you find that temperature, you won’t have to find it again every time you shower! The water temperature remains constant regardless of the flow volume, so the water stays hot/cold/lukewarm whether it’s on full blast or just trickling thinly.
The separate volume and temperature controls also mean that you can use more than one shower head at once – for example, a rainhead, handheld, and body sprays, mixed and matched according to your mood du jour – with a separate volume control for each function; with pressure balance showers, you have to choose one head to divert the water to at a time.
Ease of use
Thermostatic controls are infinitely more user-friendly than pressure balance controls. Anyone who’s used a pressure balance shower (in other words, probably everyone) knows the frustration of fiddling with the knobs to get that perfect temperature. First turn on the hot, then the cold, then a bit more hot… arrrgggh.
With a thermostatic shower, you just have to find that ideal temp once; after that, you can leave it set forever (or until someone else moves it or your preferences change) and use the volume knob to turn the shower on and off.
The major advantage of pressure balance over thermostatic is the price; pressure balance showers are more cost-efficient, with thermostatic controls typically costing several times the price of pressure balance.
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