Trump-Era Rule Permitting Multiple Nozzles on Showers Is Down the Drain

Episode 4 in the ongoing water war happening in your shower.

Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews arguing in the shower
Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews arguing in the shower in Darling Lili.

Bettman Archives/Getty Images

People are arguing over showerheads again, as a Trump-era rule opening the taps for multiple nozzles is reversed by President Joe Biden's Department of Energy (DOE).

It's been said that the next world war will be fought over water, and it seems like a civil war over water has been fought at least since 1992, when former President George W. Bush regulated shower heads for the first time, limiting their water consumption to 2.5 gallons per minute. 

Multi-headed shower
Multi-headed shower.

 Department of Energy

People with fat pipes and big water heaters got around the rule by purchasing fixtures with multiple nozzles designed to flout the law and pumping out as much as 12 gallons per minute. Then in 2011, during the Obama administration, the Energy Department banned the showerheads with multiple nozzles, saying they were essentially one fixture.

Former President Donald Trump was never happy with modern plumbing, complaining about toilets, dishwashers, and especially showers, noting that not enough water comes out of them. So in 2020, he rescinded the Obama-era rule that prohibited multiple nozzles. He said at the White House last year: "So what do you do? You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair, I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect."

The water war played out in comments on Treehugger when we covered Trump's proposed change, eliciting 103 comments claiming states' constitutional rights: "Unless those showerheads are engaged in interstate commerce, the US government has no authority to regulate their flow rates." Others complained that regulating showerheads was socialism and that anyone should be able to use as much water as they are willing to pay for.

And now, in Episode 1 of Season 2021, the Energy Department takes us back to the Obama-era rule of 2012 (PDF of new rule here) where multiple nozzles are once again banned.

Kelly Speakes-Backman, acting assistant secretary for the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, released a statement:

“As many parts of America experience historic droughts, this commonsense proposal means consumers can purchase shower heads that conserve water and save them money on their utility bills.” 

Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), noted in a press release:

“It’s a good and necessary step. At a time when a good portion of the country is experiencing serious drought exacerbated by climate change, there’s no place for showerheads that use needless amounts of water.”
Shower setup in showroom
1 Rain shower + 4 wall "body spray" heads+ 1 Hand Shower.

Lloyd Alter, seen in Lisbon showroom 

The new rule also eliminates the exemption for "body sprays," defined in the Trump rule as “a shower device for spraying water onto a bather from other than the overhead position. A body spray is not a showerhead.” They are now, with the DOE noting that "the only difference between a “body spray” and a “showerhead” is the installation location, as shown by the similar treatment of the two products in the marketplace.

Speakes-Backman's statement mentioned drought, but not the original reason for regulating showerheads in the first place: energy consumption. hot water heating consumes about 20% of household energy use. The cleaning, pumping, and distribution of water uses a lot of electricity, about 1.1 kilowatt-hours per 100 gallons, the average amount used per person per day in the U.S.

The latest rule change won't make much difference; Trump's rule just came into effect in December 2020, and the market has barely had time to adapt. The rich who have giant hot water tanks and 3/4 supply lines will still plumb in multiple showerheads, and everyone else will continue to get along just fine with 2.5 gallons per minute.