Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't Mess With My Showers

The government of Ecuador is attempting to interfere with my ability to have a hot shower in the morning. This will not end well.

Basically, President Correa has mandated that production and importation of gas hot water heaters be stopped. This is how the majority of the homes in the country get their hot water. He hasn't proposed a replacement system, he's just said that the subsidized gas that the government provides is only supposed to be used for cooking, and that the hot water heaters are a health hazard anyway.

Sample Gas Heaters

Thanks, olx quito

I'll grant him a bit of that second point. Poorly installed gas hot water heaters - especially those foolishly installed inside homes - emit copious amounts of carbon monoxide. The heaters need to be properly ventilated, and ideally should be outside on a terrace, balcony, or outside wall. They can kill you when you do things like install them in your bedroom closet (no, really. That happened.)

However, we're not merely addressing the issue of poor technical skills that plagues the nation. We're talking about the President of the country essentially declaring that hot water is an optional luxury for most of the population. Solar water heaters exist, but the units run over $1,000 before installation with no backup systems, and electric water heaters imported from the states are just as pricey. The average monthly wage in the country is $300. A gas water heater is about $250, and powering it for an hour a day's worth of hot water is about $2.

I've ranted before about the dangers and misery of electric showerheads, so I've no interest in going back to that system. I'm glad my house has a gas hot water system already installed, and that the building runs on a centralized gas system with no way to separate my gas for cooking from my gas for showering. I'm probably going to be okay, unless "they" come to my house and try to rip my water heater off my wall. They should be prepared for some serious protesting.

And I won't be the only one protesting ... although not all of the protesters are motivated in the same way. One of the things thought to be behind the ban is the rising price to the government of continuing to subsidize propane and natural gas prices. The wholesale price for a home canister is about $1.60, with home delivered gas canisters at $2. The going market price should be around $8 per canister (works out to $0.32 kg/gas). Many locals would be hard pressed to afford a price jump of that size.

I know it seems like pocket change, but pocket change is serious money here. The government is a little bit stuck on this one. The "Land of the Cold Shower" is not exactly a reputation their tourist industry can afford to be stuck with, but the bill for the subsidies is not exactly one the government can afford to be stuck with over time. So we'll see how this goes ... you'll know if the hot water goes away, because I'll be sending through a new address!

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the real world. As relatively well-off gringo expats, we should be the first to pop for the solar heaters (and insulated plumbing lines). I hope that we in Ecuador will take lessons from Northern Europeans, and avoid NorteAmericano profligacy and denial.