Mr Fixit Property Maintenance and Renovation Services
Property Renovation & Maintenance
Contents Technical Advice Services
About Mr Fixit Contact us Energy Efficient Buildings Building Insulation MEP Design Chimneys & Flues Rabies

Taps, Fawcetts and Bathroom Maintenance

"Hairy Hands"

I note that the people of Jakarta are looking forward to relief from their traffic woes with a monorail system and elevated roads. It sounds like, after decades of worsening problems, there might be solutions in sight for the poor beleaguered and somewhat damp people of our capital city.

One has to wonder who on earth would develop a capital city in an area that is below sea level. It couldn’t be anything to do with Indonesia’s colonial past could it. Perhaps the colonisers of Indonesia had been brought up in a far away distant country most of which is below sea level and whose natives only feel comfortable with the constant threat of being overtaken by the sea. Perhaps with their extensive experience they have also found some answers. Of course, windmills, dykes, wooden shoes that float and an army of little boys ready to put their fingers in any leaks that might suddenly spring. I’ll give Jokowi a ring.

In the meantime I note some bright spark has suggested that a metro might be a good idea. A metro? An underground railway? Now that really is a brilliant idea. I can picture the rush hour, people on their way to work hurrying for the stairs only to find water lapping just below the top step.

“Flooded? Flooded? Why is our wonderful new Metro flooded?”
“I’m sorry sir but the pumps wouldn't work.”
“The pumps wouldn't work? Please explain.”
“Yes sir there was a blackout last night.”
“Blackout? What about the backup generator?”
“What do you mean erm?”
“Well, er, someone forgot to order the solar.”
“Couldn’t someone go out and buy some?”
“Well, er yes we did but, er, well I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“Come on spit it out man.”
“Well, er, it wasn’t working anyway.”
“The generator wasn’t working.”
“No sir, there was no budget for maintenance, you see, so it wasn’t fixed the last time it broke down.”
“But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.”
“What do you mean, it wouldn’t have mattered?”
“Well you see sir, someone saved some money and bought cheap pumps from his brother, they seized up a long time ago.”
“Great, two hundred squillion dollars worth of railway knackered all for a bit of maintenance.....”

Thank goodness Jakarta is starting to think sensibly about its problems, we should extend to the new Governor every good wish in his endeavours.

The case of the broken bathtaps

Talking of floods though, we had a call. It was about a bathroom tap that was leaking, the owner had been watching the news and was afraid that a Jakartaesqe situation was imminent. The emergency team was dispatched only to return to regroup with news that this was going to be a little tricky. Apparently others had already tried and given up.

Leaking was a bit of an understatement, the water was flowing like an incontinent camel. Some gorilla had turned both taps off with such force that the handles had parted company with the valves inside the taps, for those with a technical bent the splines on the handle shaft had been stripped; for those without such a boring mental preoccupation as a technical bent the water ran and the handles of the taps turned with about as much effect as trying to catch an elephant with fly paper.

The problem was that the taps were on the rear edge of an expensive bath which in turn was mounted in a concrete plinth with some rather fancy tiles covering walls, floor, plinth and probably toilet seat as well. There was no way of getting to the taps to repair or replace them without breaking the tiles and removing the bath so the taps could be unscrewed from below. To add to the problem it was highly unlikely that the beautiful tiles could be matched, repairing the tilework would be very difficult.

This is a rather stupid situation that is repeated in fancy residences all over Bali. Taps often fail through normal usage - the result of normal wear and tear. Add a few visiting gorillas to the mix and it becomes obvious that any architect worth his salt should, when designing that fancy bathroom, consider a strange and rarely heard of concept - maintenance. “Begger the water,” I hear them cry, “we can’t let such dreary considerations as repairs hinder the flow of the creative juices now can we?”

Just as an interesting distraction you might (or might not) wish to go and have a look at your bathrooms, toilets and kitchen and ask the question, if a tap or a shower head should fail how will it be replaced? Will it involve the marble cutters and polishers on some distant Italian mountainside rubbing their hands in glee and saying “we’ve got a special order from a wealthy man in Bali who needs a small piece of cleopatra blue to match the rest of his bathroom, we’ve got him by the short and curlies.”

In fact we did come up with a solution to our running taps without crossing the palms of Italian marble cutters. A hole was cut in the wall behind the taps from the bedroom next door. A nice decorative Balinese carved panel was used to cover the hole so if there was a problem in the future the taps could again be reached and repaired.

The owner of the house had wisely used good quality Toto tapware, spare parts were found and the 3 million rupiah set of taps did not have to be replaced.

Taps that confuse do not last long in the hands of some hairy arse handed hod carrier with a grip like a banker holding onto his wallet (sorry I shouldn’t exaggerate) who knows full well that to turn a tap off you have to screw it down hard, if it dribbles, screw it down even harder.

Screw down rotating taps with tap washers are on their way out

As we all know you turn taps to turn them on, and you turn them several times....

Just a minute, no you don’t, you might have done when Adam was still in nappies but not these days. Modern taps have levers that go up and down or side to side. There are some that still rotate but only for a quarter of a turn.

In fact the old screw down taps are still widely used in Australia and Britain and I recently had an Aussie asking me if I could find some, “you know, the ones with a tap washer”. Eventually I did mange to track some down. They were on some archaic display of washbasins and no longer available in Indonesia, remnants from a bygone era. But still that “screw it down hard” automatic reaction persists as anyone who runs a hotel or restaurant knows all too well. In one particularly troublesome restaurant we tried everything. We even tried the press down “button” type of taps that automatically switch themselves off after a few seconds. “Aha” we thought, “got it solved now” but we spoke too soon, within hours the thing was loose, the hairy handed brigade had tried to turn it and given it a sort of rotary freedom. We eventually settled on a quarter turn tap with a lever on the top. It still works.

How do modern quarter turn taps work?

Until around 30 years ago taps across the world had a round rubber disk (a tap washer) inside which was pressed down by a screw thread with a handle on top. You unscrewed the handle which lifted the rubber disc and allowed the water to flow. To turn it off you turned the tap a couple of full turns to screw down the rubber washer and stop the flow. This arrangement had worked quite happily since before Adam was a lad but there was a problem. The hairy handed brigade would screw the things down so hard that they would tear the rubber disc and the tap would drip. Repairing tap washers was a constant necessity that kept plumbers across the world in regular work. Attempts were made to make tap washers that couldn’t be damaged, there were several designs some of which were fairly successful.

Then someone came up with a different idea. The ceramic seated tap (sometimes known as the quarter turn tap) which had 2 carefully designed ceramic discs with holes through them. You turn the tap a quarter of a turn, the holes line up and the water flows. Being ceramic they were very wear resistant and lasted a long, long time.

Mixer taps

Three variations came from this design with the development of “mixer taps”. A mixer tap not only turns the water on and off but also controls the flow from hot and cold so you can adjust the temperature. As we all know these are widely used, originally in showers but these days also in kitchens and washbasins. The three variations are a rotating ball design with a stainless steel, brass or plastic ball; a cartridge design with a replaceable cartridge and a further development of the ceramic disc design. All work well and are far less trouble than the old screw down taps.

Low quality, cheap taps widely available in Indonesia use a far more primitive design with a plastic ball inside. The ball has a hole through the middle so when you turn the lever on the top the ball turns through 90 degrees, the hole lines up with the pipe and allows the water to flow. These taps are often poorly made and don’t last long because the plastic balls wear.

It doesn’t really matter if you haven’t understood a word of all this, what is important is:

1 When buying taps buy good quality ones because they will serve you well and shouldn’t need attention for many years. You should also check that you can get spare parts for them. You don’t have to go stupidly expensive but a single good quality tap will cost at least twice as much as a low quality one.

2 When you design your dream home or renovate your existing one make sure there is some way of getting to the plumbing fittings to repair them. Even the best quality taps can need repair or cleaning especially if you have aggressive or very hard water.

3 If you come across a man with large hairy hands tell him to keep his great hairy plates of meat well away from your precious taps.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2013
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.