They may go by many different names: rain shower, overhead shower, rainfall shower, downpour shower head — but there's no mistaking the gentle, all‐encompassing spray these shower heads deliver. Inspired by falling rain, they remain a popular option despite presenting a unique installation challenge: the ideal rain shower experience calls for a water supply in the ceiling! That's easy enough to do when building a new bathroom, but what about an existing one? Not to worry: you can still enjoy a rain shower whether you install new plumbing or not!
Why is a rain shower head best installed in the ceiling? Besides looking good, it's basic physics: many of these shower heads are simply too heavy to be well‐supported by a lengthy arm coming out of the wall. On top of that, nothing beats a rain shower head that's spraying down from directly overhead (most wall installations will necessarily have the shower head at an angle).
Ceiling installations are obviously much easier when dealing with a new bathroom (or a down‐to‐the‐studs renovation): the plumbing inside the walls will already be exposed, and extending the hot and cold water lines from the shower wall to the ceiling is quick work for a plumber. If you have plumbing experience (and for copper lines, soldering experience), you can probably even do it yourself — but keep in mind it won't be as simple as installing a new faucet. As always, we recommend hiring a licensed plumber for this kind of job: the quality of work (and the warranty behind it) is worth the cost.
If the expense of running supply lines to the ceiling proves too much, the rain shower experience can still be had — or at least approximated — depending on the space available. You'll need to find the right shower arm first.
- Measure the height of the current shower arm, from the shower floor to the center of the arm. Then measure the height of the tallest person that'll be using the shower.
- Shower heads should be installed at least a few inches higher than the height of the tallest user. Clearly important for ceiling installs (you don't want to graze anyone's scalp), this is also necessary when wall mounting: nobody wants water shooting at their face!
- The difference in height between the current shower arm and where the new head would comfortably be (several inches above the tallest user) is how far the new arm needs to be able to extend vertically.
- You'll need to consider where you stand in the shower, and at what angle you want the water to hit. Rain showers are designed to spray straight down from directly overhead, but can usually still be enjoyed at a 45° angle — if you use an arm that extends far enough from the wall.
- Most rain shower heads deliver a gentle, unmodified spray. Mounted on a standard 6‐inch 45° arm, water will not shoot out with the same force or distance of a regular shower head. Rather than a powerful directed stream, you'll experience a drooping arc that may require you to get closer to the head and front wall. This is why it's important to have an arm that's long enough for everyone in the household to enjoy the downpour! A longer arm will allow you to tilt the head down straighter while standing at a more comfortable distance from the front wall.
- S‐shaped shower arms are a popular choice for installing a rain shower at the wall. Their design boosts the shower head up several inches (7‐1/4" – 8‐3/8" with the arms we offer), culminating in a 45° outlet (your new shower head may or may not allow additional angle adjustment). Keep in mind that most S‐shaped arms don't come out very far from the wall (10" in our case): if you like to stand further back or are very tall, these may not be the best option.
- Adjustable shower arms are your other option, offering greater reach and flexibility. Look for one with height adjustment at the base as well as angle adjustment at the head so that everyone can find the perfect position. Some of these arms even have a swivel feature!
- Shorter households can get away using extended "long sweep" shower arms that come out 10+ inches — one of ours reaches a whopping 22 inches! These arms typically end with a 90° bend, providing the same overhead effect as a ceiling installation. Given their length, it's very important to install these using a drop ear elbow as well as a ceiling support as described below.
- For the most stable installation, you'll want something called a drop ear elbow behind the wall, holding the nipple that holds the shower arm. Well‐installed showers will already have one of these fittings, which are secured to a backer board to help relieve the stress the nipple/arm/head assembly puts on the water pipes.
- Pro Tip: If you don't use a drop ear elbow, the weight of a large rain shower head on a long arm could break nipple or shower arm connections (items that are typically thin‐walled and not the strongest).
- If you're lucky, there's an access panel for the shower plumbing on the other side of the wall. Open it up and take a look around the top of the shower riser pipe for a 2×4 with the drop ear screwed into it.
- If you don't have easy access to the shower plumbing, try removing the escutcheon around the shower arm: sometimes the hole there is large enough to peek inside the wall with a flashlight. You'll hopefully see the nipple threaded into a drop ear elbow.
- Installing a drop ear elbow can be challenging since it requires working in the wall with existing plumbing — and that's if you have easy access! A 2×4 will need to be installed between studs for the elbow to be secured to, and copper may need to be cut and resoldered to join the fitting. While this can be accomplished by a seasoned DIYer, we recommend calling in a plumber for these more involved installations.
- Even with a drop ear elbow, some shower arm/head combinations make us nervous — especially when long (12"+) arms are used. We highly recommend incorporating ceiling supports (like these used to hold shower curtain rods) for an added degree of security. This is also a good idea if the head will be adjusted daily — all of that movement can weaken joints throughout the assembly.
Connecting a New Rain Shower Head
Whether the shower arm is on the wall or the ceiling, the actual installation of the head itself is the same as any old showerhead! When you're ready to connect shower head to shower arm, check out our video below or find step‐by‐step instructions here!
Many people don't know how incredibly easy it is to replace their shower head. Let Mike, our go‐to guy, take you step‐by‐step through the process, and you'll have a new shower head on there in minutes.