This startup has re-engineered the showerhead to be radically efficient in conserving both water and heat, without sacrificing comfort.
Quite a few years ago, when I was deep in my Buckminster Fuller fanboy phase (OK, so I'm still kind of in that phase), we were living in a tiny house, hauling all of our own water and using a Humanure composting toilet. I was feeling really proud that we could use a single 5-gallon solar shower to get all three of us clean, and that we could get all of our dishes and other washing done with another 5-gallon water system, but then I read about Bucky's "Fog Gun Cleaning System" (not to be confused with a fog gun-cleaning system) and realized we still had a long way to go to true water efficiency.
Fuller's design used 90% compressed air (at 200 psi), and just 10% water, in the form of atomized droplets, which he claimed would use just 1 pint of water per hour, and I remember thinking that here we are, some 50 years later, still wasting both water and heat with conventional showerheads, while this genius of an idea was relegated to a footnote in history books.
Fast-forward to 2015, and a startup called Nebia has now picked up where Fuller left off (sort of), with the launch of its revolutionary showerhead, which uses a similar technology, although without the compressed air component, to deliver radical water savings in the shower. The Nebia atomizing showerhead is actually much simpler than the system Fuller designed, as it is meant to be a drop-in replacement for existing showerheads that works with existing plumbing, and while it doesn't even come close to Fuller's '1 pint per hour' claims, the Nebia is claimed to reduce shower water use by 70%, while also being 13 times more thermally efficient.
In a nutshell, the Nebia atomizes the water into tiny droplets that have "10 times more surface area" than the water drops from a conventional showerhead, allowing users to get just as clean ("more water comes into contact with your body" than with a traditional model") while also warming the air around them more efficiently. It's described as delivering a "warm and cozy mist" that not only cleans your body, but also provides a "significantly superior shower experience" overall. Here's the video pitch:
The Nebia showerhead is said to use just .75 gallons per minute (gpm), which is less than the 2 gpm from EPA Water Sense-rated fixtures, and is estimated to enable an average California home of four people to use about 21,000 fewer gallons of water per year, saving about $397 per year on both water costs and water-heating costs.
I love almost everything about this idea, but I have a hard time loving the price tag attached to it. Backers of the Nebia crowdfunding campaign can reserve a single unit for $299 (said to be a $399 retail value), and the company claims that the device will pay for itself in less than two years, based on the water usage in an average US home. The Nebia is a good-looking device overall, with a height-adjustable aluminum bracket and an additional hand-held shower wand, but the showerheads themselves are essentially plastic ("a high density polymer with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)"), and the atomizing nozzles on the units appear to be exceptionally prone to being blocked by hard water deposits, so the $400 cost of a single unit seems way out of line to me (says the guy who has to clean the mineral scale from his shower and faucet screens every week).
The Nebia showerhead does look like it could be an excellent investment for institutions and businesses that use a lot of water in their showering facilities, allowing them to conserve water while saving money on both the cost of water and the cost to heat it, and the company is offering a special deal on a bulk purchase ($10,000 for 40 units) for those situations.
While you're waiting for this showerhead technology to hit the market, here's a homegrown shower hack that can save at least as much water as the Nebia, and which only costs about $20. Buy a garden sprayer at the hardware or garden store (the kind that has a small tank, a wand with a nozzle on the end, and a hand pump to pressurize it). Remove the long wand and replace the nozzle on the end of the hose, fill it with warm water and pump it up, take it into the shower with you, and use that instead of your showerhead. It takes a little practice to learn how best to use it (such as not filling it completely full of water, so that it can be pressurized accurately without having to constantly pump it), but this system works pretty well and makes a great camping or roadtrip shower setup.