Sunday, December 27, 2015

Piping hot water

Recently there was a discussion on the radio about domestic hot water systems and the age of some people's units. Popular in the 40s, 50s and 60s were electric storage hot water systems and it seems they were so well made that many are still operating today. Their replacement was usually a mains water pressure gas fired external unit, keeping a certain amount of water hot, heating as the water temperature in the unit dropped. They have a lifespan of about 10 years. Now is not unusual for instantaneous units to be installed, heating water only when the hot tap is turned on.

Mother has lived in her house for forty years and it has the original hot water system in the roof still supplying hot water. As far as I know, it has never been touched. The system, as most did, has a header tank with a cock and ball valve to keep the water at a set level. The hot water unit takes its water from the header tank as required and is gravity fed to the taps. That means the water pressure is not very high. It heats the water overnight at a lower electricity tariff and has its own meter and timer. The biggest problem with such a unit is that if you run out of hot water, there is no more until it goes through its overnight heating cycle. This often causes family disputes with blame apportioned to someone who spends a long time in a shower, or  the person who does too much washing in one day. Some units do have an over-ride where you can switch it on manually during the day, but it will heat the extra water at the more expensive general household tariff.

I forget how big the units were, that is how much hot water they held. Maybe 200 litres, although 80 gallons seems to ring a bell, which is much more than 200 litres. Maybe it was 60 gallons.

When we first moved to the farm when I was four years old, hot water in the kitchen came from boiling water on the black cast iron stove, for the bath from a chip heater and for the laundry, an immersion heater. It wasn't long before my father installed an electric hot water service of the type described above and then later connected the new slow combustion stove that heated the water in jackets around the firebox. The electric system only came on if the stove was off.

Leaving a young me at home and to my own devices was always a mistake and mischief would ensue. There were always things to investigate and thought lines to pursue. I thought I might see how super hot I could get the hot water and loaded up the stove with many more briquettes of coal than was normally burnt. Extending from the roof and shaped like a shepherd's crook was the hot water system overflow. I had never known it to operate, but operate it did. Like a dragon it spat out steam and boiling water on to the roof. The fire in the stove became hotter and hotter and boiling water continued to flow in a steady stream. What to do? I can't take burning briquettes out of the fire box but I did close down the fire damper.

Eventually it settled down and by the time my parents returned, all they knew was that the water was nice and hot and I am sure they did not notice the higher than usual consumption of briquettes for the week.

Now, it is always good to add a photo to a tale but how boring is round metal cylinder. But wait, the oldest hot water service in the world was anything but boring and so I have taken the liberty of using one of River's photos of her failed behemoth of a hot water heater. It looks to be quite a complicated unit.


11 comments:

  1. Andrew,cat my flat we have hjot water from powe plant abut at my house we have hot water heater

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    1. Gosia, that is very useful and it used for heating too?

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  2. Hot water is such a luxury. I can remember a very complicated system in a rented house which had to be lit before use. I was always afraid of it. And the matches stored in the bathroom were often soggy.

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    1. EC, I was a bit too young but I remember Mother being quite afraid of the chip heater in the bathroom. Having travelled overseas, you would no how non standard plumbing is and how confusing it can be.

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  3. I can picture your escapade as a youngster with the overheating of water experiment. Made me laugh!

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    1. Strayer, I wasn't kidding when I said the outlet was like a spitting dragon.

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  4. I remember being so glad to see that behemoth taken away when it broke down yet again. It was huge, servicing four flats, while every other flat in the entire complex already had their own individual heaters. We hadn't because there wasn't room to put four storage tanks. When that one finally died, small gas instantaneous units were discussed and I said I know how they work, my dad was a gas-fitter, so we got the instantaneous units up on the wall.
    The original monster was electric to start with but converted to gas, as you can see by the gas burner attached to the front.

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    1. River, I get it now. It was converted to gas, explaining its odd appearance. The other flats with individual systems would have been electric heat as you use? Quite expensive to run.

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    2. The other units are electric storage heaters, the four in my block are the only ones with the gas instantaneous.

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  5. Funny story with you and the hot water..
    We replace out cylinder last year, they do last a fair while..
    Can recall the old type from houses we lived in when dad was transferred every 3 to 4 years until that stopped. The house I sold last year had a tank in the roof with a ball, and cylinder down stairs as well, that house was built in the early 70's.

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    1. Margaret, I am a little surprised they extended into 70s. That was when everyone was installing oil heating in their houses. Well early 70s anyway.

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