Is Convenient Better?

Things look different with my lens of sustainability on.

Nice convenient kitchen tap
Nice convenient kitchen tap

When I grew up, we didn’t have these fancy one-touch taps. We had to turn on the cold tap and the hot tap if we wanted warm water. It was a two-hand deal.

Things are a lot easier in the kitchen now and when you have got one hand covered in cookie dough you can flip that water on to the temperature you want as easy as spittin’.

This innovation is made possible by clever people and cheap energy. Most people try not to waste water and try not to waste energy by using a lot of hot water, but if we’re talking about a few dollars per year, it is not high on our list of concerns.

In the old days, since it is easier to turn on one tap instead of two, we could easily use the cold tap for washing our hands and save the hot water tap for when we really  wanted some heat.

In other words, the default tap was the cold one.

Nice convenient kitchen tap
Nice convenient kitchen tap

What is the default now? In our kitchen, at least, the handle rests in the middle. It’s the natural position to leave it. That is also the warm position–halfway between hot and cold. Unless I take the trouble to move it into the cold position, I am asking for equal parts hot and cold water.  All my water heater knows is that I want some hot water, so it will fire up.

Left for hot, right for cold
Left for hot, right for cold

Even if I just want a quick handful of water to rinse my hands, my water heater will kick on and heat up a bunch of water, just in case. If I don’t use it, the water cools over time and the energy that was used to heat it is wasted. I’m talking about a big old tank water heater, not an on-demand one.

This is just one of the ways that innovation (in this case in faucets) has unconsciously created barriers to sustainability. It is a small barrier, but think of all the taps in your house, all the houses in your town, your country… How much water is getting heated that doesn’t need to be?

I think it was  an idea from a book called How Things Don’t Work that I heard about some 20 years ago that sticks with me. Another way that our standard water heaters don’t work is that they heat water too hot for us to comfortably use, and we have to cool it down first by adding cold water.

Why heat it so hot in the first place? What a waste of energy!

There is an easy solution to that, of course. When we moved into HFH we didn’t want to burn our babies, so we set the water heater to a comfortable showering temperature which also avoided 2nd degree burns. The only sacrifice is Leanne and I miss the super-hot baths of Japanese onsens. (Soon, my love, soon!)

So now I’m this guy who moves all the taps into the cold position in the cinema bathroom. The next guy probably turns it to the centre again, but that’s his lookout.

I have a few other energy-saving ideas if you look under “saving energy” in the right margin.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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