For those readers in the United States, you may not have heard of an electric shower. I know I didn't until I was conversing with a UK friend and the topic came up when discussing a bathroom remodel that they were undergoing. My first thought when the term electric shower was mentioned was a flashback to the movie Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray's character is trying to comically end his life and he grabs a toaster (while plugged into the wall) and gets into the bathtub full of water. I'm no electrician, but a mixture of electricity and water is usually a bad combo. So what exactly is an electric shower, and are you safe taking a shower in one?
The short answer is maybe. I only say maybe, because if the shower isn't wired properly and it was hacked together by an amateur, I wouldn't take a shower in it myself. Most electric shower installations are safe. Certainly the hotels and resorts in other countries have professionally installed systems and are safe for everyday use.
So by now, you may be asking just what exactly is an electric shower? Well in the States, almost all water in a house is centrally heated by a unit known as a water heater. The water is heated in a big tank, stored, and then sent to the faucet receptacle when requested. (ie. someone turns the hot water valve on) An electric shower is quite different in that the water line source is actually the cold water main and as the water is requested, it is passed over a heating element at the point of service. In other words, there is a heating unit directly next to the water shower head and the water gets heated "on demand".
There are some advantages to using electric showers over traditional water tank systems. First, the cost to heat the water is reduced significantly. If you have an electric or natural gas water heater now, think about the fact that it heats 30 or 40 gallons of water at a time. An electric shower unit though heats only a few gallons on demand. So it is much more efficient in terms of cost savings. Also another point is that if the unit ever breaks, it is a simpler fix than replacing an entire water heater tank unit. The heating elements are usually the parts on the shower that go bad over time, so a handy person can swap out the unit themselves in an afternoon. Water heater replacements usually require a professional plumber because you are dealing with natural gas piping and also main water lines.
I was intrigued when I first heard about electric showers, and even though we don't see many of them in the States, they are still out there. Now you won't have a befuddled look on your face if someone mentions it to you :-)