Complete Guide to Ecuador Travel & Relocation (GringosAbroad)

Electric Showers?! How Shocking!

When I stepped in the shower for the first time in Ecuador I was shocked to see wires coming out of the shower head! I could not believe what I was seeing! My whole life I was taught that electricity and water make a deadly mix.

I didn’t know if I should turn it on or not. I called Bryan over to take a look and see what he thought. We determined that it must be OK because the wires were coming out of the top where we thought (and hoped) the water could not reach them. So I held my breath and started the shower.

As I think about that now, I can’t help but smile. I took a shower every day  for more than a year with that type of a set up and thought nothing of it. It did take a little getting used to because there was a bit of a trick to it. If the water flow was too fast the shower would be cold, the flow had to be started slowly and then left to warm up. Then the flow could be gradually increased until it was coming out reasonable fast and warm at the same time.

electric-showers-safety-wires

I have never been in an “electric shower” that had a powerful flow and was hot at the same time. It can be a little annoying when you are used to a hot powerful shower, but if an electric shower is what the apartment you want has, you can get used to it as long as the building is wired properly. If it’s not, the shower will fluctuate, much the way the lights brighten and dim as the electricity flows unevenly throughout the building. If this is the case, you may not be very happy with your morning shower. You may be even grumpier when you come out, than you were when you went in.

electric-showers-safety

If you don’t want to deal with that, make sure you check the shower set up before you move in. If it has an electric shower head you will be able to tell right away because you can see the wires coming out of the shower head. If you don’t see wires, then the shower is heated by propane.

Some apartments have the propane heating unit right in the apartment, and you have to take care of setting it how you want it. Others have them in a central location; if this is the case you will probably forget all about it. You might even think the water is coming out of a hot water tank, just like in the States or Canada, if that is what you were used to.

Are electric shower heads safe? Yes. I guess you could say that we are living proof of that .

Do you have any funny stories about your first encounter with an electric shower? If you do, please share them with us by commenting on this post.

An article by

Dena is a writer, artist, expat and mom. She enjoys being cozied away in one of her favorite cafes, sipping coffee and spending time with her family. She writes about life abroad (Gringos Abroad) and doing business abroad (Blogger Abroad). Connect with Dena on LinkedIn. Work with Dena & Bryan

More about: Ecuador Travel, Living in Ecuador

{ 49 comments… add one }

  • Jessica August 1, 2014, 4:45 am

    In Costa Rica:

    Shady hotel, water just turned back on after not working for several hours.

    There I am taking my shower, and for some reason I need to touch the shower head. I do it and suddenly there is a pain in my finger. I wonder what it is. In a brilliant stroke of wisdom I touch it again to find out why it hurts. I recognize the sensation of being electrocuted…

    I quickly pull my hand away. Dying naked on the shower floor is not my idea of a fun evening…

    Reply
  • Volkhard Neumann May 3, 2014, 1:50 pm

    In many countries there would be a huge number of code violations with an electric showerhead setup. That is the reason you would not see them in the US. These GFI protectors (ground fault interuptors) are now standard to protect people in any room with water (bathroom, kitchen, etc). Here in Ecuador most homes do not even have any ground. By any technical standard all this is pretty dangerous and would not be possible elsewhere.

    What baffles me with all the hot water discussion, is the lack of use of Solar Energy to heat water. There is no other country more ideal to utelize this free and safe energy.
    We have now in Manabe number of Solar Water heaters that are installed on private homes as well for hotels and they work perfectly, if done right. Utelizing a thermoastatic valve to set the hot water temperture for the wholes house makes it very comfortabel (without these pesky temperature variations due to pressure fluctuations). The same valve also prevents scalding accidents as it shuts the system off if the coldwater supply fails.

    The other great advantage is the effect the system has on the safety of the hot water. As the temperature in the holding tank often reaches temperatures between 75C & 100C, all pathogens are killed (an hour of 70C or more already does the trick).

    I believe, because propane is (for a little longer) so cheap in Ecuador, nobody looked at alternatives. Now, as the import of gasheaters is banned and the propane prices are planned to go up to around $20/bottle in 2016, this will eventually change.

    I want to disclose to be a little biased when in comes to Solar Energy as I founded an Ecuadorian company providing Solar Water heatings systems. I don’t want to abuse this great website for free advertising and therefore do not mention my company nor provide a link, unless the webmaster is asking me to.

    Brian & Dena: If your think, my comment is inappropiate please do not hesitate to delete it. Keep up the great blog.

    Reply
  • Lana March 26, 2014, 4:17 pm

    Hi, I am from Colombia and eletctric showers are really common to me. WhenI went to USA I didn´t see any , and I still dont understand the reason why in USA don´t use electric showers… could someone explain me ?? Please

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines March 26, 2014, 5:00 pm

      I agree – they work well and save a lot of money. I think on demand hot water should be considered in North America.

      Reply
  • Petes December 19, 2013, 2:30 am

    I’ve used those for a long time and I’d say they are safe as long as they function correctly. For example if there is too much dust in a house, the dust gets into the ON-OFF mechanism and the shower head may get stuck in the ON position, so when you close the water the shower head will continue to work, then the water boils and gets spit out with the steam (hopefully you won’t be under it), then the plastic starts to melt and plastic drops will fall… So if you ever turn OFF an electric shower head and still hear it working simply open the water again and shut down the electricity until you can figure out what to do.

    Other problem is when the seal between the water and the electrical part fails, then the water goes to the top part possibly creating a short circuit (hopefully no one touches it).

    Finally a problem anyone can encounter with electric shower heads, if you touch the water near the shower head while it’s working, you WILL get a little shock (and potentially a big one if there’s something wrong with, so better don’t try at home), that’s why tall people hate electric shower heads.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines December 19, 2013, 6:41 am

      Thanks for the suggestions Petes!

      Reply
      • Petes December 20, 2013, 5:39 pm

        You’re welcome. Just one more advice, the safest thing you can do when there is a failure is to shut down the electricity, it’s recommended to have a knife switch inside of the bathroom where it can’t get wet (you can put a lace to it so everybody can reach it), this is because if the water makes its way to the top of the shower head, there is a chance that the electricity will reach the water knob since water conducts electricity.

        Reply
  • Alexander July 10, 2013, 1:55 pm

    Actually, I had to use this in Bolivia, and I can tell you I used it only ONCE and NEVER AGAIN! Because as I moved my body into the water stream, I could actually FEEL a tingling sensation all over and that was horrible!!!

    Reply
  • Susan Birkenshaw September 4, 2012, 5:21 pm

    While not something any of us see in North America – Michael and I lived with one of these in our apartment for quite a while until we decided that the location and apartment was what we wanted in Cuenca and since my 84 year old mom was coming to visit it was finally time to upgrade.

    Until then, we had great showers, lots of hot water, lots of pressure and no shocks – for us this was a win. I guess given the stories here, we are one of the lucky couples who experienced no problems with these appliances. Common sense with electricity wins every time!

    Reply
  • Nancie September 4, 2012, 8:12 am

    Living in Korea for almost 12 years, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to electricity. Although, knowing how poorly things are wired here, I would not want to use of these in the ROK>

    Reply
  • Barry Mc Govern August 5, 2012, 3:15 am

    I install & repair showers in Dublin, Ireland. I was called out to epair an electric shower in a tiny bed-sit. I was stunned to find a double electric socket above the shower head! It is ilegal in Ireland to have a socket anywhere in the bathroom let alone above the shower head (can you imagine the steam rising & entering this socket?)

    Reply
  • Daniella April 25, 2012, 7:56 am

    I have definitely experienced these showers around Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I have also had the shock when you go to adjust the pressure or head while the water is running. I later learned is a no no. I now have a water heater and the water flow is often still inconsistant yet at least it is always hot anyway. Oh the adventures you explore when you move away from home. –Daniella

    Reply
  • TerryE April 9, 2012, 7:14 pm

    I have written an article about the problems of using the Calefón type water heater here in Ecuador. However, I do not wish to start my own blog and was wondering if you would be interested in including it in your “how to” series. It consists of three pages, two on how to use it, and one for basic trouble shooting. If interested, send me a note and I’ll email the article for your review.

    Thanks,

    TerryE

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines April 15, 2012, 8:27 am

      Absolutely, I’ll send you a direct email this am.

      Thanks,

      Bryan

      Reply
  • Susana March 31, 2012, 8:49 am

    I lived in Ecuador for 12 years (2years in Ambato and 10 years in Ibarra) until Nov. 2010. I and most of my friends there used that kind of shower and none of us had any problems with it. Except that sometimes the little holes that the water came out of would get stopped up a bit and slow down the water. So it was necessary to clean out those holes periodically. Plus, there has to be sufficient water pressure to start the heating of the water. This is sometimes a problem in a third floor apartment. But the pressure usually rose during the night, so when we had spells of low pressure, I would take showers at midnight! But that’s just part of the Ecuadorian experience. If it were just like the US, what would be the point in living in Ecuador? It’s an adventure, folks. Have fun with it!
    Susana – formerly of Ibarra, Ecuador

    Reply
  • Peter Leeflang March 18, 2012, 8:19 pm

    Electric showers are indeed becoming again most common nowadays in Ecuador, while they were totally on the retreat a few years ago. Ecuadorians do not like them at all, preferring gas ones instead, because they cost a lot less money in energy cost and maintenance. Imagine, with gas you only need a plumber, with electric ones you need both a plumber and an electrician. Last year President Correa forbade the import of electric showers and forced Ecuadorians back to electricity instead of gas. His reason was that too many were using gas, which is subsidized there and using up the tax moneys that way. The fact that the shower requires extra thick wiring and a usually a 30-45 amp breaker, does not keep it cheap either. As to safety of these showers, they are often dangerous and electrocution or explosions do happen regularly. The main reason for this is that they are cheap non-standardized untested constructs and not properly installed, or that they lack the minimally required residual circuit breaker (like an emergency switch off) or the required proper grounding. Or a user touches the heating switch while the shower is on. Who said that life was not adventurous enough? :-)

    Reply
    • Peter Leeflang March 26, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Correction: President Correa did obviously not forbid electric showers, but he forbade the importation of gas hot water heaters, so gas showers may not be installed anymore.

      Reply
  • Bob and Diane March 12, 2012, 9:30 am

    Thank you all so much for this great website. We are in process of planning our move to Cuenca and this site has been extremely helpful.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines March 12, 2012, 4:14 pm

      Thanks Bob and Diane – so glad to hear that you’re enjoying the site.

      All the best on your plans.

      Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 8:02 pm

      Hi Bob and Diane,
      Thank you. We are happy to hear that you are finding the site helpful.
      All the best with your upcoming move to Cuenca.

      Reply
  • Gary and Logan March 8, 2012, 7:15 pm

    Electric water heaters are common here(the Philippines) but few are the shower head type-more of a wall mounted miniature heater-storage module.Everything is typically 240 volt with 240 volt 1 leg(wire)and common the other.No ground.The “appliance” has a ground connector and normally grounded to the closest water line.If your house is plumbed with pvc plastic or galvanized pipe(common here)when wet and standing in water you become a better ground than the one attached to the appliance.Getting “buzzed”here is very common here and unpleasant—sure plays hell with a pacemaker but just another”thing”to be cautious about.Nothing beats a ground rod instead of you being one.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 8:12 pm

      Hi Gary and Logan,
      We have not seen that kind of heating system here, and after reading your comment I kind of hope we don’t. Just knowing that getting buzzed from them is “very common” puts the fear in me. But you are right, these are just some of the things we have to get used to and be cautious about.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  • Lucy March 8, 2012, 7:44 am

    I came across a few showers like this when backpacking through South America. They used to scare me every time I used them and it would take me about 15 mins to pluck up the courage and step in. My boyfriend was much braver than me. I also used to wear my flip flops in the shower hoping that they would ‘earth’ me – I have no idea if they actually made any difference, But I guess I’m still here!! And the irony is I now work for a shower company in the UK!

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 8:38 pm

      Hi Lucy,
      I’m not sure if the flip flops would make a difference either, but they are a good idea while traveling because they help protect your feet from whatever germs might be on the shower floor = win win.
      And, I think backpacking through South America puts you on the “brave list” anyway, 15 mins here or there is nothing! :)
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  • Andre Hugo March 8, 2012, 5:49 am

    When I read the article I laughed – the laugh one has when you are happy to have just cheated death.

    The wiring looks very good compared to some that I have showered in.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines March 8, 2012, 6:22 am

      It’s pretty common, isn’t it? We’ve seen much worse, although the majority of homes that we’ve seen have propane hot water on demand systems.

      Reply
  • ted March 8, 2012, 12:10 am

    did a missionary trip to mexico about 12 years ago, while the shower heads did not have wires coming out of them, i did get a bit of a shock when i brushed up against the handles. seems there was a faulty ground. im not sure how it all works, but i am sure that i was shocked, no one else believed me at first, then another guy had it happen and they went to figuring it out. in the end it did get fixed, but those first few showers were “fun”. (note – it was never enough to hurt, but it made me feel alive)

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 8:43 pm

      Hi Ted,
      I’m glad to hear that you didn’t get hurt.
      Thanks for sharing your funny story.

      Reply
  • Ralph Sabean March 7, 2012, 4:51 pm

    We didn’t have electric showers while in Cuenca but while visiting Playas the showers had electric heads. I looked them over and decided to take a shower with them but was very timid but no problems and the water stayed reasonably warm so it was fine especially in such a hot place. You didn’t really want hot showers in such heat. I was glad they were a little on the cooler side but like everyone else is I was worried about they are electric shower heads. The ones there had bare or electrical tape wrapped wires. These are never safe. I’m not sure what they actually use to heat the water as it goes into an element of sorts. I could be AC or DC going to the element. If ac they could step it down to 24 volts with a small transformer and use that to heat the water. This would be really safe even if there was quite a bit of Anperage but better with lower amperage. Also with a transformer it would be isolated from ground and the source so potentially safer as well. But any more than 40 volts is dangerous ac and probably DC as well.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 8:48 pm

      Hi Ralph,
      I agree, you don’t need a really hot shower in a hot climate. We lived in a warm climate when we had the electric shower head and it was not that big of a deal, but the mornings are cool here in Cuenca and a hot shower makes me happy in the morning.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  • Mark March 7, 2012, 3:34 pm

    I remember watching International house hunters with my parent’s and wife once when they were in in Nicaragua. Before the commercial break the real estate said the house had a “suicide shower”, but they didn’t show what it was.

    After the break they showed an electric shower my parent’s were surprised by the fact that there are electric showers, which sounds dangerous, buy my wife was surprised that they called it a “suicide shower” when it is exactly what she had used for over 20 years living in Ecuador.

    Personally, I don’t like them, but at least Cuenca is not cold and there are still plenty of advantages to living there.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:04 pm

      Hi Mark,
      I didn’t like it much either, but it was much better than a cold shower!
      I wouldn’t call them suicide showers, but by the looks of some of these comments people have had problems with them, so it’s good to be cautious.
      Most of the showers here in Cuenca are heated by propane, not electric shower heads.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
      • Mark March 16, 2012, 8:21 pm

        I don’t call them suicide showers and I don’t think that’s a good name for them especially if you’re a reality agent like the guy on International house hunters.

        I didn’t know about propane showers, but I think I may have to buy one for my mother in law’s home.

        Reply
        • Jeff Schinsky December 21, 2013, 4:52 pm

          I guess it’s all a matter of semantics, but the real estate agent who showed me an older property downtown *did* refer to the one that was there as a “suicide shower.” In any case, I don’t think I ever want to take a shower where the last place the water flows before it hits my body is an energized electrical circuit. Just sayin’… :-)

          Reply
  • Tod Wouters March 7, 2012, 2:05 pm

    I was in Ecuador in February, and like many others had showers with the electric heads. The only thing I can warn about (and George alluded to it earlier) is to not touch the head, even the plastic part, under any circumstances while the water is on and the head is active. I made the mistake of doing this, and received the obvious shock.

    In one other instance, the water was leaking out of the fitting, and spraying over the wires. In this case, I had them install a new head.

    So remember kids, don’t touch the head while it’s on (especially to adjust the setting), and water leaking over the wires=bad.

    Tod Wouters, Kamloops, BC Canada

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:07 pm

      Hi Tod,
      I’m glad I didn’t reach up there while the shower was on!
      Thanks for sharing these tips.

      Reply
  • Cassi March 7, 2012, 1:49 pm

    I spent a summer studying abroad in Cuenca and all of my showers were electric (at my home-stay and the hotels on our weekend trips). They were a little scary looking at first, but I never got electrocuted or anything! Some days I did have trouble with water pressure and temperature variations though. I learned that I needed to wash my hair as fast as possible to make sure I could rinse the shampoo out since there was always a chance the water would slow to a trickle or turn freezing cold! I did notice that showering at a random time during the day was usually better than in the morning or at night.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:12 pm

      Hi Cassi,
      I did the same thing, washed my hair and rinsed as fast as possible. Not the most relaxing shower experience :)
      Thanks for mentioning these points, I think they will help electric shower newbies.

      Reply
  • george March 7, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Dena, I am a general contractor in the United States and I have never seen a shower head like that… Exposed wires, water, and my guess is that a GFI circuit is no where to be found. I would feel ok taking a shower but you would never find me touching the shower head during that shower….

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:15 pm

      Hi George,
      I felt the same way. I was too nervous to touch it when the water was on. I’m glad I was because as Tod (commented above) found out, it was shocking.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Dwight Z - Your Vietnam Tour Guide March 7, 2012, 11:53 am

    I just returned from Costa Rica where I encountered the exact model you’re pictured in your blog. My problem was the absentee hostess forgot to tell me there was a switch across the room from the shower that turned on the electrical power for the shower head. I had a couple of chilly showers until I discovered the “secret”. I just thought it didn’t function very well.

    I’ve experienced electrical “instant” water heaters for the last 20 years while traveling in Asia. They kind of “freaked” me out the first time.

    The reason you probably don’t have anyone writing about “bad” experiences is that if the shower “malfunctions” they don’t live to tell about it. The electric water heaters in Asia run on 220 Volts and low amperage, but in Costa Rica they use 110 Volts with higher Amperage. And it’s the Amps that kill you not the Volts. By the way I’ve never heard of any “bad” experiences.

    Cheers,

    Dwight Z.

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:23 pm

      Hi Dwight,
      I have not come across any secret switches yet, but at first I thought the electric shower head was broken because the water was always cold. A friend saw us buying a new one and asked about it, when I told her, she shared the water flow trick with me.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  • Richard Morton March 7, 2012, 10:44 am

    We’ve been in Cozumel 3 weeks, 1 to go, showers have been great, but the general electrical wiring of homes is much to be desired. Oh and we meet a friend of yours…Jennifer, was in Canar, Ecuador for 2 years.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines March 7, 2012, 11:32 am

      Good to hear Rick! Please give our greetings to Jennifer and Melody. We frequently crossed paths here in Cuenca, when they came to town for groceries and Drew really took to them.

      Reply
  • Patty Grimm March 7, 2012, 10:38 am

    Yes, I do have a story about electric showers or widow makers as they are affectionately called. I was taking a shower in a hotel we were staying at in Salinas, when the widow maker shower head exploded with a loud noise, blue light explosion and resultant smell of burning wires. Well, since the water was still hot I continued to shower, when it happened again. Both times were sudden and caused me to scream. After the second explosion, the water became cold and that is when I turned off the shower and got out. I was very lucky that I didn’t get electrocuted. Don’t think I’ll ever take a shower again with a widow maker shower head!

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:30 pm

      Hi Patty,
      Wow, that’s a crazy story! The first explosion would have sent me running. You should get an “extreme showering” award or something :)
      I think that if they are installed properly they are ok, we used one for over a year and didn’t have any problems. But after an experience like that I can understand why you would not want to try again.
      Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
  • Amy March 7, 2012, 10:08 am

    Nope. No stories yet, but perhaps in a couple of weeks I will! Thanks for the explanation of electric shower heads…I must admit, this is one of many “unknowns” that has slightly concerned me…

    Reply
    • Dena Haines March 12, 2012, 9:37 pm

      Hi Amy,
      I’m glad that this post has taken some of the mystery out of one of the unknowns for you. But I hope that there will still be some left that you will find out on your own, that’s part of the fun.
      I hope all your stories will be good ones, and that you’ll share them with us.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

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