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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How We Destroyed Indoor Plumbing

Bureaucrats are in your showers, sinks, and toilets


Should the federal government be monitoring the length of your shower? The Obama administration has funded a study at the University of Tulsa with a $15,000 grant that would monitor showers in hotels and report back.

As the EPA says: “The proposed work aims to develop a novel low cost wireless device for monitoring water use from hotel guest room showers. This device will be designed to fit most new and existing hotel shower fixtures and will wirelessly transmit hotel guest water usage data to a central hotel accounting system.”

You can see where this is going. Study the issue. Test the plan on hotels. Extend it to new construction, apartment buildings, then homes. Enforce the rules. This is the trajectory, and to believe it can happen is not paranoia. In fact, the regulations on toilets, showers, washing machines, water heaters, and dishwashers are numerous, onerous, and truly awful. We all suffer every day from these regulatory excesses.

The Romans invented indoor plumbing. It took America in the late 20th century to uninvent it.

The year the showerhead was compromised was 1994. Whereas showers used to dump 12 gallons of water on us per minute, Congress legislated so that they could only push out 2.5 gallons, meaning that you have to take longer showers, the shampoo and conditioner never quite leave full heads of hair, and you feel the need to run around in your shower just to get the soap off.

It’s going to get worse. The EPA is now certifying showerheads only when they spray less than 2 gallons of water.

Yes, there are hacks. Notice how the rich commonly install multiple shower heads in their high-end showers, sometimes as many as half a dozen. The rich always find a way, and the regulations were widely believed to pertain to each shower head, not the total water used in a single shower. The EPA is now working to change that too, clarifying that they really mean the total water in each shower.

You can also hack your own, as I did over the weekend with my new shower head. They are getting more difficult to hack. It took me fully 45 minutes. I started with the corkscrew, moved to the long-nose pliers, and finally did the trick with a hammer and screw driver. The nasty flow stopper gave up and fell out. Finally, a real shower head emerged from deconstructive work.

But why should we have to do all of this? We think we are civilized? No, not entirely. State violence in the form of government regulations have been employed deliberately to downgrade our capacity to get clean and stay healthy, all in the name of conserving water that should actually be used for the purpose of cleaning and removing waste.

The toilet also fell in 1994, when the federal government began to enforce a rule passed two years earlier. All toilets manufactured and sold in the United States have tanks no bigger than 1.6 gallons. It was the Prohibition. Gradually over the coming years, the toilets stopped working as they once did.

The reality was slow to dawn on Americans, who are rather used to improvement in consumer products, not slow depreciation, devaluation, and even destruction. In fact, we barely noticed the change — until we moved, bought a new house, or had to replace the old toilet (now priceless!) and got a new toilet.

Over time, the problems became legion. It began to take two or three flushes instead of one to complete the job. One-ply toilet paper, the type you might expect to use in prison, became a common consumer product so that toilets would not clog.

Every toilet had to have a plunger sitting by it because clogs were so common, and so embarassing, and hence the invention of designer plungers with translucent handles and fancy holders.

This was the time when many houses and even whole towns began to stink like sewers. It turns out that plumbing systems love water. They rely on it. It is supposed to flow through them massively to keep them clean. When the water stopped, the stink began. You could do what the whole town of San Francisco did, which was pump vast quantities of water through the system, but that represented its own poisoning dangers.

The environmentalists stuck by their claims that destroying the ability to safely dispose of human waste was a wonderful thing because this “saves water.” The Romans were not so stupid. They knew that water has a purpose and one of them is to remove our waste products from our domestic environments so that we don’t live in and struggle with filth. That’s the reason for plumbing, and it is a pretty great use of water overall.

There were other workarounds people developed. There developed an active market for smuggling toilets across the Canadian border. But those eventually dried up. Fancy business districts and shopping centers started installing air-pressure models and electrical systems that release vast pressure upon the push of a button, and they also sound like a gas explosion. If you had one of those in your home, the whole family would wake in a panic every time you got up at night.

Toilet entrepreneurs got busy designing new systems and, being clever, they all claimed to have solved the problem. That’s what they have to say if they want to sell their products. Hence it is now conventional to claim that these problems do not exist anymore. This is a complete lie, which you know immediately when you visit online forums that complain about this problem. You just don’t hear about it as often because 1) time has passed and people are used to the problem and think it has always existed, and 2) people have generally given up in despair about getting Congress to do something about this.

My own rule is this. If a politician cannot, at least in principle, dedicate himself or herself to pressing for a repeal of working-toilet prohibition, he or she is completely worthless. It is an absolute priority for humanity that it figure out how safely to remove human waste from the premises. If we can’t get that right — and we mostly did for 3,000 years! — we can’t get anything right.

And please don’t try to sell me on some new toilet you claim has solved all these problems the government created. I don’t care how many chopped watermelons, buckets of marbles, and bags of packing peanuts you can flush in the showroom. Once you get it home, it is not going to work properly. If it works for a little while, it will stop working within a year as the parts begin to wear out because they are untested and overworked.

There is another problem that has been created that we no longer even recognize. You won’t believe me when I say this but it is true: it should not be necessary to dump and spray vast chemicals into your toilet every two days to maintain the appearance that it is clean. In the old days, with 3 to 5 gallon tanks, toilets were mostly self cleaning. With each flush, massive amounts of clean water rushed in to replace what human left behind such that our houses did not have to be host to little rooms of filth.

There’s more to say about government regulations, again all dating to the 1990s. Our clothes washers must function on a fraction of the water they used to, so of course they don’t clean either (and this leaves aside the appalling wreckage of detergent formulas). Our hot water heaters have to be hacked. Cities all over the country to turned down the water pressure so that our plumbing systems no longer stay clean and free of corrosion and sediment buildup.

Put it all together, and you can see what I mean. Americans have uninvented indoor plumbing. Having travelled the world, I can testify that I’ve never seen a country anywhere in the world where people have it so bad. Visitors to the U.S. are completely shocked that our showers, toilets, and washing machines don’t work properly. It is indeed a scandal.

It is also a scandal that there is no real political movement at all to do something about this problem. If we needed evidence to show that our political system is broken, this is it. In some ways, this problem is as bad or worse than alcohol prohibition, which at least led to some degree of fun with bookleggers and speakeasies. The prohibition of working plumbing has led to filthier homes and genuine health risks.

This is mandatory decay of the very foundation of what we used to call civilization. It all came about without public debate or even knowledge. How should watered, a scarce good, be rationed? The peaceful way is through the market. Prices reveal resource availability and signal consumers and producers concerning usage. This is the free-enterprise way, and it is better than the Soviet methods the EPA prefers.

Political season is coming. Let me humbly suggest that every politician in American be heckled on the topic of domestic plumbing at every appearance. We must demand an end to this real suffering before another generation comes of age knowing not of the possibility of clean restrooms, fulfilling showers, and truly washed clothes.