Getting the balance right

Getting the balance right

Thermostatic showers are no longer synonymous with mixer showers as the market for thermostatic electric showers is rising fast. But with so much confusion around the technology itself, Rachel Smith demystifies the thermostatic market.
Ask installers what is meant by ‘thermostatic’ and you’re likely to be met with a different response every time. Though thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) are fairly widely understood, there is no thermostatic standard in the electric shower market – apart from those installed in care environments (which must be BEAB certified). This leads to a lot of confusion about the different technologies used by various manufacturers when it comes to electric showers, as well as misperception between how thermostatic mixer showers differ to electric thermostatic showers.
Safety first
With safety often being a top concern when installing showers, there has been a lot of growth in the thermostatic market over the past few years, particularly with the emergence of mid-range electric showers that offer built-in thermostatic technology. A few years ago, if a customer wanted a thermostatic shower, it would likely be a mixer shower. Nowadays, electric showers are also an option.
Hot water safety will always be a priority for shower manufacturers. Each year, 20 people die and almost 600 are seriously injured from scalds caused by hot water. Additionally, many heating systems are set to heat domestic hot water to fairly high temperatures; if there is a storage tank, water must be heated to at least 60°C to limit the growth of legionella bacteria.
As such, showers that are fed straight from the hot water tank pose a scalding risk, with third degree burns occurring in just five seconds. This is particularly a concern for children and the elderly, where there is more of a risk of scalding due to skin sensitivity.
Today, most mixer showers on the market include thermostatic control to limit scalding hazards. Mixer showers are fed by both hot and cold mains water, regulating the temperature and delivering water at a pre-set maximum. Some are TMV2 and TMV3 approved, depending on the application. Additionally, some shower bodies remain cool to touch when in operation for additional safety.
Just like any shower, electric showers can also pose a risk of scalding if there is a sudden change in water temperature. If someone in the household is using a standard electric shower, it only takes someone else to draw off cold water from another outlet (a kitchen sink, a flushed toilet or a washing machine for example) to cause a fluctuation in temperature,  leading to a potential scalding hazard.
Customers’ needs
For homeowners, there will be two important aspects when purchasing a shower: safety and aesthetics. For the former, if there are young children, elderly people or vulnerable adults in the household, it is important to highlight hot water safety, as they can be more susceptible to scalding.  Installers should always consider who the end user will be when recommending a shower. Whether a mixer or electric shower, it is important to explain to the customer what thermostatic means and the relevant safety aspects to enable them to make an informed choice.
The need for thermostatic showers depends on the householder, the kind of heating system and also the customer’s budget. A mixer shower may well still be a common recommendation for consumers concerned about hot water safety; however, many may still have a preference for an electric shower with thermostatic capabilities.
Installers therefore must be clued up on how they differ – and how the thermostatic technology in electric showers works – so that they can relay the information back to customers in an easy to understand way.
Different approaches
Rather than being fed by a hot water tank or boiler, electric showers are fed purely by cold mains water, which is instantaneously heated as it passes through the shower unit. An electric shower works completely independently to the home’s hot water system, which can often be a bonus for the home owner.
Additionally, different manufacturers take different approaches when it comes to thermostatic technology. Bristan’s Joy Thermosafe, for example, uses phased control of the heater elements, which react in accordance to outlet temperature changes. This helps to balance extreme changes to reduce the risk of scalding and provide a more comfortable showering experience.
The electrics market
Electric showers still have a definite place within the UK market. Often more affordable, they are quick, easy to fit and can be installed anywhere. All that is required is a mains water supply and electrical connection, meaning that they are highly versatile. Providing an endless supply of hot water, they are suitable for households of all types and sizes.
Moreover, once a homeowner has used an electric shower, they will often opt for a like-for-like replacement rather than a different kind of shower, meaning that the market remains constant. Because of this steady demand for electric showers, which represents approximately 50% of the market (according to Waterwise), manufacturers are continuing to invest in their products. As well as thermostatic technology, new advances include digital indicators, touch controls, lime-scale reduction and improved performance overall.
Additionally, manufacturers have invested in making their products a more attractive proposition – for both end users and installers.  For example, electric showers are now more aesthetically pleasing than in the past, with stylised covers, contemporary colour options, and chrome headsets that are slimmer and wider than ever before.
Understanding the differences
Thermostatic technology will become more commonplace in the market as manufacturers continue to invest in electric showering technology. The expectation is that consumers will not be as limited by price because thermostatic showers will become more accessible.
Installers therefore must understand the differences between thermostatic mixer showers and thermostatic electric showers in order to make recommendations as well as make repairs or replacements.
Design trends may come and go, but hot water safety will always be a priority and the electric shower market is expected to flourish. Indeed, thermostatic electric showers will remain hot property for installers for years to come.