Bathrooms have several plumbing fixtures, and most will last decades before needing to be replaced. Shower heads are an exception. While they can last just as long, they clog up and are often replaced well before their lifespan is over.
That leads many homeowners wondering: are shower heads universal when it’s time to purchase a replacement.
We are going to answer that question, and it’s not quite as straightforward as you might think. Whether you have an older home, new plumbing, or simply need a handheld shower replacement, our guide has you covered.
Are Most Shower Heads Universal in Size?
You may have expected to find that new shower heads come in an array of sizes, and they do including large 12-inch heads that replicate falling rain and smaller shower heads. When it comes to the fit, they are actually universal in size.
Shower heads fit on the end of a pipe called a shower arm. The head screws onto that threaded pipe, which should measure 1/2-inch diameter. You’ll often hear the term 1/2-inch NPT, which is short for National Pipe Tapered Thread.
NPT is the national standard for pipe fittings in the United States but is also used widely across North America. That means a “new” shower head purchased in Canada will fit on a shower arm of a home in the United States when properly installed.
What About a Foreign Shower Head?
Standards for pipe fittings and fixtures can vary wildly from one region to the next once you venture outside of North America. It’s common, so you might find it surprising to learn that BSP standards are the same.
In Australia, Europe, New Zealand, Asia, and other regions, you’ll hear the term 1/2-inch BSP when shower head shopping.
While the pipe “size” or diameter is the same, BSP refers to British Standard Pipe. In other words, a shower head purchased from a high-end manufacturer overseas should still work on the shower arm in a U.S home.
While the simple answer is yes to are shower heads universal, there’s more than one thing to consider before replacing a shower head in your home.
Shower Heads in Older Homes
The one issue you may encounter doesn’t have anything to do with the shower head at all.
Even if the shower head is 1/2 inches in size, there could be an issue with the showerarm depending on the age of the plumbing in your home. In most cases, that pipe coming out of the wall will be 1/2-inch, but not always.
In an older home, you may find something called a ball end shower arm. These were popular in homes during the 1950s and still found protruding out of shower walls today.
Replacing the entire shower arm is an option, although something most homeowners cannot take on themselves.
Instead, you can purchase a ball-end shower arm adapter. This handy piece allows you to transition from an antiquated arm to a standard 1/2-inch. Once installed, you can use any shower head sold on the market today.
Unconventional Shower Heads
Shower heads come in all shapes and sizes. There are standard or wall-mounted shower heads, which are something every homeowner will be familiar with.
There are also shower heads with built-in filters, dual shower heads, and ones built to boost homes with low water pressure. Most of these styles will screw onto 1/2-inch NPT shower arms.
Things could become tricky when you start dealing with unique systems like shower panels or rainfall showerheads.
Rain shower heads like this one from Delta may seem intimidating due to their size. While it’s huge and has a metal ball connector, that’s only to help the head swivel. The shower head still screws onto any standard 1/2-inch NPT shower arm.
An exception would be antique shower heads. If you’re looking for an antique brass head or nickel and porcelain model, there is a good chance it won’t fit a modern shower arm.
One mistake people make when dealing with a shower head comes from confusion with the pipe threads themselves.
The end of a shower arm or mount is threaded, as shown in the photo below. Those are “male” threads, whereas the shower head will have “female” threads.
Thread sizes are something that is also standard and not a specification of concern unless you’re dealing with outdated plumbing.
As long as everything is 1/2-inch, the head will screw onto the arm forming a watertight seal. With that in mind, never force a shower head onto an arm, or it could result in cross-threading.
A cross-threaded shower head may never spring a leak but can be incredibly challenging to remove. The head will need to be replaced if this happens. The arm is the bigger issue, however, as you will need a plumber to replace or rethread the arm more often than not.
Are Handheld Shower Heads Universal?
Showers have been around since the 1700s, although it took centuries for handheld showers and accessories to become staples in American homes.
If you’re considering purchasing a new handheld shower for your bathroom, you might be curious if it will work with your existing setup.
Handheld shower heads are universal, which is good news if you’re looking to upgrade. They are also designed to the 1/2-inch NPT standards. As for shower hoses that send water to various shower accessories, those are typically 1/2-inch.
There are 3/4-inch threaded hoses as well, although they are rare. In these cases, you can use a 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch adapter from a hardware store instead of buying a new shower hose or accessories.
Are shower heads universal… yes they are, which should ease your mind when looking for a shower head.
Instead of focusing on the fit, you can concentrate on more important areas like ease of use, spray settings, and water pressure.
How much does it cost to replace a shower arm?
The price varies by location, and some showers could be difficult to deal with. On average, you can expect to pay between $100 to $250 for labor and a new shower arm.
Are showerheads easy to replace?
Yes, in fact it’s something we feel any homeowner can do. You’ll only need a few tools, and most can be changed in less than 5 minutes.
What size shower hose should I use?
We found that many homeowners use shower hoses 59 or 79 inches long. They are sold in several lengths, however, including extra-long hoses at 96 and 118 inches long.