Considering the great water main break of 2010 in Boston is over, I’m not feeling as bad as I was a few days ago about wanting to write this post.

This is one of those weird and different from home things…

In Boston, the taps can run with very hot water, very cold water, and every temp in between.  At my last apartment, if you turned on the cold tap and waited a few minutes, the water was so cold that it was at least as cold as the water in my fridge.

In Singapore the taps have a hot setting and a cold setting.

The hot water only runs hot if

  • it’s connected to a hot water heater
  • that hot water heater has been priming for at least a half hour or more

The cold water does not run cold

Generally speaking, in Singapore the water is always lukewarm regardless of the tap you’ve turned or how long the water has been running.

I suppose it makes sense…it is only hot in Massachusetts a few months a year and the pipes are far below the surface of the ground, and the reservoirs never really get “warm” in terms of temperature.  So the cold water is natural, and doesn’t really require a lot of effort.  We insulate the pipes because during the winter we worry about the pipes freezing and bursting, which also helps keep the temperature low (although not freezing).  We have hot water heaters, but they’re always on…again because of that whole “you don’t want your pipes bursting in the winter” thing. You get a hot shower for the capacity of the heater and then the water can run cold enough to make you shriek.

In Singapore it’s always hot.  There’s no need to insulate pipes (that I know of or at least in a way similar to the way I understand pipes in the Northeast to be insulated).  There’s no worry about pipes freezing and bursting.  Because of the equatorial location, the reservoir and the water that’s been treated is always warmish.  It’s a waste of energy (something in short supply in Singapore) to keep your water heater on all the time, so it’s on a switch to save energy and money.  Culturally most people just wash their dishes in the regular temperature water that comes out of the tap, so most kitchens lack access to the hot water heater for the apartment/house (which is reserved for the showers).

Logically, if you have to heat cold water to make it hot, you’d need a similar mechanism to make tepid water cold…which would also cost money..and is something that only crazy Westerners would want.  Hence why our Western hotel (the Fairmont) had hot and cold water but our serviced apartment (and our “real” apartment) do not.

The other thing that’s different is that each apartment is billed individually for water usage and it’s paid by the tenant.  Back home I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an apartment where you pay for your water use…it’s usually included in the rent.  I have no idea what a water bill looks like as we obviously haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been told by many people that Expats have much higher water bills (my realtor, other Americans, the books on becoming an expat in Singapore).

I understand that water is expensive as Singapore does not yet have a working reservoir.  They’ve created one (the one I referred to earlier) but it’s not fully online yet.  Currently all water used in Singapore is purchased as untreated water from Malaysia, treated, used in Singapore, and then sold back to Malaysia (according to my realtor).  But all that treatment and purchase cost means water is expensive.  However, even when it does have a working reservoir, it’s my understanding that Singapore won’t be independent from foreign water (to borrow and bend a phrase) so it will continue to be expensive.

It’s so interesting to me because water is one of those things I just took for granted in the US.  I turn the hot faucet and it runs super hot.  I turn the cold faucet and it runs cold.  I was always offered water a restaurant (here you have to ask for it, and specify if you want ice, you crazy foreigner). Sure it was something that should be conserved…at least a little…but it wasn’t something I ever thought of as rare.

Like my friends in Boston who were boiling untreated water over the past few days, my eyes are newly open.

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2 Responses to Water

  1. Rachel M says:

    That was very interesting. My experiences in Asia have always been at hotels so I didn’t encounter this issue.

  2. augustss says:

    You didn’t mention the good part about water in Singapore: you can drink it and not get sick.
    There’s no other equatorial country where I would dare drink the water.

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