Friday, March 26, 2010

British plumbing

Oxo tower viewA few years ago, myself and a colleague were being taken out for dinner at a smart London restaurant by a couple of guys who worked for a different bank. The purpose of the dinner was for the other guys to thank us for giving them some business in connection with various bond transactions, and to discuss future business possibilities.

About half-way through the evening, we start talking about hotels. One of the guys from the other bank is American, and normally works in New York, and he had a comment about the London hotel room that he was staying in.

"I can't figure out British bathrooms!" he starts, "in particular, who designed the sinks?"

"How do you mean?" asks my colleague.

"Well, there are two taps, one for hot water and one for cold!"

"Well of course," I answer, unable to understand what he's getting at, "I don't know about you, but I like to wash in warm water, but brush my teeth in cold water :-)."

"Yes I agree," he replies, "so when I need to wash my hands I turn on the hot tap. But when I put my hands in the water stream it's often too hot, so then I need to cool my hands and I turn on the cold tap, but in winter that too cold so I'm ..."

and he indicates moving his hands from right to left and back again between the water from the different taps.

"Ahhhh," says my colleague laughing, "you mean you want the hot and cold water to come out of the same tap!"

Suddenly realising what this guy is getting at, I start laughing too, and soon we're all laughing at the peculiarities of British plumbing.

Fast-forward to last Wednesday evening and boyfriend T and me are at a wine tasting, which is being held in an old British establishment. We both visit the gentleman's toilets on the way out, and as we're washing our hands, boyfriend T starts talking to me.

"I don't understand these sinks!" he says.

"Why not?" I ask.

"Well, they're SO inconvenient, having two taps ..."

Immediately I remember the conversation that I had at that business dinner all those years ago. However, I also realise that I still have no real idea why British sinks are often designed like that! Can anyone enlighten me?


yoshi said...

A quick googling comes up that when indoor plumbing was introduced there was only cold water. When warm water could be sent - a new line and another tap was added. As everything in the UK is at least 300 years old - two taps are still found in abundance.

In some locations - local regulations over water pressure makes one taps impractical.

My house in the states is 105 years old and I had the old plumbing ripped out years ago. One taps rule.

Was Once said...

It is just one more subtle reminder of why the British Empire folded! :)

Antony said...

I have no idea, but a friend of mine and I were having the same conversation the other day lol. Thanks for another great post!


A xx

DW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DW said...

I made the same comments when I first visit UK, now I got used to it. But I do think it is kinda silly design, LOL

Soul Seared Dreamer said...

Coz we're British and we like to do our own thing in our own way is the only thing that springs to mind.

For the more logical reason - see above :p

Anonymous said...

Ha! Friend of mine started a group about this

Anonymous said...

Actually, you're all wrong.

It dates back to the Raj when water would be carried everywhere by elephants. Drinking water would be put in a barrell marked with blue paint and red tagged barrell was used for non-potable washing water. The weight of the barrells would be spread evenly over the elephant's back by hanging them one either side.

When it came to bathtime, the hot water barrell was heated to slightly above comfortable temperature then diluted if necessary using the precious drinking water.

As most of us Brits were used to this system, when indoor plumbing was introduced in the early 1970's, it seemed natural just to keep it on.

roobs said...

oh dear, obviously you guys haven't joined this Facebook Group: 'You are not an advanced country if you have separate water taps" -!/group.php?gid=12860331647&ref=search&sid=505158874.1879880034..1

BigBairn said...

There were laws preventing hot (and potentially germ-laden) water contaminating the drinking water supply by backfeeding. That's why there were 2 taps. All in one taps until recently had 2 separate pipes so the water wasn't mixed. Nowadays there's a one way valve on the pipes to stop back siphoning so most modern sinks have mixer taps like everywhere else. I agree that 2 taps are ridiculous but maybe your hotel had ancient plumbing?

Anonymous said...

Nowadays my Oxford college points out water coming out of the tap must be really hot to prevent Shigellosis infections building up anywhere on the way. Why this measure isn't necessary anywhere else, don't ask me: tradition, methinks.

Bathing with two separate taps, as I have to, is not particularly fun. It's especially difficult to figure out when the water's the right temperature and I always end up scalding myself!!

DB1 said...

Anon, I think your Oxford college is fibbing. Maybe if you can find a friendly porter who's been around for a while to fill you in on the actual truth . . . not having been to Oxford myself, I can't say what the actual truth is, but I can say that regulations generally set a maximum temperature so that people don't get scalded, not a minimum one.

Let's face it, British plumbing is simply old fashioned. But sometimes that's kind of a nice thing. Take the British bathtub. Even today, the standard UK tub is a marvel of space and depth, as opposed to the standard US tub that you couldn't drown a mouse in. Of course, builders can buy awful tubs in the UK; they just aren't forced to. In the US the only way to get a decent tub is to get an old house or apartment that still has the original, or else install a hot tub, which kind of defeats the purpose in my view -- I'd rather just soak than be aerated.