Housing “UK Style”: Welcome to Civilization

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree months ago, me and my boyfriend moved to England – to the country that some two hundred years ago kicked off the industrial revolution.  Our new home town is the great magnificent London – the city with the most expensive housing in Europe. For the price we pay here for a cozy one bedroom apartment, we would be almost able to afford a castle in Prague.  But we don’t complain; our place is really nice and comfortable, at least at the first glance…. After further examination, you start discovering some unbelievable solutions of British engineers and architects. Even us, coming from such “developing countries” as the Czech Republic and Greece, are sometimes left staring in astonishment (Did this country really start the industrial revolution? How many people lost their lives in the process?).

Shortly after moving in, I noticed that windows in the apartment are constantly misted. In colder weather, water vapor condenses on the inner glass and droplets or even trickles of water are running down the window creating pools and puddles on the inner wooden windowsill. If I don’t wipe them dry immediately, some green microorganisms appear in them in couple of days.

After careful examination, I discovered the cause – the windows only have single glazing. To be honest, I’ve been to many houses and apartments in the Czech Republic, both old and new, I also saw some apartments in France, Germany or Greece, and I never witnessed anything like that. Before the modern double glazed windows were introduced, the old Czech houses used to be equipped simply with double windows. The outer space has always been separated from the inner by two layers of glass with a gap filled with air between them. As a result, the thermal difference between the outer and the inner side of the glass is smaller and the window neither gets misted nor does the water vapor condense on it. Besides, it seems that in contrast to the rest of Europe, inhabitants of the rainy Britain don’t care about energy savings at all…

The system for distribution of water within the apartment is incredibly elaborate. Both, the bathtub and the washbasin in the bathroom have a separate inlet of cold and hot water. Every time you want to wash your hands, you have to make a decision: Do I want to wash my hands in cold water, hot water, or each hand in different water?

Similarly sophisticated is the system for heating the water up. A small gas boiler is installed in the kitchen. From here, the hot water is distributed into heating radiators in separate rooms, as well as into a tank that supplies the shower. If you want to take a warm shower, you have to turn on the heating system first, then wait about one hour and only after that you can comfortable perform your hygiene ritual. In case you need to turn on the heating system because you want to heat up the apartment, it might easily happen that within few hours, the water in the shower tank starts boiling. As the shower only has the hot water inlet, it is impossible to cool the water down immediately. You can either choose to burn yourself while showering, or wait several hours until the water inside the well-insulated tank gets cooler again.

In case of emergency, an unpleasant surprise is waiting for you. There is no central stop valve to halt the water supply in the apartment.  Instead, separate cocks are installed in various parts of the pipe, regulating for example only the water flow in the kitchen sink or in the bath room. The cocks for hot and cold water are also separated. Some parts of the system don’t have any functional stop valve at all, meaning there is no way how to immediately stop a possible leak

And believe me, there are situations when you really appreciate the possibility to stop the water quickly – for example, when trying to replace a broken washing machine …  In our apartment, the washing machine is smartly built into the kitchen counter. You can access the stop valves for the hot and cold water inlet through a neighboring cupboard. That would be perfectly alright, in case the valves were working…

It was late Friday evening when we finally decided to replace the broken washing machine.  We pulled the old appliance out of its position in the kitchen counter, unplugged and proceeded to the next step – disconnecting the water supply hoses for hot and cold water. We tried to turn off the water supply first but we discovered that the cold water tap is impossible to turn.

Well, at least we can try to disconnect the hot water hose. The valve is in the OFF position. My boyfriend starts unscrewing the hose at the side of the washing machine. After a few seconds, water drops appear around the mouth. With the next turn, a small trickle begins to flow and then – a full stream of water starts showering us and the kitchen floor. We are screwing the hose back, but the powerful stream of hot water is against us. Meanwhile, a large puddle forms on the floor. What are we supposed to do? We start investigating the plumbing. There must be a way how to stop the bloody water! Nothing… Obviously, the “Operation washing machine” has to be postponed.  Next day, in a desperate hunt for a central stop valve, we are exploring the area around the apartment and the house – nothing whatsoever…

The landlord neither responds to our text messages nor answers the phone. We are kind of reluctant to call the plumber immediately as they are pretty expensive in London. Instead, my boyfriend comes up with a brilliant idea: we put both washing machines close together, place a large bucket beneath the hoses and cover the floor with towels. Then we simply unscrew to hoses despite the flow of water and connect them to the new washing machine. We will perform the whole think quickly, cleanly and efficiently. Nice theory, the realization proves to be much more complicated.

Sunday morning is THE moment. Everything is ready and prepared. My boyfriend takes a position at the backside of both washing machines. I am holding the bucket just below the mouth of the inlet hoses. He starts slowly unscrewing the hose. As expected, the water soon appears: first few drops, then a trickle, then a powerful current starts splashing us and the room. We knew it’s coming so we keep on performing our task. My boyfriend disconnects the hose and tries to mount it to the new appliance. Water is splashing all over but somehow, he isn’t able to proceed. The bucket is almost full, water showering my sweater and his trousers. The bucket starts overflowing and the hose is still not mounted, it seems as if it doesn’t fit….  Water flows over the edge of the bucket on the floor; just a few seconds and the lake is several centimeters deep. My God what shall I do? It seems it probably was not the best idea….

We surrender and screw the hose back to the old broken machine. The water flow ceases, but we are standing in a giant pool of water. I pour the water from the bucket into the sink. All the towels on the floor are completely soaked. Slowly we are mopping the flood away.

It seems we have no other choice but to call the expensive plumbers… I am just thinking, what the hell the British engineers did wrong when building this house…..


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