Friday, 29 January 2016

Don't do the splash and dash!

When in a hurry, we've all been guilty of doing the "splash and dash" - shoving our hands under the tap for a couple of seconds after using the loo rather than taking the time to wash them properly. Because germs are invisible and your hands may look perfectly clean, it's easy to think they're hygienic too, when in fact the average person is carrying 2 to 10 million bacteria between their fingertip and elbow! These germs can become the cause of illnesses such as colds, flu and tummy bugs, as well as more serious complaints. Thanks to the plumbing industry, we all have access to safe, hygienic water in our homes, so there's really no excuse not to practice proper hand washing - one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your health and that of those around you! Washing your hands is particularly important before:
•Preparing or eating food
•Treating a cut or wound
•Visiting a hospital ward

You should also be sure to wash your hands after doing the following activities:

•Using the bathroom
•Handling uncooked meats (especially raw meat, poultry or fish)
•Blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing
•Touching animals
•Changing children's nappies

It actually takes at least 15 seconds to wash your hands properly - about the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday or Row, Row, Row Your Boat twice through! Following the below procedure when you next wash your hands will ensure that all areas of your fingers, palms and the backs of your hands are thoroughly clean and hygienic:

•Run your hands under the tap to get them wet.
•Apply 1-2 pumps of handwash or enough soap to cover the entire surface of your hands.
•Rub your palms together vigorously.
•Wash the backs of your hands by putting your right hand over the other palm with interlaced fingers and vice versa.
•Next interlace fingers with palm-to-palm.
•With your left thumb clasped in the right palm and vice versa, rub rotationally.
•Then do rotational rubbing, backwards and forwards with clasped fingers of right hand in left palm and vice versa.
•Rinse hands off with water and dry thoroughly with a towel. (Remember that wet hands spread bacteria more easily).

The whole procedure should take at least 15 seconds! For situations such as picnics and festivals where you may find yourself without access to soap and water, hand sanitizer can quickly reduce the number of germs but does not eliminate all types of germs. As Professor John Oxford of London University observes, handwashing is the best way to avoid colds, flu and other viruses, so the next time you visit the bathroom or are about to prepare a meal, don't be tempted to do a "splash and dash"! It may just cost you your health.

Friday, 22 January 2016

A brief history of plumbing

With the hygienic and convenient plumbing system that exists today, it's sometimes easy to forget that the people of England and Wales didn't always have access to the high standards of water provision and waste water removal that we take for granted. In fact, the modern plumbing system that exists in 2016 is the sum of developments occurring over thousands of years of civilisation. Read on to discover the landmark developments in history that led us to the creation of the plumbing system that serves us today.

The word "plumber" comes from the Latin term "plumbus", meaning lead. In Ancient Rome, a plumber was a worker in lead who repaired or fitted the apparatus of water distribution in and to a building. The Romans were a civilisation of clever and talented craftsmen who erected expansive baths and recreation centres, lead inscriptions to prevent water theft and introduced expansive systems of aqueducts and tile wastewater removal.

Plumbing technology regressed considerably with the fall of the Roman Empire and Early Christians actually considered it vain and even sinful to bathe. In the Middle Ages, plumbing mostly consisted of wells and cesspits and the Thames, Fleet and Walbrook rivers were open sewers.

In 1596, Sir John Harrington invented the toilet for his Godmother Queen Elizabeth. Privies became common within castles, running directly into the moat. In 1775, Alexander Cumming took out the first patent for a "modern" toilet when he invented the S trap, which had a sliding valve underneath to hold the water.

In an event termed the the "Great Stink" of 1858, hot summer weather created a stench potent enough to make the courts and House of Commons consider evacuating London. The incident led to the development of the first complete sewer system in London in the 1860s. Until this point, sewage usually ran down the streets. The development of the Germ Theory of Disease was also important in emphasising the serious health implications of contaminated water. Water filtration became widespread in the 1850s and chloration in the 1880s and 1890s.

Although not responsible for the invention of the toilet, as so often believed, Thomas Crapper did much to increase the popularity of the toilet during the late 1800s. As well as holding nine patents for water closet improvements such as the floating ballcock, he was renowned for the high quality of his products and received several royal warrants throughout his lifetime. The innovator was also the effective inventor of the modern bathroom showroom, promoting his range of sanitary ware to a largely sceptical public.

Many plumbing advancements occurred in the 1900s. Copper pipes begun to replace lead ones after World War Two as the dangers of lead poisoning become better known, with plastic pipes coming in from the 1990s. Home water softeners also begun to be used to remove dangerous minerals.

Today, water and sewage treatment plants allow us all to count on access to clean and fresh water in our homes, and it's hard to imagine life without flushing toilets, but the next time you're getting a glass of water just have a think about the long history of plumbing developments that made it possible!


Friday, 15 January 2016

Giving something back in 2016 - providing plumbing solutions abroad

Can you imagine not being able to turn on the tap and run yourself a nice hot bath or a glass of cool, fresh water? Access to clean water is something that most of us take for granted but for many people around the world, a lack of access to safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene is an everyday reality. Each year, around 315,000 children under 5 die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation, which is nearly 900 children per day. With their aim of delivering safe water, sanitation and hygiene to everyone, everywhere by 2030, the charity Water Aid is helping to change lives around the world.

As well as the direct health implications of a lack of access to clean water, there is also a significant social impact, especially for women. In many of the world's poorest countries, women and girls are forced to walk for several hours a day to collect dirty water and without the availability of private toilets, end up dropping out of school. This results in entire communities of women without an education or means of making a living for themselves, and ultimately without any power to change their future.

With hundreds of partners in civil society, governments and the private sector, Water Aid works hard to transform lives by delivering sanitation, water and hygiene to the people who need it most, working in schools and hospitals as well as at the household level. One of their key values is ensuring that services are accessible to even the most marginalised people, for example, that latrines are wheelchair-user friendly and that women and girls are educated about the importance of menstrual hygiene. This focus on good hygiene behaviour is central to Water Aid's strategy, helping to prevent the spread of diseases.

Access to clean water is one of the most basic human rights, so why not make it your New Year's Resolution to see how you can help to make a difference to the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable people?

WaterAid’s Deliver Life winter appeal wants to reach 130,000 mothers and their families around the world with safe water. Every £1 donated by the UK public will be doubled by the UK Government until 10 February 2016. Find out more and how you can get involved at


Photo by WaterAid/Anna Kari

Friday, 8 January 2016

Your plumbing and heating New Year's Resolutions

What are your New Year's Resolutions for 2016? Finally running that marathon? Cutting out sugar? Reading the newspaper everyday? When it comes to defining goals for the year ahead, we often end up choosing unrealistic targets that leave us feeling disappointed when we inevitably fail to meet them. Not so with our 2016 Plumbing and Heating Resolutions - which simply encourage you to make gradual changes around the home which could allow you to make significant savings on your heating bills, prevent costly plumbing breakdowns and also help to protect the environment!

1. Save money on your heating bills

January is a great time to think about making a few home improvements that could help you to make significant savings on your heating bills over the course of the year. Start by ensuring your property is well insulated, with loft insulation of 270mm deep and lagging around pipes and your water tank. You should also consider upgrading your heating and hot water system; a high efficiency condensing boiler with heating controls could save you up to £200 a year! Smart heating controls can also help by adapting to your routine so that the heating comes on when you want it.

2. Insulate pipework from winter weather

When pipes freeze and burst, they can undergo considerable damage. Wherever possible, avoid pipes freezing by ensuring that they don't run through an unheated area. If you're going to be away for a short period, consider leaving your heating on a timed function and set to the lowest temperature on the thermostat and for longer periods, be sure to drain down the system. Frost thermostats can help by measuring and sending the temperature of air around your boiler back to the boiler to turn it on at low temperatures.

3. Check your oil tank

Defend the environment against the damaging effects of oil leaks on local ecosystems in 2016 and guard against large financial losses by checking your oil tank regularly. When oil enters the watercourse it quickly poisons fish and other creatures and smothers plants. Remember to inspect both your tank and pipework once a week and try to locate tanks as far from streams and ponds as possible. Monitoring how much oil your tank uses is one way to identify when leaks occur. Consider using a second container such as a bund to prevent oil from entering the environment in the event of a leak.

4. Bin it, don't block it!

Avoid blockages and costly pipe repairs by carefully monitoring what goes down your drains. Always scrape your plate thoroughly before doing the washing up or loading the dishwasher and never pour fat or cooking oil down the sink. Instead, collect fat in a jar and allow it to solidify before throwing the whole lot in the bin. A drain guard is a handy tool that can be placed directly into the plughole to catch scraps of food before they can become blockages. It also pays to clean your drain regularly using an ingredient such as baking soda, vinegar or lye.  

5. Get your chimney swept

We all love a real log fire, but take care never to light it without checking your chimney first. Getting your chimney swept at least once a year will ensure that it isn't clogged up by debris such as soot and birds' nests which stop soot, ashes and other harmful substances from exiting the building. Using a NACS (National Association of Chimney Sweeps) registered sweep will give you peace of mind in the knowledge that the work is undertaken safely and to a high standard. For an additional cost, a smoke integrity test can also be performed, which reveals whether your flue is likely to leak smoke and carbon monoxide into rooms or other parts of the building. If this test is failed, find a Solid Fuel specialist to install a new flue lining at

6. Call a Quality Plumber!

Finally, don't risk a DIY job when it comes to plumbing problems in 2016, which can often do more harm than good. With minimum levels of work experience and qualifications in order to join, members of the APHC (Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors) have the skills and knowledge required to sort out your issues to a high standard first time. Find a bona fide installer in your local area by visiting