Most tech startups offer free trials of their apps or online products. Nebia offers to let you take a shower in their Silicon Valley studio while everyone watches. That’s because they’re the makers the Nebia Shower System, perhaps the most talked about showerhead of all time. Shower testers put on wetsuits (yes, they are clothed; what kind of company did you think this was?), turn on the flow, and to a person they report that it feels like being enveloped in a soft warm cloud or like taking a shower in a steam room. On top of the unique experience, the Nebia is also a super efficient water saver. No wonder it’s being talked about so much.
“We want people to have the best shower experience they can,” says cofounder and CEO Philip Winter. “But we’re also a mission driven company. We want to make products that people love and that save water.”
That mission starts with the showerhead, a device that hasn’t seen much innovation since it was first invented in 1810. But for Winter, that fact meant that it was ripe for disruption (in Silicon Valley parlance). So in 2015, Winter and his team launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $100,000 to manufacture their product. They ended up with $3 million along with investors like Apple CEO Tim Cook and a handful of Google executives.
Those Silicon Valley heavyweights were drawn to the technology behind the showerhead. The Nebia team studied various industrial products and found a way to atomize water—they are literally breaking up a stream of water into lots of tiny droplets.
“Essentially what we’re doing is taking water passing it through a nozzle that has much smaller geometries and creating millions of much smaller droplets,” says Winter. “It creates a surface area that’s 10x a regular shower. That’s why you get this much more efficient use of water and the soft sensation when you actually take a shower with Nebia.”
Atomizing water is also what allows it to be such a water saver. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the most efficient showerheads on the market use 2 gallons of water per minute. The Nebia uses only 0.75, or about 70 percent less. In total, the company estimates that by using a Nebia showerhead, a family of four could save nearly 21,000 gallons of water a year.
The company started in the high plateaus of Mexico City, where Philip Winter met Carlos Gomez Andonaegui through an NGO. Andonaegui told him about a water-saving project he and his then-83 year old inventor-father were working on. Andonaegui had previously run a chain of gyms in Mexico City, and discovered that one of biggest financial and environmental drains on the business was the water use, in particular the showers. So they set out to develop a showerhead prototype that would use less water. That’s when Winter joined the team.
Initially they had the idea of bringing this water saving shower design to areas of the world with limited access to water. But ultimately they decided that Nebia could make a bigger impact if they focused on the water hogging culture of the U.S. So, they moved the operations to Silicon Valley and wrapped their water-saving technology in a sleek, thoughtfully designed package aimed at homeowners.
“There’s already so much chrome in bathrooms, so we chose an anodized bead blasted finish similar to what you see on MacBooks,” says Winter.
The Nebia has three settings. First is the overhead misting setting that so many people equate to taking a shower in a cloud. Second is the rinse setting, which produces faster and larger water molecules to help products slide out of your hair. And third is a handheld setting that gives homeowners more flexibility and a more enveloping experience..
To get to this finished product, Nebia had to first crack a few technical hurdles. After they figured out how to atomize the water, the biggest challenge was finding a way to keep millions of tiny droplets warm enough. While the increased surface area makes for a steamy and wonderful experience, it also gives the heat more opportunity to leave the water.
The company’s third co-founder, Gabriel Parisi-Amon, a veteran engineer with a background in mechanical engineering and experience on Apple’s supply chain management team, came up with the solution. He had spent time studying thermofluids, and started tracking down solutions through scientific journals and industry experts.
While the actual breakthrough is something of a trade secret, the Nebia team was able to get a trial period of modeling software typically reserved for studying fuel systems in jets. Access to this powerful tool helped them crack the code for keeping you covered with perfectly heated and atomized water.
Since shower height is such a big deal, the final Nebia design allows the head to be slid up and down effortlessly and without tools. The system also comes with everything you need to install in the box. No drilling, no broken tiles, and no call to the plumber.
Nowadays the Nebia team calls an old textile mill home. The converted space gives them room for aquatically named conference rooms such as Cenote and Onsen. They also have a machining room complete with drill press, lathe, machine mill, and band saw where they can make new pieces of hardware from scratch. A wet lab reliability testing area near the center bears a striking resemblance to the rebellious robots from Wall-E. Automated machines spend thousands of hours clicking the buttons on Nebia and pushing everything that moves to its breaking point so that the team can make it better. And of course, there’s a shower room named Thermae where the latest and greatest edition of the Nebia is available for anyone to sample.
Nebia also has big plans for future versions of its showerhead, including features that include ways to track how much water and energy you use, and ways to set and forget your temperature that you don’t have to guess every morning.
In the meantime, they’re focused on their mission to save more water.
“As the planet grows from 7 to 10 billion people, there’s going to be a huge strain on water,” says Winter. “We hope Nebia can inspire other people to look at water and how to contribute to that solution.”
It’s a cause worth showering in front of others for.
TreeHouse is giving away one Nebia showerhead to a lucky winner. Just stop by one of our stores, snap a pic with the Nebia, and post to social using #treehouselovesnebia for a chance to win. Contest ends September 30th, 2017.
Ready to get your own Nebia Shower System? You can buy it online here.