Wednesday, 16 May 2012

No more left over water left over

When you have a house, you know that sooner or later you are going to find a large pool of water somewhere. It may be dripping through the ceiling, trickling down the wall, or being sucked up by some cardboard boxes on a linoleum floor. Ours came rushing out of the washing machine, onto the tiled floor of the utility room, and then into the storeroom next to it, which has been cleverly placed a step lower down.

Washing machines are not supposed to let you open the door when they have water in them, and are not supposed to have water in them when they let you open the door, so we called the washing machine man in. Luckily the washing machine is still under guarantee, although we have had it a few years and brought it from our old house. The washing machine man came and declared that it was the fault of the plumbing. He demonstrated this by taking one of the pipes out of the top of the washing machine, and showing that water was dripping from this when the tap was switched off.

As in many cases, Japanese plumbing demonstrates both extravagance and frugality, making up this country's confused position as a home of both energy efficiency and resource squandering. Japanese baths, sweeping generalisation notwithstanding, are very large, using a lot of water and heat. On the other hand, they are not filled every day: the washing takes place outside the tub, so just a little topping up and reheating is necessary. Also, it is normal practice for the water from the tub to be used in the early cycles by the washing machine, recycling both the heat and water. Traditionally, I suppose, a bucket was used, then electric pumps and washing machines with built-in pumps.

In the old house, we had to put a hose into the bath tub, which would suck water into the washing machine when needed. As is customary, the washing machine was in the room next to the bathroom. This is very sensible architecturally, thermodynamically and ergonomically, but not ideal in our case as the room next to the bathroom was the kitchen.

The new house has a further development, taking the water from the bath directly from the plumbing to a tap in the wall next to the washing machine. This is much easier than a hose to be put into the bath. In our new house, the bath and washing machine are still relatively close to each other, only vertically rather than horizontally: the bathroom, as is customary in England, is upstairs. This still meets the criteria above, keeping all the water pipes in the same part of the house, shortening hot water pipes. We have a laundry shoot so clothes can be sent down from the bathroom to the utility room.

Many people here suggested, or assumed, that it was impossible for the building to take the weight of an upstairs bathroom, but we reminded them that there are plenty of aparment blocks with upstairs bathrooms.

Anyway, we have been having trouble using the bathwater for washing. The flood on the floor when we opened the door was the worst case, but when we did try to use the bath water, the washing machine was using up the entire content of the bath--over 100 litres--in one wash.

In the end, after the plumber coming to fix the tap, which he admitted was a new and untried model, and the washing machine man coming back again, we have heard, once again, that there is nothing they can do. The pump is designed to get bathwater from the same level, not to work as a tap. Because of the height difference and water pressure, once it gets the water going from the bath, the syphon effect will take over and it doesn't stop until all the water has gone. 

The washing machine man shook his head. Nothing can be done. All washing machines are the same. They're not made for upstairs baths. It's impossible to change the pump to one that actually stops water when it's off.

It seems that it would at least be possible to have an electric tap on the wall, activated via a relay when the washing machine switches its pump on, but he didn't seem terrible interested in solving the problem, content to tell us that it couldn't be done.