This morning, I hit a button on the U by Moen app on my phone and turned on my shower. I hadn't even entered the bathroom yet, but I wasn't worried about wasting water. While I brushed my teeth and got ready, the U by Moen Smart Shower flushed the cold water from the pipes until it had reached my perfect temp. Then, it paused the water flow and sent a notification to my phone letting me know my shower was ready.
We have the U by Moen Smart Shower set up in a freshly renovated bathroom in the CNET Smart Home -- complete with one large main showerhead, a handheld showerhead, and four body sprays built into the wall. The temperature control is accurate and the app is intuitive and surprisingly useful. Especially for a guy accustomed to a simple setup in a bachelor pad, it's -- in a word -- luxurious.
The U by Moen Smart Shower fits that word well, actually. It's a luxury purchase through and through. The four outlet version we have at the smart home costs $2,200. The two outlet version (so for a shower head and a single other nozzle) costs $1,160. Neither price includes the shower heads themselves or the cost of installation -- just the control panel and a fancy valve. You can find plenty of nice shower heads with a faucet for $100 to $200. So if you're just interested in the smarts, wait for cheaper and easier-to-install alternatives. If you're in the market for a luxury remodel, the U by Moen makes sense -- it adds useful connected capabilities for around the price you'd pay for a non-connected control panel setup.
The two pieces you get when you purchase the smart shower -- the digital controller and the valve -- will theoretically work even on your existing showerhead. Moen's site calls the installation easy, but this is definitely not a snap-in-place smart gadget. It might technically be DIY, in the sense that building a house could be called DIY if you have the right know how, but most of us will want a plumber to do the work.
You can buy the U by Moen Smart Shower on Home Depot's website, build.com, efaucets.com and in wholesale bath and kitchen showrooms. You can preorder it now, and it ships starting March 1. Whether you preorder or wait, the price is the same: The four outlet version costs $2,200 and the two-outlet model costs $1,160. The Smart Shower is only available in the US and Canada for now.
Smart but not magic
Despite being admittedly much nicer than any shower I can remember using, a few things prevented my experience with the Moen Smart Shower from being perfect. I got into the U by Moen Smart Shower, hit a button to unpause it, then waited a few seconds. In the couple of minutes of downtime between when the shower paused and when I hopped in, the temp of the water in the pipes had lost 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit of heat.
That problem is accentuated if you switch to the body sprays -- watch out for an initial blast of cold water while Moen works the hot stuff to the front of those pipes as well. It's hard to feel like you're at a spa when you get a surprise blast of cold water in your face when you first turn on the handheld shower nozzle.
These hardware issues aren't Moen's fault -- it's designed to precisely control the water output temp, not heat your pipes -- but it's worth keeping in mind that the system isn't magic. If your house has low water pressure or a small hot water tank, this expensive smart shower system isn't going to fix those problems.
Behind the wall: The thermostatic valve
The valve -- called a digital thermostatic valve -- is the complicated and expensive piece. It mixes the hot and cold water precisely so you can set the water temp to a specific degree.
If you have plumbing experience and are thinking of doing this yourself, know that you'll need a sizable access panel by the thermostatic valve for maintenance, though you don't have to install it directly behind the shower. The included cord that runs to the control panel is long enough that you can install the panel up to 30 feet away.
The plumber who worked on the setup in the CNET Smart Home told me the process is much more complicated than simply installing an ordinary faucet, as you'd expect. Non-digital thermostatic valves are becoming more common in high-end houses -- not only do they allow precise temperature control, but they regulate the pressure. When I flushed the toilet right next to the shower, the temp didn't budge.
Digital thermostatic valves are still pretty rare -- you'll only find one or two at stores like Home Depot. Given the prices are comparably high for similar models from Kohler, Moen isn't charging a huge premium for its app connectivity. It's the digital thermostatic valve that makes this purchase a lofty one.