Hot showers and cold hands

A so-called "suicide shower"

If you come to Loja from North America you may be surprised at the ways we heat water for household use. Europeans might be familiar with on-demand water heaters but they, too, may find it different here.

First I'll say that it is not unusual for families in the campo (rural areas) to have no means of heating water except boiling it on the stove or fire pit. Housing inside the city bounds is more likely to have some sort of water heater, at least for the shower.

In the U.S. and Canada you probably had a large tank of water (40 gallons or more) that was constantly heated, and plumbed so there could be hot water at faucets throughout the entire house. In Ecuador you will discover that many sinks have only a single tap, and that is for cold water. Hot water, if an option, might only be in the shower or bath. Higher end apartments and condos could have heated water available at the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and maybe even for washing machine connections - but not always.

Common calefon in Loja
If there is hot water at faucets other than the shower then the source will usually be a calefon. These use gas as a fuel but also depend on a D-cell battery for ignition. On-demand style heaters only work when water is flowing through them. This can save a lot of energy, but remember that the calefon will ignite and use fuel every time you turn on the hot water tap, even if only for a moment.

Many Lojanos will wash their hands and do the dishes with cold water. Since soap is the disinfectant and not the hot water then this system works pretty well. Some people even take showers with cold water, or use an electrically-heated shower head that is humorously called a suicide shower. Why the nickname? Look closely at the picture above and you'll see the wiring connections may only be covered by tape, or may even be completely bare in some installations! I have heard of the occasional person experiencing a shock when the water vapor established a ground, but I don't think anyone has ever died by electrocution.

In the last few years I'm aware of more people checking into, and installing, solar water heaters. These seem to work well in the warmer climates of Malacatos, Catamayo and Vilcabamba but probably are not the best solution in Loja where we often have clouds build up during the day to limit the solar gain.

Typical roof water tank
Many habitations in Loja have cisterns or water storage tanks, usually located on the roof to provide natural water pressure delivery and also "solar-heated" tepid water if there is an interruption in the public water supply. Utilities in Ecuador - such as electricity, water, and internet - do have occasional outages, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. Fortunately these outages do not happen often, but having a water storage tank can allow you to experience minimal inconvenience.

Finally, in the "you-need-to-know" category of information: on-demand water heaters, because they depend on water flow, can be quite sensitive to variations in water pressure. It's best if you ask others in the household to refrain from flushing a toilet while you suds up in the shower. Electric shower heads tend to deliver water in a sort of "gentle rain" way - no pelting streams. Getting just the right temperature with either type of heater can be a little tricky until you get to used to your particular setup, but persevere and you'll learn what works best in your domicile.

There is no reason to have to bathe with cold water in Loja unless you choose to do so, but you may need to get used to having cold hands after washing up at a sink.


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