Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Too Cliché: The great discovery of Ogg.

.. and while I am on the subject of thermodynamics..

Once upon a time there was a very clever caveman named Ogg. Ogg made the remarkable discovery that hot plus cold equals warm. Although this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation, somehow, the memo did not reach British plumbers.

Of all the complaints Americans have about the UK, one of the most cliché, and yet most valid, is the complete stupidity of the plumbing. The Brits absolutely insist on having two taps for water: one that delivers hot water and one that delivers cold – and never the twain shall meet. So when you wash your hands, you have the choice of water that is scalding, or water that is freezing. Americans inevitably turn them both on then rapidly pass their hands under each one in quick succession to create the illusion of warm water while trying not to burn themselves. (Kirill Shtengel likes to joke that the British shower has a hot shower head and a cold shower head and you are supposed to jump back and forth between the two).

I mean, how hard is it really to plumb the two taps together so you can make warm water from hot and cold?

Yes, I understand the intention is that you are supposed to fill a basin with the combination of the two, and then you are supposed to wash your hands in the basin. But, for example, in a public restroom, you usually don’t have a plug for the basin, and even if you did, you wouldn’t want to actually touch water that had touched the basin anyway.

In my house, there are three sets of faucets. The kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and the tub. Of the three, the only one which is 20th century in its plumbing is the tub – which conveniently is the only one of the three where it really doesn’t matter.


Doug Natelson said...

In the spirit of your previous post, clearly you are meant to set up some kind of heat engine, running on the temperature difference between the two taps. That way you get warm water in the end, and can simultaneously charge your ipod.

Steve said...

I was actually thinking about posting a discussion of "if you want warm water is it more efficient to run your boiler really hot for a short time or run it on low for a long time".... then I realized that my boiler is so far from ideal that any argument I would make would probably be incorrect anyhow.

Philippe H said...

Funny you should mention this - stayed at a perfectly decent and modern airport hotel on the way through Heathrow last week, and was baffled - both intellectually and in practice - by the awkward two-tap sink.

There must be at least one good reason why two taps would be superior to one - but I can't seem to think of it.

At least they don't have shelves in their toilets...

Steve said...

When you are stuck in Heathrow next, give a yell, it isn't all that far from here!

Nigel said...

I believe that there is some historical reason for this (to do with keeping the rat gazpacho in the loft tank out of the cold feed). Nowadays there's no excuse. There are solutions:

My favo[u]rite is the UK "mixer" tap. This is carefully designed to maintain a sufficiently laminar flow that the stream of water emerges hot on one side and cold on the other. Genius.