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The search for the oldest hot water cylinder

8 May 2007

The search for the oldest hot water cylinder begins

The search for New Zealand’s oldest hot water cylinder is to feature in a series of radio programmes by a Victoria University researcher.

Nigel Isaacs, Teaching & Research Fellow in the School of Architecture and Principal Energy Scientist with the Building Research Association of New Zealand, will be hosting a series of talks on Radio New Zealand National’s Sounds Historical programme from May 13.

The five minute talks are based on his lectures in a second year Building Science course on the history of building technology and cover not only the hot water cylinder, but also raupo houses, log and slab houses, mud construction, building with bricks, toilets and public conveniences.

Mr Isaacs says the electric hot water storage heater dates back to 1915 and has origins in New Zealand.

“New Zealander Lloyd Mandeno developed one of the world’s first electric storage hot water cylinders for use in the world’s first electric storage house. Built of corrugated iron with pumice insulation, it took a couple of years for the inner tank to leak.

“However, the corrugated copper cylinder still forms the basis for the modern low-pressure electric cylinder and is found in 88 percent of New Zealand houses, the highest market penetration in the world.

“Today, these cylinders consume one twelfth of all New Zealand’s electricity, and about third of household electricity. A shift from baths to showers—in 1971 41 percent of households used solely or mainly the shower compared to today’s 94 percent—means we place very different demands on our hot water systems – even though they may not have changed from when the house was built.”

Mr Isaacs says the public toilet also has a chequered history in New Zealand.

“With the shift from frontier town to civilisation, popping behind a flax bush was no longer socially acceptable. Dunedin had two public urinals—for men only—by 1863, but public conveniences didn’t become common until the early 1900s.”

Mr Isaacs says as a part of the series of eight talks he would be asking listeners to send information about their hot water system, with a prize for the oldest system in each of four categories. The categories are: electric storage; gas storage; pre-natural gas califont or instantaneous; and other systems, such as wetbacks, solid fuel, oil or not-in-use electric and gas systems that are older than 50 years.

The winners will receive a BRANZ book Maintaining Your Home, and for those with electric storage, an insulation blanket.

Full competition rules can be viewed at


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