Electric shock from shower

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by robineriksson22, Dec 4, 2011.

  1. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    I moved to Peru from Sweden. When I touched by mistake where the water comes out. I got shocks. So then I touched with my hands. And I got shocks.
    Then I turned off the switch on the side of the shower that gives it heat. Then I touched where the water comes out. Then no shocks.
    What is this?
    I will take a picture and show you.


    here you turn on the heat...and get warm water....you turn it on after u started the water running..



    Is it totally safe to take cold showers?
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 4, 2011
  2. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    We have another member that goes by ChrisChemist116; he also lives in Peru, and found himself getting shocked in the shower.

    Have a read through this thread:

    I suggest you have an electrical technician/electrician look at it as soon as possible. The fault is in that white heater unit above the shower head.

    I don't like the looks of the wiring. It appears that someone spliced it using black "electrical tape". That's unrelated to you getting shocked by the water stream, though. I don't like that the switch is so close to the shower; it doesn't look to me like one that would be rated for such use.

    If you have the breaker turned off to the heater, it should be OK to take cold showers.
  3. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    Thank you.
    I can see now that it is called a shower head heater.
    And I can see that experts think they are very dangerous.
    So probably they only use it here because they want hot water, right?
    And they don't know that it is dangerous, or don't care.
    It is not my house, I am only renting a room.
    I will tell my friend who knows Spanish to tell the owner about it in 3 days, is that OK?
    I felt from the start (like 4 months ago) that it could be dangerous to use that primitive thing for taking hot showers.
    I think that probably the owner of the room/shower will not invite an electrician, he will probably just try to fix it himself, or he will think that I am weak for complaining about something that is normal here.
    But I would still like to know more clearly, if I could get a shock or die or something? Even if I don't turn the hot water on? Maybe it is best to say nothing and just use the cold water.
    But I think I will just tell him about it in a few days. And I will tell him that I will just take cold showers instead. Unless you think that could be dangerous too.
    And maybe you can see this a bit on the pictures. But there should be a white thing to protect the "cables", but it has kind of broken, so the cables are free/exposed in some places. Could this be dangerous? I mean even if I just ignore the hot water thing.....The cables could get water on them and so on.....
    And another thing....I could not feel any electricity in the water when it had fallen like 10 cm or more. But when I moved my hand to where it had fallen like 0,5 cm...I could not move it more up....because it was electric.....
  4. jimkeith

    Active Member

    Oct 26, 2011
    I'm glad that you survived to tell about it. Scary stuff.
    Also make sure to stay away from the "Bates Motel"

    No ground-fault interrupter there!

    Safer method:
    Fill bucket with hot water--turn off water, and power--pour hot water over head
  5. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    I don't happen to think that they are very safe, either. There you have mains power running inside a shower! :eek: That is not good.

    I have never been to Peru. What I know about the country probably would not fill a thimble.

    Here in the US, we have fairly large water heaters, perhaps 40 to 120 gallons, that are kept at a constant hot temperature, usually somewhere between 125° and 150°F. It takes quite a bit of power to do that, as heat is lost via the plumbing and the water heater body itself, even if it's reasonably well-insulated.

    Having an on-demand heater is much more efficient, as power is only being consumed when you actually need the water hot.

    However, here in the States, an on-demand heater would be installed in a cabinet, away from the shower. Pipes would then be installed from the cabinet to the shower.

    Without knowing much of anything about the country, I'll step out on a limb here and suggest that it may be classified as a "developing country".
    Such countries often have few if any regulations on things like electrical wiring standards; the standards are made to ensure safety and protection of property. It seems to me that there has been a lot of political turmoil in the country in the not-so-distant past; lots of things like regulations could get thrown out the window if an out-and-out revolution occurred.
    It seems that a large part of the country didn't have electricity 20 years ago. That would mean many dwellings would have had to be retrofitted for wiring; tearing out walls would have been prohibitively expensive.

    Are you OK with waiting for three days to tell the owner about it? That will likely delay the repairs by three days.

    It seems that there were definitely shortcuts taken in the design.

    I would have no idea about that. However, electrical tape should not be used as insulation. In a location like that, I would use two layers of heat shrink tubing, with a bit of RTV silicone at the ends of the shrink tubing to ensure that the seal is water tight. They do sell shrink tubing that has glue inside; that would be preferable to using the RTV silicone, if you can even find it there.

    The shower heater has a couple of advantages; it is very easy to install/replace, and it does save a considerable amount of money over using a typical water heater. If Peru is indeed a "developing country", then there will be a relatively large percentage of the population at or near the poverty level; and having access to affordable comfort is very important.

    While rambling on about this stuff, I had a thought - the problem might be as simple as the power connections being reversed at the splice point. If the heater is supplied with single phase AC, one side ground/neutral, and the outside of the heater element is "hot" rather than connected to ground/neutral, you would then be getting shocks.

    If the heater element is supplied with split-phase AC (like power in the USA is), then the heating element would have compromised insulation, and would have to be replaced.

    It might also be that the earth ground wire from your electrical service panel has a bad connection to either the neutral at the panel, or at the grounding end. If the ground is disconnected, the mains AC could "float" above ground to very high voltages if there was a fault in the power company's transformer; this would be very unsafe.

    If you're getting shocks while the hot water is on, I suggest that is definitely not a good thing, and is not safe. It is very possible to trigger ventricular fibrillation with even low current flow through the chest. Ventricular fibrillation is a condition where the heart is beating so fast that it doesn't pump blood through your system. If medical attention is not received within a few minutes, it is usually fatal.

    If mains power to the shower is disconnected/turned off and the switch is labeled as to why it should remain off, then you should be OK.

    That is your choice. I don't know what your situation there is.

    If mains power to the heater is disconnected/turned off, then it should be OK.

    I registered an objection to that; in particular the use of electrical tape.
    It's likely that the original heater failed, and the owner simply spliced in a new one instead of opening up the electrical box to wire it in there. They may have reversed the connections, as I mentioned above.

    According to this unofficial chart:
    you have 60Hz 220VAC there.
    Wikipedia has some interesting information:
    but says nothing about the frequency nor voltage.
    This page has some interesting information:
    where it states that Peru generally has 220V 60Hz, but in Talara, voltage is either 110 or 220V. In Arequipa, the frequency is 50 Hz.
    This page:
    has basically the same information.
    So, my "best guess" would be that if you are not in Talara, you probably have 220V 60Hz; one of the wires is "hot", and the other is "neutral", which should also be connected to earth ground at the service panel.

    Pure water is an insulator. Minerals in the water make it somewhat conductive. As water comes out of the shower head, the streams of water rapidly turn into droplets due to the surface tension of the water, and the droplets are then surrounded by air, which is an insulator.

    Here is a video on YouTube which demonstrates this phenomenon:
    Using a stroboscope flashing at the same rate as the droplets form, you can see the individual droplets. Note that the distance of formation of droplets from the nozzle will vary with the water pressure; this demo is very low pressure.
  6. BillB3857

    Senior Member

    Feb 28, 2009
  7. Mickster


    Jan 10, 2010
    I shared a rented house with two other guys whilst working in the Carribean quite a number of years ago. I paid a little more for my room, which had it's own en-suite bathroom. The other two shared a separate bathroom.

    I can't remember exactly how the discussion came about, but one of the housemates expressed that he had experienced mild shocks when turning off the shower, for a few days, whilst the other was oblivious. The other, a Kiwi, was out on the beer every night til the early hours and obviously hung-over each morning. The first house-mate said he'd not experienced anything when turning the shower on, but got the shocks when obviously wet after showering and reaching for the taps to turn the shower off. The Kiwi still noticed nothing..

    It got to the point where the first guy had resorted to turning off the tap with his shampoo bottle, before the discussion occurred and we checked what was happening.

    There was 55V Ac between the shower head and the bath drain hole.

    After reporting the problem to the Landlord and him getting an Electrician in, it was found that the hot water tank element had corroded.
  8. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
  9. Adjuster

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2010
    In my country electric showers are quite popular. Some installations just pump water heated elsewhere, others have electric water heaters. I don't think the heater is ever in the head itself, but can be inside a wall-mounted module within the shower cubicle.

    Here is an example of a manual for one N.B. 4.43MB .pdf: http://www.free-instruction-manuals.com/pdf/p4798192.pdf

    The usual "house current" supply here is 230V live and neutral, not 115V, so it is even more important for such installations to be properly installed and grounded. I think regulations now require RCDs in such situations. 230V AC getting loose in a shower is just not nice to think about.
  10. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    Probably he have just installed it himself. So that he can say "the room have hot water" and people will want to pay a little more.
    "Are you OK with waiting for three days to tell the owner about it? That will likely delay the repairs by three days."
    I can not tell him now. Because my Spanish is too bad for that. And I think if I tell him, he will probably fix it himself and it will still be dangerous.
    You said this two times:
    "If mains power to the heater is disconnected/turned off, then it should be OK."
    I don't know what this means. Of course I can only choose OFF or ON at the thing on the wall. Is it safe if I choose OFF?
    Is this what you mean? I can not go into other rooms and so on and start to do things.
    I am very bad about electricity.

  11. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    If you turn the switch to "OFF", it will be more safe than if it is "ON".
  12. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    I see. But still it is not totally safe. Why is that? What could happen?
  13. BillB3857

    Senior Member

    Feb 28, 2009
    That is only if the switch is in the HOT lead and not the common. If the switch is in the common line, the situation could be even worse than if the unit were ON. If they use devices such as this, I wouldn't assume anything would be done right.
  14. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    It's worse than a 50/50 chance that it will be more safe, as if the switch were miswired (neutral interrupted by the switch rather than hot), then the shower heater will ALWAYS have power on it until the breaker is tripped or fuse is pulled at the distribution panel.

    If it is wired correctly (hot is interrupted by the switch), then it could still be unsafe if the earth ground to the service panel is not correct or not connected.

    So, you have two dependencies; the switch must be wired correctly (hot line interrupted), and the earth ground to service panel neutral connection must be good.

    By opening the switch, you improve your chances of it being safe by about 25%.
  15. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    It seems like I have to find a room with cold water only.
    If I tell the owner to kill the electricity to this thing at the distribution panel, will this be free for him? Or it cost him money? And would it be totally safe then?
  16. electronis whiz

    Well-Known Member

    Jul 29, 2010
    i think there could have been a "handy man that taped that up and spliced it and could have goten a hot and nutral reversed. howeve based on your story it wold sound like grond got hooked to hot or nutral. you may get a slight shock from nutral becasue of the power flowing back to the utility.
  17. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    You being a novice with electricity, and us not being familiar with electrical equipment in Peru, makes it rather difficult to advise you as to how to troubleshoot the problem yourself.

    Asking the landlord to do something about it would be appropriate, as it is a safety hazard; you cannot be certain that it is safe even if the switch is turned off.

    The wiring for your room may all be on one circuit breaker or fuse. That means if the power to the shower is turned off at the distribution panel, you may lose all other power in the room; the outlets may all go dead.

    He could probably turn it off, but that may affect more than your shower, as I wrote above.

    If that is the case, then while the power is turned off, the wires could be removed from the switch, and insulated using twist-on type wire connectors, or heat shrink tubing. After the switch box is again closed, then the power could be turned back on, and the shower would be safe.
  18. robineriksson22

    Thread Starter New Member

    Dec 4, 2011
    It seems like many countries outside of Western Europe and USA use those things. Especially Latin America. It seems like the rich people use them, and the poor ones use only cold water. And I have read about maybe 15 white tourists saying that if you touch the shower head, you will get electricity. A girl in Peru said this too. So my shower seem to be totally normal. I was just stupid to touch the head.
    But people are also dying from these things.
    For me it is totally OK to shower cold when I live right at the equator.
    I will use the shower but with OFF for the next 1-2 days. And I will not touch the shower head.
    Then the girl I know can tell the owner and ask if he can turn the electricity off to only the "water heater/thing on the wall". If he can do that, maybe I can stay here a long time more. But if he can not, then she can at least tell him to make this thing as safe as possible with the wires and so on. And then I can maybe stay here for another 14 days before I get a new room. Or maybe I can get a new room in 2 days. But then I have paid this room for around 22 more days when I don't live here.
    There are many white tourists who write articles/blog posts just like this:
  19. Lundwall_Paul


    Oct 18, 2011
    Remove all wires and electrical devices from the shower. If you desire hot water I would get a hold of a licensed plumber/electrician. Mean time don't get into the shower either with the device on or off. Get rid of it.