The bathroom is the most personal room in the house. However, plumbing considerations make it important to know how to stick to standards when updating your shower head.
Are shower heads universal? Homeowners looking for an easy fix for updating their shower heads are going to like the answer. However, it’s important to understand a little bit about how shower heads are measured before diving into the complete answer.
Here’s what you need to know before shopping for a new shower head!
Are all shower heads a universal size?
The short answer is that most shower heads are universal. However, there are some exceptions to know about!
The majority of modern shower heads are universal as they standardize on half-inch pipe threads. This includes both National Pipe Thread (NPT) as well as British Standard Pipe (BSP).
First, 99 percent of shower heads sold everywhere are compatible with standard pipe sizes. That means that you’ll be able to come home from the store with a shower head that can be placed in your shower without any reconfiguring.
The reason for this is that manufacturers of shower filters and fittings simply have an easier time of manufacturing universally compatible parts that can be used with all brands.
The big thing to know when looking at shower heads is that compatibility is determined by something called thread size. The “thread” of a pipe is the end portion that features concentric grooves.
During the installation of a shower head, male and female ends that are the same sizes are connected. The grooves help the two pieces to grip together for a tight seal when rotated in a clockwise direction.
Showers in North America use a standard called the National Pipe Thread (NPT) to specify pipe sizes. NPT is 1/2 inch. The next part is what creates some confusion for people fitting together products from different countries.
British Standard Pipe (BSP) is the standard that’s used throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South Africa and many more places. While the name is different, BSP is still 1/2 inch. That means that people shopping for both NPT and BSP products can feel pretty confident that sizes are interchangeable.
There are some exceptions to know about that might cause your shower head to deviate from NPT or BSP.
The first exception is if you have a very old home. Some older home features discontinued ball-end shower arms. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to find compatible shower heads at a local hardware store.
You might have luck finding ball-end shower arm adapters online that can bring your piping into modern times. Store associates and plumbers can also help with this!
Bringing pictures and dimensions to a hardware store or specialty faucet retailer may help you to find a manufacturer that offers what you need. You can also consider consulting with a plumber for a workaround option.
You may also need to veer away from standard NPT and BSP shower heads if you have a luxury shower. The fancy rainfall shower heads that are used to create the effect of falling rain in the shower often require special fittings. They also require special installation because they mount to the ceiling instead of the wall.
How to know which shower head to buy
Generally, a standard shower 1/2-inch shower head rated for NPT or BSP is going to be compatible with your shower arm if you have a standard shower. However, you can confirm the measurement on your own before you head to the store.
Start by measuring the diameter of the pipe called the shower arm that comes out from the wall. You’ll also want to measure how far out the pipe protrudes. Bringing this information to the store can help you to avoid any confusion.
There’s one more important thing!
Confirm whether the threads on the outside of the exposed pipe are “male” or “female.” You’ll need to make sure that the shower head you buy has the opposite to create that secure fit when the pieces are rotated clockwise together.
Do all shower heads fit all hoses?
Generally, all shower hoses are universal. Most shower hoses are standardized to fit the 1/2-inch thread for NPT and BSP.
It’s important to read labels before picking up a hose at the store. Occasionally, a hose will have a 3/4-inch thread. While these hoses should generally be avoided if you have a standardized shower head, it is often possible to use a connector to make a 3/4-inch thread equal to a 1/2-inch thread.
It’s also helpful to purchase hoses that come with all necessary seals right in the packaging.
One smart tip is to try to purchase a hose from the same manufacturer that made your shower head. While fits are technically universal, there can be slight variations on the cones located at the ends of hoses that impact fit.
Getting that tighter fit by using the same manufacturer for both shower head and hose can help to prevent annoying “slipping” while the faucet is running.
Are all shower head attachments the same size?
Yes, the thread sizes on shower head attachments are generally all universally 1/2 inch. However, this only pertains to the size of the “back” of the shower head that connects to the pipe coming from the wall.
The actual “faucet” of a shower head can come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Faucet design can impact water pressure, spray area, and range.
Final thoughts on choosing a universal shower head
Most homeowners with standard piping in their homes can simply pick up any shower head from a retailer. Modern shower heads are designed to universally fit all 1/2 shower-arm pipes. This makes replacing your shower head one of the easiest tasks for updating your bathroom in most cases!
The task of replacing your shower head if you have an older home may be more complicated simply because you may not have a standard 1/2-inch pipe leading into your shower. Fortunately, many pipes can be retrofitted for compatibility with modern shower heads.
It’s also important to remember that specialty showers that create a waterfall effect from the ceiling sometimes require custom shower heads.