In many homes in Costa Rica that are currently available for rent and purchase, suicide showers have been installed in the bathrooms.
The reason that these dangerous devices exist, is that many homes in Costa Rica never had three wire, grounded electrical circuits installed, or a second plumbing tube in the wall to provide hot water to the bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry water outlets. Therefore, to make bathing more comfortable, some brilliant engineer invented the suicide shower, that heats water with only one water tube and without a grounded electrical circuit.
If you are bathing and accidentally touch a suicide shower, you will be shocked if the device is not grounded. Without a grounded electrical circuit connected to the suicide shower, the electricity will continue to pass through the water and your wet body, and in all likelihood you would be shocked.
However, if your suicide shower were wired into a GFI electric outlet, and you accidentally came into contact with any part of the suicide shower while bathing, the sensitive GFI breaker would sense the lack of electricity passing through the electrical circuit and shut off, thereby saving you from being shocked.
For the past 26+ years, I have been inspecting electrical and plumbing systems in homes and condominiums in Costa Rica and many of my clients fall in love with homes that have suicide showers and ask me to help them find a solution to eliminate these dangerous devices.
The trend over the past 10 years has been to replace the suicide showers with safer instantaneous hot water heaters. The newer hot water heaters are compact, can be installed just about anywhere and have become available at just about all building suppliers at reasonable prices. Additionally, they can be installed without having a second water supply tube installed inside the walls of the dwellings. I recommend the Stiebel Eltron brand as they are the most efficient and best quality.
However, this manufacturer’s installation guidelines indicate that a 50-ampere breaker be installed to control these heaters and if your electrical system does not have this capacity, the heater will not work properly. If you don’t have an available electrical circuit with this capacity, your options will be limited to water heaters with small tanks that draw less electrical current.
If you decide to try and install one of these devices on your own and do not hire an experienced professional, you may find that the lights will dim when the heater is working. Many times, small wires that deliver lower electrical current will cause the heaters not to function properly and the water output will not reach a comfortable temperature. If you’re living in an older home, inadequate electrical circuits could be your problem. If you have a newer home, built to better standards, and you’re experiencing this problem, have an experienced electrician check the amperage of the breakers and the size of the wiring that was installed in the home.
Furthermore, a common problem with low hot water pressure or temperature with instantaneous hot water heaters is that they have small internal filters that get clogged up from the slightest amount of particles that have entered the water tube during the installation. Before connecting the tubes to the heater, the water lines need to be bled, in order to remove particles that can be the result of cutting the PVC water tubes during the installation.
The next time you’re taking a nice warm shower; think about how much you’ve taken for granted all your life until you decided to move to the tropics. Be safe, not sorry!
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1993, inspecting homes and condominiums for clients who are considering the purchase of existing property in Costa Rica.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a home inspection, click here.