The perennial problem of taps and sinks.

Loki in sink

For various reasons we’re looking at replacing the bathroom, so the next few months will probably involve going to bathroom showrooms to see what is what in the modern world of plumbing. I can think of many things I’d rather do, but this is happening so I’ve made my peace with it.

Here’s a thing, though: I hate mixer taps. Hate them. Explanation will come in a little bit. And it seems like most of the sinks that are available for sale have one single hole for a tap, in the middle of the sink.

Here in the UK we don’t have great mains water pressure for historical reasons (ie, houses built before 1970something have water pipes made from arsenic and curare because it was cheap and people knew their place, and those houses are still standing, in fact we live in one) and so to fix that many people put water tanks in the top of their houses, as it turns out gravity gives better water pressure than what comes from the pumping station. We don’t have a water tank, so all our water pressure is determined by what Yorkshire Water feel comfortable squeezing down a mains system designed and built over 100 years ago.

This leads to a couple of problems. First is: we have a gas-fired water heater, and an electric shower, both of which are mains-fed. There’s a safety requirement that a minimum pressure of water has to be flowing through these appliances before they do what they’re supposed to do, which is heat water. The upshot of this is that if two things in the house are drawing water, pressure may not be enough to turn on the water heater.

So if we had a mixer tap what’ll happen is this:

1. The tap gets turned on.
2. The temperature gets set. This is done by mixing the cold and hot inlets in the tap.
3. The cold side of the tap draws water, reducing the overall incoming pressure.
4. The water heater fails to come on.
5. The temperature gets fiddled with to try to get some hot water.
6. Eventually, the cold water gets turned off completely, the water heater sparks up, and the water gets hot.
7. The cold tap gets turned on to reduce the temperature.
8. GOTO 3. Repeat until you get fed up of it.

It is far simpler – and less wasteful – to fill a basin with hot water then add cold to the required temperature.

Yes, this could be fixed by increasing water pressure or having a hot/cold water storage system. Not everybody is lucky enough to live in a house with those facilities.

Also, I’m not mad on the idea of having hot water and drinking water coming out of the same tap. Microbiologists are often (but not always) in the same boat, having had lectures on how bacteria at a safe level in domestic water supplies will multiply in warm, stable conditions – like, say, in a mixing tap made out of something that can retain and conduct heat, like metal – which may not be flushed out of that environment when you turn the tap on. I’ve heard of too many anecdotes and scares about Legionnaire’s Disease as a result of having drinking water pipes actually sited above hot water pipes – hot air rises, warming the drinking water, making bugs flourish – to be comfortable with that.

There’s one other reason why I don’t like mixers, too; when you put your head in the sink – to rinse your face after shaving, dunk in some cold water because you’re hungover, or have sunburn or a migraine – you will hit your head on the tap. When you have two taps to either side of the sink you have a clear path to bend down in. This is a good thing, because if you’re migrainey and partially sighted you may not spot the tap that’s in the way and make a headache even worse. Or break the tap, which could be a disaster.

So, anyway. Whenever I see people saying “what the hell with the two-taps thing, britain? do you not wash your hands or something?” I do get a bit miffed because clearly mix taps are a fashionable item that don’t suit everybody. I’d say something pithy about checking privilege here, but I’ve just realised I’ve written 730 words on why I can’t buy the sink I like. What is wrong with me?

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