Having a high-tech electric shower is a dream for many homeowners, but what these same homeowners may not realize are the potential problems that can come with owning one. For example, what are you supposed to do if your electric shower keeps tripping your circuit breaker?
The most likely causes of your electric shower tripping include electrical circuit overload, a faulty heating element, a short circuit, or an incompatible shower unit. Try limiting the number of electronics running whilst you shower, and don’t change the heat frequently. Otherwise, you may have a serious electrical issue requiring a professional.
Issues with an electric shower should be resolved as quickly as possible since some electrical issues carry the risk of fire as well as potential bodily harm. Let’s go through the potential causes behind a shower tripping your circuit breaker so that you can get back to using your shower like normal.
Why Does Your Electric Shower Keep Blowing the Fuse?
I grew up in the UK where electric showers are more common than in the US, and I vividly remember my Dad shouting from the shower most mornings about our electric shower tripping.
It took us ages to identify the problem because there’s not just one clear reason why electric showers keep tripping the circuit breaker or the RCD (residual current device). However, the situation isn’t too complicated and luckily I’m here to help; there are essentially four primary causes you need to consider:
|Trips when other electrical devices are being used
|Reduce energy consumption whilst showering
|Trips when heat is turned up
|Replace heater or entire shower (job for electrician)
|Random tripping and potential damage to other electronics
|Incompatible Shower Ampage
|Trips when flow/power is turned up
One thing that will help you understand what’s going on is knowing the behavior of how a heating device fails when it’s “pulling too much” electricity. It doesn’t happen immediately, or exactly when you expect it: after you dial a heater up, the heating element inside the device doesn’t necessarily heat up automatically, and you don’t know at what point in its heating-up cycle it will “trip” and have an issue.
This is why my Dad would be shouting halfway through his shower!
So, the behavior you’d expect to see is a shower that works most of the time, or just at first, but then “trips” or fails basically at a point at which it’s heating up. I’ll talk more about the details of this below, but this is usually pretty surprising to people that the way the failure happens is not necessarily repeatable or the same every time.
Let’s go through each of these so that you can get back to relaxing in your shower without having to worry that it’ll shut off while you’re covered in soap. While not being able to shower when you want is extremely frustrating, this problem is usually pretty easy to understand and fix.
Your Shower Is Causing an Overload
The most common reason why your shower is tripping the circuit breaker is that it’s causing an overload. An overload occurs when your system has to deal with way more electricity than it can handle.
Simply put your electric shower (along with other devices you may be running in your bathroom or nearby) is too much for your system to handle, and, as a result, it shuts down to prevent any damage.
This is a common issue since electric showers need a lot of electricity in order to keep your water heated properly.
Did you know that many homeowners report a fishy smell when an electrical overload happens? As the electrics burn plastics around them, a fish smell is released.
A common practice that can cause this issue is when you frequently adjust the heat of the water as you try to get the temperature just right. It could also happen if you frequently adjust the amount of water coming out. Both of these actions use electricity.
Fixing the overload issue is therefore pretty simple. All you have to do is be more consistent with your shower settings during your shower and make sure to limit the use of other electronics while you’re showering.
That may mean unplugging things like hair dryers, electric razors, or even appliances elsewhere in the house. Renewable energy world ranks the top 10 energy-consuming appliances in the home – the biggest bang for your buck would be turning off heaters, followed by cooling appliances such as fridges and freezers.
Sometimes a shower will cause a trip and the electric shower won’t turn back on. If your electric shower has no power at all, there will be different solutions and I’ve also written an article on that.
Your Shower Has a Faulty Thermostat
There are actually two electric heating elements inside your shower — one on top and one on the bottom. Only one of these heating elements is supposed to be on at any given time, but a faulty thermostat in your heater may result in both turning on simultaneously.
This will, in turn, cause an excess of electricity to flow through your system, causing it to overload and shut down. The issue is probably due to a buildup of limescale within the shower unit itself and is more common when you live in a hard water area.
The easiest way to check for a faulty thermostat or heating element is to test whether the shower trips whilst running cold water. Slowly increase the temperature and observe whether the circuit trips and if it trips, the heating elements have given up.
If your electric shower is under two years old, the parts should still be under warranty and the manufacturer should replace the component free of charge. If your shower isn’t under warranty it may be cheaper to simply replace the shower. I give some handy, cost-saving tips for replacing an electric shower a bit later.
Unfortunately, this is not something we would recommend fixing on your own. You could potentially risk damaging your electrical system, which could lead to even worse damage in your home. In this case, it’s therefore recommended that you simply call an expert to look at the shower for you. Either an electrician or a plumber can help, but plumbers are more suited to this job.
Whilst I do not recommend attempting this job unless you’re qualified, I did find this useful video for educational purposes only on how to change out the heating element:
Replacing your electric shower
After confirming a faulty heating element and thermostat, many homeowners may take this as an opportunity to replace the entire shower setup.
Many electric showers were originally installed due to the lack of an effective boiler, so it’s possible you’re now in a position to install a more standard unit that doesn’t require electrical power. If you’re in this camp, I’d highly recommend replacing the taps on the bath with a thermostatic bath mixer (like this one on Amazon) with a shower diverter and shower rail/head. This is a straightforward install and avoids the need to remove tiles.
This setup requires your boiler to heat the water before being used for the shower (rather than your current setup which is where the electric shower heats your water).
If you want to replace the electric shower with another electric shower, I’d recommend purchasing the exact same model (if you’re happy with it). This makes the installation process very easy. Again, I wouldn’t recommend anybody unqualified attempt this but I did find this instructional video for educational purposes on how to switch out an electric shower:
There’s a Short Circuit in Your Electrical System
This is perhaps the most serious of the potential issues you might be dealing with. A short circuit in your electrical system means that somewhere in your system there’s a live wire touching a neutral wire, causing a big burst of power to go through the system all at once. This, in turn, causes an overload in your system, resulting in the circuit being tripped.
Another likely cause of your electric shower tripping would be where water is leaking inside of your shower unit and coming into contact with live cables.
In some cases, a short circuit could also damage appliances in your home, including your precious water heater.
Once again, since fixing this issue involves tinkering with the wiring in your walls, we don’t recommend trying to fix this issue yourself. If you suspect that there’s a short circuit somewhere in your system, it’s best to hire a professional to locate and fix this issue. They can also tell you if your heater or another appliance was affected by the short circuit.
Your electric shower is incompatible with your electrical system
If your electric shower only trips when you change the ‘flow’ settings to high, it’s possible your electric shower rating (measured in kW) is not compatible with your electrical system. An incompatible electric shower may still function for 5 minutes or so without tripping the breaker but may trip the breaker when the power settings are altered. This problem is particularly likely if you’ve recently had your electric shower replaced.
Where this is the case, your MCB (miniature circuit breaker) will trip, and it trips in order to protect the electrical cable that powers your electric shower.
In layman’s terms: if the cable is not capable of supporting your electric shower, the MCB will continually trip in order to protect your electrical system.
Where you suspect this might be the case, it’s certainly a job for a qualified electrician. They’ll need to check the circuit for obvious faults.
Is an Electric Shower Tripping Dangerous?
Unfortunately, an electric shower tripping your circuit breaker or RCD is definitely not an issue you want to ignore for too long. This problem lead to a myriad of other problems including damage to your property, physical injury, or worse.
The number one thing you want to look out for with any device tripping your breaker is the potential for a fire to start. As we mentioned earlier, many of the causes we’ve listed involve a surge of electricity flowing through your system all at once. If that surge of electricity were to escape the wires of your electrical system, it could cause a fire in your home.
Even ignoring the potential damages caused by a house fire, this issue could still cause serious personal injury. For example, if your system has a faulty heating unit or faulty thermostat, you risk the outcome of serious burns every time you use your electric shower. That’s certainly not something you want to worry about.
Another potential issue is the risk that live electricity could get into your shower. If a surge of electricity were to escape the wiring of your electrical system, it could backfire into the running shower, mixing with the water and causing serious harm to whoever’s using the shower.
So, if your electric shower is constantly tripping your circuit, act right away. Call a professional electrician to take a look at the system as soon as you can.