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We're In Hot Water

Updated on September 4, 2011

Worldviews, as is often said, are things that are used constantly and consistently in shaping the way one thinks, yet it is something rarely thought about nor evaluated. Our worldview is what creates and shapes our values, and our values give birth to the things we do. But can this be observed in something mundane and everyday? I believe it can.

Let's consider something extremely simple but touching people across the globe: hot water. I don't know anyone who enjoys always bathing in cold water (except my dad, but I digress...) and in different places around the world the hot water issue has been tackled different ways.


Colonial Africa

I wish I had a picture that I could put with this to show this water heating set-up. Back in the ol' days in Africa they used a very interesting way to heat water. Basically outside they would have a metal tank full of water. Coming out the top of the tank was a pipe that went up to the house, and then another pipe that was on an incline to the bathtub. Underneath the water tank they would build a fire. As the fire heated up, the water would heat up, and then evaporation would take over. This might take awhile to heat up a bathtub, but it sure beat bathing in cold water. (Note that this set-up was more for the white settlers who were more accustomed to bathtubs and houses. Not saying that someone indigenous to Africa didn't bath, but would be more inclined to use a different method than a bathtub.)

It's interesting to note that in a society that is essentially hunter gatherer, to control fire is to have taken control of the elements. In this society speed of heating the water, and practicality are not what is in question. The accomplishment is in dominating the elements (fire, water) for man's benefit. It is to have been placed in a hard environment, and come out the other side conquerors.


Water Tank

The hot water tank is what most of us are most familiar with. Chances are, this may be the only water heating system you are familiar with. With this process, water is pumped directly into you home from the water company. This water is then channeled into a hot water heater (tank) where it is then heated up to wait for its consumption. If it is not consumed and starts to cool off, the hot water heater kicks back on and the water is then reheated to the pre-determined temperature.

This method of heating water is likely the most costly and extravagant way to heat water. Why do I say that? First its extravagant if we view it from the eyes of most people in the world. Running water, we forget is a luxury item. We who have hot water heaters are willing to pay to keep water hot all day, even if we are not home. We are also willing to keep more water than what we need hot "just in case." To many people who use hot water heaters (tank) money for this is not an option. In a consumer society, the cost and extravagance, is quickly forgotten in exchange for the convenience and the luxury. We are willing to use our resources this way.


Solar Hot Water

Solar hot water is quickly gaining notoriety and popularity. There are several different versions on this theme that all function somewhat differently so rather than talk about this in detail I'll just hit the common themes that a blatantly obvious. With solar hot water heaters, energy from the sun is converted into heat and the heat is transferred to water in a holding tank. Often these are mounted on one's roof (where presumably you would get the most uninterrupted sunlight). Some work just by having a material over the water tank that allows UV rays in, and inhibits their leaving which in turn heats the water, or others more sophisticated have a series of tubes where fluid travel as it heats up, but both are using the sun.

It's interesting to note with this that they are only popular in Europe and North America. The reason I find this interesting is we fail to see how cultural their popularity is. Often what gets discussed is the benefits, the savings, the ease...etc. But really the reason they exist at all is because of presumed global warming. We, in western society, are very concerned that because we use too many resources, and are constantly using energy from so-called contributors to greenhouse gases, therefore we feel like we are saving the planet from an unwanted fate. The benefits of solar water heaters are an added bonus, but most who install this system if asked feel like they are "doing their part". Our obsession with global warming in the West is not as present in the East, or the South, and thus solar hot water is not near as popular.


An on demand water heater is one that only works when you want it. These are particularly popular in South America (although you may be familiar with Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters). These have two different kinds. In one, the water passes through a pipe that is heated when the hot water is turned on. If the hot water is not turned on then the gas flame is also not on heating the pipe. The other method is an electric one. You simply flip a switch when you're going to take a shower, and the electric current heats up the shower head. The benefit to both is you only use what you want, and you can use as much as you want without fear of the water in the tank running out.

I find it significant that in South America these are popular. Generally speaking, we catagorize a latino mindset as being Non-Crisis. Basically that anthropology lingo for meaning, someone of this mindset doesn't really like planning ahead. They would rather just let life come at them and manage accordingly. An on demand system plays into that mindset. "Just in case I need a shower" they don't need to go gather firewood to build a fire, they don't have to spend a lot of money to keep a tank hot, they don't have to wait for a nice sunny day. With an on demand system, if I want to take a shower I'll flip a switch, if not I'll leave it off. There is no need to plan ahead.


In the end, all the above mentioned attempts yield hot water. They all have their pros. They all have their cons. One can argue from his/her particular cultural bias which one is best, but in the end I don't believe we can really say. I see the good and bad in each. Ultimately our outlook on reality is going to dictate which one we ultimately will go with given the choice. Our worldview influences what we do.


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    • SlyMJ profile image


      7 years ago

      Unusual article - interesting and well written. I enjoyed it, especially the African and solar-powered sections that I'm much less familiar with.


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