Although I am incredibly happy to be once again living in a country with clean running water, one thing I could do without is burning my hands in scalding water every time I turn on a hot faucet. From our house, to my work, to public ‘toilets’ across the city, sinks consistently have separate hot and cold taps that either freeze or scald. Many even come with a warning above the hot tap, ‘Caution Hot!’ My usual strategy is to wash my hands as quickly as possible under the hot tap before I get burnt.
Although our kitchen sink has a single tap, the chances of burning myself are still ever present. Indeed the water flows from one source, but the stream is hot on one side and cold on the other.
So why do the Brits cling to such strange plumbing? Well according to the Wall Street Journal, “for reasons of thrift, regulations and a stubborn attachment to tradition, the British have resisted the tide of plumbing history.” Apparently the separate taps are cheaper to purchase and install, which explains their presence in our flat. Additionally, British regulations forbid mixing water streams unless the hot water tank meets strict standards so that no contaminates are able to leak back into the main water supply. Finally, separate taps preserve an authentic Victorian look. Is all this worth the burns? I’m not sure.
When Winston Churchill visited Moscow in the summer of 1942 he found to his amazement that ‘hot and cold turned on at once through a single spout, mingled to exactly the temperature one desired.’ Later, in his war memoirs he noted, ‘In a modest way I have adopted this system at home.’* At least Churchill understood the wonder of mixed water, but he was half American, so maybe that explains it.