Showers are wasteful—warm, comforting, refreshing waste. Nebia, a new shower head launching on Kickstarter today, aims to wash away a little of the guilt that comes with daily showering with a design that it claims is not only less wasteful, but a better showering experience than traditional sprayers.
The pitch is simple: most shower heads push water from the pipe out of tiny holes that create pulses of water or diffuse mists. By “atomizing”—think perfume, not CERN—the stream of water through six nozzles arranged in a halo, the Nebia creates a steady stream of pressured “cozy mist” that still gets the conditioner out of your hair but uses a claimed 70% less water than a traditional, low-flow shower head. (0.75 gallons per minute as opposed to around 2.5 gallons per minute for a typical shower head.)
“We used software that we repurposed from jet engine simulation [and] internal combustion simulations to [design the Nebia],” says Parisi-Amon, who before his iPhone days studied thermofluids at Stanford. The company used computational fluid dynamics software Ansys CFX to model water flow while building over a dozen prototypes. “The difference is that those simulations tend to be micro-second simulations and we had to repurpose that code to do what we’re doing, which is looking at a nozzle flow over a meter or two over minutes, not seconds.”
With a retail price of $400, the Nebia isn’t cheap. (The initial Kickstarter price of around $300 puts it within range of other premium shower heads from high-end manufacturers like Kohler or Grohe, while a perfectly nice traditional shower head can be found for around a tenth of the Nebia’s price.) In a market where water costs a lot, a home owner might see savings after a year or two, but the Nebia is no small investment however you slice it. Nebia’s designers say it’s not just more efficient, but the best showering experience ever designed.
“Showers are something that people really care about,” says Philip Winter, co-founder and CEO of mononymous Nebia, “but people have no freaking clue that they can do anything to change [the experience.] You move into an apartment and you get whatever you get.”
Nebia hopes that using the now-classic Silicon Valley approach of high-end materials—bead-blasted aluminum for the mount and arm, designed by ID firm Box Clever—modern engineering, and a splash of eco-assuagement will provide an experience that merits a premium price. If it sounds very Apple-like, it could be in part because its CTO Gabriel Parisi-Amon used to work on the enclosure of the iPhone while at Apple.
Or it could be because Tim Cook is an investor. (Yup, that Tim Cook.)
But even if the Nebia’s shower experience isn’t transcendent, and only good enough, the water use efficiency is still important: the third (and original) co-founder of Nebia, Carlos Gomez Andonaegui, built the first prototype shower head with his father in 2010 while working as the CEO of Mexico’s largest heath club chain, Sport City, after discovering that the water used by thousands of showering gym rats was his company’s highest variable cost.
In fact, it was in health clubs across San Francisco that Andonaegui and Winter tested many of the Nebia prototypes. The two—who met in Mexico City while Winter was on a fellowship from entrepreneurial non-profit Endeavor to work on a composting toilet startup—would install a shower head in the locker room of an Equinox, then ask gym-goers to try it out. They even found their first investor at the gym, which gave them enough momentum to attract the attention of Y-Combinator and other VCs, including Cook and The Schmidt Family Foundation. Ultimately, this led to on-campus installation of prototype shower heads at Apple and Google.
But why San Francisco, instead of staying in Mexico City? “When I joined the team two years ago,” says Winter, “we started thinking, ‘Should we take this to the developing world where they really need to save water? Carlos said, ‘What if we build a brand and we focus on the top of the pyramid?’ Maybe if we do that, and we base the company in San Francisco, and we make it about a better experience and a more beautiful design, we can really change what people think about showers. And more importantly, change how people interact with water in their day to day lives.”