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Why Your Shower Takes Forever to Heat Up

Why Your Shower Takes Forever to Heat Up

Remember this morning when you stood outside your shower for 40-60 seconds (or longer), waiting for hot water? It’s a common (and annoying) routine that many homeowners would rather do without. 

So why does it take so long for your shower water to get hot? 

It’s happening due to a combination of these issues:

  • Shower is too far from the water heater
  • Pipes are too wide
  • Showerhead flow rate is too low
  • Pipes pull too much heat from the water

We’ll discuss each of those problems in detail and how to fix them.

4 problems that affect how long your shower takes to heat up

1) Shower is too far from the water heater

The farther away your shower is from your water heater, the longer it will take for hot water to be delivered to your shower. 

Your home likely has one water heater with piping that connects the heater to various water fixtures throughout the house. And depending on how large your home is, if your shower is on the opposite end of the home, your hot water may have to travel over 100 feet before it gets to you. 

Another thing to remember is that pipes rarely travel in a straight line, so even if there’s a 50 foot distance between your heater and your shower, you should expect 60-70 feet of piping connecting the two.

Let’s take a look at a blueprint for a one-story home:


Source

In this home, there are two bathrooms. Bathroom #1 is right next to the water heater with maybe 10 feet of piping (the pink lines) between the shower head and the water heater. The shower in this bathroom probably heats up very quickly.

But bathroom #2 is on the opposite end of the home with maybe 60 to 80 feet worth of piping between the showerhead and the water heater. The shower in this bathroom would take much longer to heat up.

2) Pipes are too wide

The smaller the diameter of your pipes, the faster the water will travel to your shower.

A pipe with a smaller diameter holds less water. Wider pipes, however, require more water per inch which increases the time it takes for that water to reach your shower.


Source

Residential supply piping are typically sized anywhere from ¼ in. to 2 inches. Don’t know the size of your pipes? You can either check the pipes underneath the sink in your bathroom or use a string to measure the diameter yourself. 

If you’re using the string method, use this video for instructions on how to convert your string measurements to the correct pipe diameter.

3) Showerhead flow rate is too low

The lower the flow rate of your showerhead, the longer it will take your shower to warm up.

The flow rate refers to how much water can pass through the showerhead in a given time. Your showerhead is measured by how many gallons of water passes through the showerhead in one minute (GPM). The lower the flow rate, the longer it takes your shower to push out the leftover, cold water sitting in the pipes from your last shower. 

Unless you have a showerhead that was installed before 1994, you likely have a shower head with a flow rate of 2.5 GPM or lower. But newer “low flow” shower heads may have flow rates as low as .5 GPM.


Check the side of your shower head for the GPM.
Source

If your shower head is a low flow model, one solution is to upgrade to a higher flow shower head (2.5 GPM). If you’re interested in upgrading your fixture, skip to the section “How to get hot shower water faster”.

4) Pipes pull too much heat from the water

The colder the pipes and the denser the material, the more heat is pulled out of the hot water, slowing the time it takes for your shower to warm up.

When not in use, the pipes leading to your shower lose heat and become cold. The colder the pipes are, the more heat they absorb from hot water as it passes through the pipes. Also, heavier metal piping, like copper, can retain more heat than piping such as CPVC.

So, the material of your pipes, the ambient temperature and whether the pipes are insulated or not all affect how long you’ll wait for a hot shower.

Need a solution for cold pipes? Consider insulating your shower supply lines. This creates a barrier between your hot water pipes and the cold ambient temperatures. Learn more about pipe insulation in the next section.

How to get hot shower water faster

Now that you know some of the obstacles that prevent hot water from getting to your shower quickly, let’s look at some of the things you can do to solve this problem.

Three possible solutions for a slow-to-warm-up shower include:

  1. Upgrade to a higher flow shower head. If you’re using a low flow shower head, ask a professional if it makes sense to upgrade to a higher flow rate. That will cut down on the time it takes for your shower to heat up. But beware, it can also increase your water/water heating bills. 
  2. Insulate your shower supply lines. If you’re dealing with especially long pipe runs or pipes located in an exterior wall, insulation can protect them from the cold ambient air and prevents heat loss in the pipes after hot water is no longer running. And the warmer your pipes are, the less heat it absorbs from hot water traveling through them, cutting down on the time it takes for your shower to warm up. We suggest using closed cell foam insulation. Tip: If you’re not familiar with foam insulation, we suggest leaving this job to a professional.
  3. Install a demand hot water recirculating system. According to Energy.gov, these systems save money and energy by sending the cold, leftover water sitting in your pipes back to the water heater instead of down your shower drain. Depending on the type of system, it can also run hot water intermittently through your pipes to prevent your pipes from getting cold and absorbing too much heat from the hot water.

Need professional advice on your shower situation?

If you’re ready to stop waiting for hot water but aren’t sure where to start, we’re here to help.

Just contact us and we’ll explain the options that will best fit your home and hot water needs.

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