Heather's Monthly Articles

British Bathrooms

February 2019

If you’re thinking about taking advantage of the low exchange rates and hopping across the pond for a stay in the U.K. any time soon...beware. An Airbnb might be a good bargain, but there are some things that the hosts omit to mention when you stay in a British home.

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A British bathroom

First off, if you’re staying in a place with a small bathroom – does England have anything but small bathrooms I wonder? - you’ll probably find a cord dangling from the ceiling near the doorway. Pull it. It’s the light switch. Electrical installations are regulated in the U.K. and, as such, bathrooms are deemed high risk zones. Unlike the kitchen, where you can walk around with dripping wet hands switching wall lights on and off to your heart’s content, the British Standard Institute have deemed it unsafe to have wall switches in bathrooms.

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A British bathroom sink

According to John O'Neill, a technical engineering manager at NICEIC, a registration body for the electrical contracting industry, "the body's resistance to electricity drops significantly when immersed or partially immersed in water,” and, therefore, one “should not be able to be in the bath and reach out and switch anything on." Pull cords, on the other hand, “are allowed because you cannot come into contact with the switch."

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Pull at your own risk

It’s good of the folk at the British Standard Institute to be so concerned about our well-being, but I think most of us put the light on before taking a bath and leave it on until exiting the room. I also don’t think BSI have factored into their "perceived risk studies" those of us who somehow always manage to pull the cord off and the only way we can switch the light on is by standing on the side of the bathtub, reaching across the ceiling to where a sliver of cord still exists and tugging at it with our finger nails, or a pair of eyebrow tweezers.

The BSI also prefers that you don’t dry your hair standing over the sink, or shave, or use an electric toothbrush. Which is why you won’t find a power outlet in your Airbnb British bathroom anywhere near the sink. Unlike here in the U.S. where the building codes say an outlet has to be within 3ft. of the sink basin, in the U.K. it’s actually illegal to have a power outlet within 3ft of a bath or shower.

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A British bathroom sink

Personally, I think it should also be illegal to have a sink with two separate faucets. But that’s what most British bathrooms have – two taps, one for hot, one for cold. So you can wash your hands and face either in boiling hot water, or icy cold. Take your pick. Just don’t try and mingle the two.

Apart from the fact that it’s always been that way – you know how traditional the British are - there actually was a valid reason that hot and cold water be dispensed via separate faucets. Drinkable cold water came from an outside water supply and hot water from a hot water tank, usually placed in the loft – where the odd rat has a tendency to hang out - and thus deemed unsafe for drinking.

Thanks for looking out for us, BSI. (I think.)

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