Sunday, July 19, 2009

Guerilla plumbing

One of the many medium-level irritants for the politically aware water obsessive who lives in shonky East Oxford is pointless water wastage. You see it quite a lot round here, with our Victorian-era HMOs and their evil tightarse landlords and lazy letting agents. You hear it first... patter patter patter... in the winter it could be snow melting off a pitched roof faster than the gutters can cope with, pretty much anytime it could be broken gutters after heavy rain, but generally it's neither. It's a faulty float valve in a cold water storage cistern or a WC cistern, and it's pouring out of the overflow. 
For days. Weeks. Months, sometimes. Litres a minute, for months. In a region which is water stressed -- hard as that is to believe when it pisses down nearly every day -- because we have few reservoirs Down South, relying on our ground water supplies, and our ground water supplies are not replenished like they used to be because we have paved over every possible inch of land. Meanwhile we put in power showers like there's no tomorrow. Keep on like this, there'll be fewer of them, most def. 
In an occupied house, it's not hard to change a float valve. I've done lots of them in WCs. CWSCs in loft spaces are a bit harder, because of access, but still no big deal. But your evil tightarse landlord can't be arsed to spend the <£100 it would cost. In an empty house, it's even easier to deal with, just isolate the valve, or turn off the water. Deal with it later. But they can't even be arsed to do that. 
Last time there was such a leak on our street, I stomped into the letting agents at least three times. Every time, a smarmy slick wanker with a shiny tie said 'yes, a plumber has been called'. You are lying, I said, on the third occasion. And I *am* a fucking plumber, give me the keys and I'll do it. Oddly, it did get sorted shortly after that. 
And then a month or so ago there was another one round the corner, running down the outside wall of an empty house, day after day, week after week. Marginal plants were beginning to grow in the permapuddles. The letting agents had a sign up but it was broken, so the phone number was incomplete. Every time I saw it, I reached for my phone, sighed, vowed to Google them when I got home, never did. 
Last week, we were walking past the pattering house on our way back from a pizza we went out for because I came home from work needing to sink some red wine and have a big rant. There were wheelie bins littering the pavement -- the students left before their rubbish did and it's left to the permanent residents to put the bins back in the front gardens -- and I had an idea. 
The long-suffering M helped me manoeuvre an empty 240 litre wheelie bin into a position where it would catch the falling water. I'll come back for that, I said, and I'll wheel it down to the allotment and use it on the gherkins. (I had sunk some red wine, so wasn't really thinking through the physics involved here). 
Two days later, I walked past again. The wheelie bin was exactly where I'd left it, and full of water, as I would have expected. But the water had also stopped falling. Someone had turned it off. I wonder if a visible quarter-tonne of water in less than 48 hours (and probably less than 24) finally pressed some shiny-tied bastard's shame button in a way that damp brickwork and environmental sustainability messages just never could. 
I'd like to think it did. 

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Blogger Spine said...

Just out of curiosity, how much is water in the UK? How much would they be billed for that wastage? It's metred, right?

10:05 am  
Blogger Jo said...

Not necessarily. And in this case probably not. All new build houses have metered water, but old ones don't unless they have had a meter installed as part of renovation. You can also request that a meter be installed, as it's cheaper than the fixed charge if you are an environmentally aware middle class person and careful with your water, but it's not compulsory and most people don't bother. So there's no financial incentive not to waste water, which pisses me off, as without a financial incentive lazy HMO landlords do nothing.
We don't have a meter either but that's just because I've never got round to it. Our water bill is about £380 a year, with half of this being for mains supply and half for waste water removal.
In theory I think metering should be compulsory, but it's complicated when your plumbing systems are Victorian. Some of the old lead mains leak in places that you can't get to, and many of the smaller houses round here don't even have their own dedicated supply, they share with their neighbours, so metering is hard to implement across the board.

10:24 am  
Blogger Duncan said...

And for comparison our water bill (2 people in a detached house) is about £150 a year.

11:46 am  
Blogger Spine said...

I pay about 20 liras (c£8) a month over here.

12:10 pm  
Blogger Spine said...

... which is absurd. and explains the vanity car-washing, the broken mains that never get fixed and the fact that Istanbul pumps raw sewage into the Marmara sea.

Unrelatedly, I was at Heathrow yesterday and had two bottles of Branston Pickle confiscated under the new security regulations that keep us all safe.

12:34 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Duncan, is that water supply *and* waste water? Or just water supply? If both then I should seriously get a move on.

Spine, you need to check in your pickle these days. Unless you take the train.

6:25 pm  
Blogger Duncan said...

That's the total for both. You should get a move on.

8:16 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

How do they meter your waste, I wonder?

8:55 pm  
Blogger Spine said...

Yes. Check In The Branston!

It could be a new slogan.

6:08 am  
Blogger tomato said...

'And I *am* a fucking plumber'

There you are doing Crocodile Dundee's 'that's not a knife, THIS is a knife' schtick, but with a special layer of Very British Rage coupled with superior hair: therefore, infinitely better.

Ta da!

11:20 am  

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