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What is an Electric Shower?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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Traditionally, all the water in a house is heated at a central water heater, but one increasingly popular solution to home water heating needs is the electric shower. An electric shower heats the water for a shower immediately before it is dispensed, offering the advantage, among others, of never running out of hot water in the middle of a shower. In an electric shower, the water is heated by an electrical device in the shower head, and many models come with a memory for storing one or more temperature settings.

Electric showers are uncommon in the United States, but are seen very often in less-developed countries because of the unique advantages they offer. An electric shower works well in homes that have low water pressure or no main supply of water, because many have a small built-in pump to increase the water pressure as the water is being heated. An electric shower also uses less electricity than an electric water heater, and this is advantageous in countries or areas where electrical service is sporadic or unreliable. In countries that are especially cold, electric showers add an additional heat source for water that may still be too cold, even after going through a water heater.

For someone accustomed to centrally heated water, mixing electricity and water a few inches away from one’s head may seem unnecessarily risky. However, an electric shower is safe if used and installed properly. Also, for someone planning a trip from the U.S. to a Third World country, it’s a good idea to know how to use one and to make sure it’s safe.

To use an electric shower, first turn on the electrical circuit before entering the shower or turning on the water supply. The wiring connected to the shower head should be inspected, to make sure that the two wires are covered well with electrical tape or conduit caps. There should also be a grounding wire (green) attached securely to the water pipe itself. If any wires are exposed or improperly connected, they should be covered with electrical tape before the shower is used.

Once it is clear that the wiring is properly connected, it is important to adjust the temperature setting for the water before turning the shower on. Most electric shower heads allow for the water temperature to be adjusted to one’s liking. It is important to not adjust the temperature setting once the water is running, since this can damage the heating element. Next, turn on the water until a slight buzzing sound is heard from the shower head, which indicates that the shower is heating the water. After this is heard, the water pressure can be adjusted to fine-tune the temperature.

Another point to remember is that electric showers have their own circuit breakers and fuses. In order to prevent damage to the electrical components, these need to be turned off whenever the shower is not in use. Also, to avoid the risk of electric shock, do not touch the circuit breaker while the water is running.

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Discussion Comments

By anon992471 — On Sep 10, 2015

Well I've never seen an electric coil shower head.

We have proper wall mounted units of varying kWatts.

It's a criminal offense for non-qualified people to install or uprate them and requires notification to the local Building Authority on first install or after significant modification.

We don't fiddle with breakers, grounding wires or insulation tape when wanting a shower. They are either left on all the time and activated by a switch or knob on the shower casing, and there will be a ceiling mounted pull cord switch nearby, or a switch outside the bathroom.

You don't mess around with 230Vac, especially when wet!

By anon313851 — On Jan 14, 2013

I have used electric showers for years prior to living in the USA, and I cannot understand why they are not readily adopted here (USA).

The instant heat arrangement is very safe and can prove economical as the unit only uses electricity as required over the shower period.

The idea that an adequate water flow cannot be obtained with an electric shower is a total fallacy; the unit is totally controllable. I have installed the product and if the instructions are followed to the letter, they can give many years of good service.

By anon154529 — On Feb 21, 2011

I think it needs to be mentioned that GFCI breakers will not work on these exposed-electrical-coil shower heads.

There is enough current leakage through the water (when standing in the water-stream you actually are part of the circuit) that the GFCI will trip-out, which tell you that there is a certain amount of current passing through the showerer.

I use high-quality-breakers, use multiple-grounds and wish for the best.

I don't understand why the manufacturers use the exposed coils in the head, an encapsulated heater would be far safer and would work with the GFCI breakers.

By anon104161 — On Aug 15, 2010

They are most certainly not unique to less developed countries. Electric showers are quite common in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. They're typically used for energy-efficiency purposes as they only consume power while in use, rather than heating a large tank of water.

There is certainly no issue in these countries with instability of power supplies or anything like that. It's just a simple environmental/cost saving measure.

The UK/Ireland system is quite different from the models described here. They are usually a small wall-mounted control unit which can be rated up to 19kW!

They are also installed to a very high degree of electrical safety and well regulated standards are applied.

They're very effective, and do save quite a lot of energy, particularly during the summer months when central heating systems may not be in use.

It's also quite common in much of Europe to use instantaneous gas-fired water heaters. These start heating the water as soon as a tap / shower is turned on and stop when it's switched off again.

These may form part of a 'combi' boiler (furnace) which has a separate system for heating radiators in the building.

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