The British and Double Faucet Taps

The place I live in now has separate hot and cold taps. Sure, it sucks, but I live with it. If I’m washing my face properly or shaving, then I’m going to fill the sink anyway. If I’m just quickly washing my hands, then I turn on the hot tap only. I soap up as the cold water runs through the pipes (three or four seconds), then as it gets warm I rinse it off, and usually manage to pull my hands out just in the nick of time. If I run over time, then I finish off with the cold tap. Of course, the climate here allows for cold water washing if necessary. In fact, I’ve been told that studies have shown you get your hands cleaner under cold water: the warm temperature that we humans like and that feels like it is doing the most in the way of cleaning, actually provides the optimum temperature for bacteria on your hands to get down and party. To remove most of the germs, you’d need scalding hot water. So I hear, anyway. In public restrooms with double taps, I use the cold one only, as it’s one fewer e-coli laden piece of equipment to have to touch.

You turn on both taps, soap up quickly and dabble between the two. The hot tap is warm first, then it becomes HOT. You learn to deftly flick your hands between the hot and cold simulating warm.

Yes it is sucky but you cope.

Until recently, market inertia; there were originally good reasons to keep the hot and cold plumbing completely separate, but bathroom plumbing isn’t something that people change particularly often and when they do change it, they will most likely be replacing something that is broken with something that fits in the same place; this means that manufacturers are only really geared up to produce separate taps, meaning that brand new installations aren’t so likely to have a wide choice of mixer taps.

This has changed fairly recently, with the advent of home makeover shows and a generally higher emphasis on DIY.

Personally, I prefer separate taps. Dunno why, I just like it that way.

It’s also probably worth mentioning a general difference in national psyche which can only be adequately communicated by grossly exaggerating it, so here goes:

American: “Dammit, I have the right to water mixed to precisely the temperature I want; if you can’t give me water at the temperature I demand, I’ll fire you and find someone who can”

British: “Chin up old chap; it’s the best we can expect, let’s not make a fuss, eh, old bean? Just remember, it was even worse during the war. Endurance is good for you”

As I say, these are gross caricatures, but I maintain that there is a core of truth; Americans demand service, Brits will most likely suffer in silence (or at best complain, but to the wrong person).

We have those in our house, they really are worse than two taps. You put your hand under them thinking its cold but with a strange feeling that its actually burning hot. Both feelings are correct…

My porcelain basin doesn’t. So my basin-filling procedure runs roughly as follows:

  • Start the hot tap running and let the cold water in the pipe run down the drain, estimating when to put the tap in (shortly before the hot water arrives)
  • Let the hot mix with the small amount of cold now in the basin
  • Shut off the hot when there is roughly enough water to wash and shave with
  • Test the temperature and add cold as necessary.

Bath-filling entails a larger amount of water and so begins with the plug in and the hot tap running, phasing in the cold tap as the water from the hot tap comes up to temperature. Try to get the temperature balanced during filling and, ideally, shut both taps off at the same time, for a minimum-time fill.

(Note that “tap” is English for “faucet” and, quoting another Mike Harding routine, “…so I did force it, and it came off the wall”)

There are plenty of mixer taps in this country, but in general we look with mild suspicion on over-engineered solutions. :slight_smile:

You’re damn right! I say my ancestors swam across the Atlantic to America precisely so we could have hot water, big refrigerators, and central heating. That’s why we came to America!

I hate those damn mixer taps. I hate the way you have to wait for the mass of metal to heat up until reasonably hot water starts emerging from it. I hate the way you draw a glass of cold water and find it’s luke-warm because the mass of metal is still hot from the hot water. I hate the separate streams of hot and cold which aren’t damned-well mixed at all. I hate the way you can’t attach a hose connection to it that doesn’t pop off after 20 seconds. I’ve successfully kept them out of the new bathroom. And as soon as we get a new kitchen I’m going to stipulate ‘no damn mixer taps’.

No, mixer taps are just better, period. Why do you hate America?

May I do a partial hijack?

Why thank you!

Why do British people have an aversion to closets in their houses? I have heard that it is because many of the houses are old (my house was built in 1760 and it has two large closets per room so I don’t buy it). I have also heard that British people only like to have a few high quality things so they don’t need a lot of space to put things.

My sister-in-law just got back from grad school in England and she tells me that people stuff things all over to make up for the lack of closet space. She also tells me that her room was in a very new house and it didn’t have closet space. They were just too shortsighted and cheap to build them with the house.

many new house designs are cheap [not in cash terms] and shabby ones on as small an area as possible, because land is so expensive and they’re not making any more of it. Land, and space to spread out, have always been expensive here.

Thanks for asking this question. I was wondering the same thing, but in the more general sense of why these things exist at all.

The original design was the only way at the time to effectively bring hot and cold water to the same sink. Before the faucets we have today were invented bringing hot and cold together in one faucet would result in temperature and pressure mixing problems at that fixture as well as affecting the entire house under certain conditions.

Bringing them on separate taps/faucets was a necessity if you didn’t what to have wild temperature fluctuations and pressure problems.

These days all of those issues have been resolved. In a properly designed home plumbing system now you can have hot water, piping hot water, cold water, warm water, and even 108 degree water set to turn on and fill you bathtub at 5.30 PM ready for you to walk in the door and take a bath when you get home from work if you want it.

Whatever the reasons different parts of the world choose to use the original systems has more to do with tradition, consumer expectancy, cost, and esthetics rather than practicality or efficiency.

In the greatest American tradition, my house has a pump on the hot water system so that hot water is available immediately from every tap in the house.

Me too – certainly not only in flats or apartments 100+ years old, either. All were and are cast iron sinks with two faucets.

Wow. Great answers, everyone. Water tanks in the attic, building regulations, national attitudes towards demanding service / grinning and bearing it, and that better-but-somehow-worse alternative of having a hot stream and a cold stream out of the same faucet, all provide a satisfactory explanation. Thanks!

Now, if you could only explain Lee Evans …

So what exactly is an electric shower? Are you talking about a flash-heater for the water? I’d heard they’re very good and was thinking of installing some if we have to replace the water-heater. I need more info!

one where the a portion of the cold water passes through an electric heating element on its way to the shower head. When someone flushes the lavatory, or turns on another tap, screams of agony can be heard from the victim who is now getting a scalding dribble of water. :smiley:

Well, that commonly happens with tank-style heaters, too, or used to. Not that anyone would ever do such a thing, certainly not intentionally.:smiley:

I searched up “electric shower” (didn’t originally occur to me that they’d actually be sold by that name, duh!). That’s an…interesting way to do it.

Not the same as a flash heater, I’m glad to say.

For those of you complaining about having to wait for hot water to traverse the pipes, you can get one of these to fill in the gap.

Modern British electric showers are decent items, things you’d want to have. Both instant heat and full water pressure, irrespective of what’s available elsewhere in the house. Yes, the old ones were awful things, but they’re only found in places which haven’t been refurbished in decades.