Suicide Shower

That sounds scary! These water heaters are actually very common in this part of the world, and if you can get past the idea of electric wires in (actually above) the shower they work quite well.

Hot water isn’t standard in Panama. There are many people who never had a warm shower in their lives. I’ve seen neighbors bathing the children outside with the garden hose. Of course this is the tropics and cold water isn’t especially cold. To me it feels like a swim on a hot day, maybe a second to get used to it and then it’s refreshing and really nice.

We have an on demand gas water heater on an outside wall with lines to the shower and kitchen. When I moved in a neighbor pointed it out as something really special. It’s temperamental though. You need to turn on the hot water and when it’s hot, then turn on the cold and hope you get something pleasantly warm for a minute before it turns totally cold. Repeat the process as needed. I quickly decided this was more trouble than it’s worth and just took cold showers.

The water heater stopped working. It’s been so long I don’t even remember when. New batteries didn’t help, and we didn’t care enough to try anything else.

Now though it’s the height of rainy season, and we’ve had a few very chilly days with little to no sun, and temperatures down to 70 at night. Ok, I can hear most of you laughing and rolling your eyes, but we are acclimated to heat and happy in the 80’s. This is why we don’t live in the mountains. We like it warm.

A long time ago we bought a suicide shower to help a friend. She ended up fixing the one she had so she didn’t need it. They are inexpensive enough that it wasn’t worth taking back to the store, so it’s been in storage. Then it dawned on us. If we don’t want cold showers on chilly days, we could get it out and install it!

These heaters draw quite a bit of power so always use a heavy duty wire. You can see the circles on the unit, black for hot, white for cold, and half and half for warm. Black tends to pop the circuit breaker, but warm with a slower water flow (less to heat) produces a very nice, comfortably warm shower. I don’t mind a cold shower at all but even I will admit it’s very pleasant to have warm water sometimes.

So, if you find one of these in a shower, don’t freak out. It won’t electrocute you. It will just give you some nice warm water.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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9 Responses to Suicide Shower

  1. oldsalt1942 says:

    Except for the year I was house sitting in Potrerillos Arriba (two six month stints) every place I lived had a single knob at the faucets whether for kitchen sink or shower. For quite a while I used one of those solar showers campers use but it was difficult getting it at a decent height. The five gallon size meant that it weighed 40 pounds. (H2O is 8 lbs per gallon) I then got one of those 3 gallon plastic bug spray pump up jobbers, spray painted it black and put the solar shower spray head on it and it worked fine for a couple of years. Fill it up, set it out in the sun for a couple of hours and voila, warm water. When there was no sun I’d just heat a gallon of water on the stove and add it to the cool water in the container.

    Living on a small boat here in Bradenton Beach one doesn’t have the luxury of a shower. Having had some serious health problems in July and Sept. that put me in the hospital I ended up losing 30 lbs. From 155 down to 122. So I signed up at the local Y where they have all kinds of neat gym equipment PLUS a heated indoor swimming pool. Being an old fart of limited income I was eligible for a “scholarship” and only pay $20.25/month. On Monday I took the bus over to the mainland, a 75 cent ride and took a LONG, LONG hot shower. Next Monday I meet with a personal trainer and start a program they call “12 Weeks To A New You.” We’ll see.

    p.s. It hasn’t rained here in the last two weeks and there’s none in the forecast.

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    • I immediately noticed two faucets in the kitchen and shower of our house and figured there was hot water. I have heard about using the sun to heat water but never wanted it bad enough to try. Florida though, that water is too chilly for a shower IMO. Good for you and the Y. 122 pounds though? You could blow away in a strong wind. Good luck with the program and getting yourself built back up so you can have more adventures!

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  2. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    I can handle the cold water only shower in David or Panama City. Like in Texas in deep summer, the cold water is too warm to drink from the faucet if you let it run a bit. In Boquete, at its hottest, the water is COLD. I do not know how people without heaters, 90% of the local population, can do it. Often they shower in the heat of the day but still the water temp is freezing. Nena never showers in hot water, claims it is too warm.
    While in the military there, when we were spending time in the jungle, we would hang a 5 gallon “jerrycan” on a tripod, heat water next to a generator exhaust, and use that for showers. Crude but effective in getting the jungle bugs and crud off. People can endure anything if there is a hot shower in the near future.
    I don’t know of anyone who has been electrocuted in a “suicide” shower. Physics would cause any electrical short circuit to be sent to ground through the water pipe and popping the breaker. Most of the ones I have used will pop the breaker at some point (usually when one is covered in soap!) but that is too small a breaker problem.

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    • I can’t handle the night temperatures in Boquete most of the time with all my clothes on. Forget cold showering up there! I also have a Boquete friend, grandmother age, who never had a warm shower in her life.
      I suppose you could zap yourself if you get wet under the running shower and use a wet hand to reach up find a bare wire. I’m not going to test that idea though.

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  3. chugwa says:

    Great write up Kris, thank god for the suicide shower as I don’t believe that you get clean without warm water to open up your pores

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    • This made me think of a friend talking about people who use a sauna to open pores and sweat out toxins. In this tropical climate we sweat out toxins all day so we should be in great shape! I always felt clean after a cold shower so maybe just a matter of comfort here.

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  4. LIANE MARQUES & CAMILO QUELQUEJEU says:

    LORENZETTI HEATERS ARE MANUFACTURED BY THE THOUSANDS EVERY MONTH IN BRASIL, AND SOLD AND USED ALL OVER THE WORLD. THEY ARE PRACTICALLY A LIVE SHORT CIRCUIT, TURNED ON AND OFF BY WATER PRESSURE. AND A GOD SEND TO PEOPLE WHO CAN AFFORD AND USE THEM.
    I AM GLAD THAT YOU TOOK YOURS OUT OF STORAGE. I AM CERTAIN THAT IT IS A GOD SEND, AND YOU SHOULD MAKE THE BEST POSSIBLE USE OF IT !

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    • Thanks! I didn’t know that, but I figured if they are so common in Central America they are probably other places too. It’s definitely a more comfortable shower especially if you are chilly or not feeling well.

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  5. Nick Grimshawe says:

    Hi Kris

    So that’s what that thing in the closet is. Must be left over from a previous renter.

    Last year when I arrived I saw I had both faucets so I was excited about having hot water, until I turned on the tap and waited and waited and finally realized no hot water was going to flow.

    I have no problem with the cold showers. Here its okay because it’s warm out. I don’t recommend you try a cold shower in Canada during winter.

    Last year I realized if I waited to early afternoon, as long as I didn’t need a shower before then, I got about 5 minutes of luke warm water. They were always a treat.

    As for the rain and cool weather…I even bought a packet of hot chocolate to help warm me up. Talk about spoiled all ready.

    Nick

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