Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indigestion - The HydroMaid Experience

All experiments teach us, the negative outcomes often more than most. A few years ago, my garbage disposal failed. We are told that replacement gives us a unique opportunity for green living - for at these times we don't need to engage in murky calculations over whether it would be better to replace aging but functional stuff (with all it's embodied energy of production, transportation, etc) with newer, more efficient stuff. When it's broke, we get a free pass. Well, nearly free, since we then shoulder the responsibility thoroughly to research the field to ensure we have selected the most efficient and eco-friendly alternative available.

So I was quite pleased when I came across the HydroMaid. Besides the retro name, and the fact that it looked like a low-budget sci-fi spaceship or a cartoon stomach from a 1950's Pepto Bismol commercial, it promised an ingenious technology I could not resist: using only regular water pressure as it's power source. Internally, it reminded me of an orrery, with gears turning counter-gears and the like. Whatever doubts I had about new, unproven technology were assuaged by the reassuring press releases: they had raised venture capital, had a manufacturing plant in Hong Kong; Bob Vila demoed it on TV!

While you have already guessed that the HydroMaid was a stinking pile of crap - I'm afraid it took me a fair while to make the discovery. After paying a large premium to buy it ($325 if I recall, vs $80-$100 for a good conventional one), the plumber charged another $100 to install it. Which is nearly what he charged again to replace the 'O-rings' when it failed in a few months (wasn't that the space shuttle problem?), and again when he removed it after the second failure (in July, I think, when the undigested garbage had begun to ripen).

But you would be completely wrong in supposing the take-away is the importance of being conservative in such decisions. On the contrary, I believe that we as consumers must accelerate the pace of adoption of energy-saving devices, which includes unproven technology. The real story is about how we can socially pool and therefore mitigate the risk inherent in these experiments. Had a site like this been published, I and others could have saved ourselves a lot of aggravation and expense. We still don't appreciate how simple and pervasive communication technology like the web can make our group experiments fail-fast.

I think there is a bright future indeed for products that harvest their energy in the form they need it - here mechanical energy for pushing a piston - rather than relying on the extremely dirty and lossy trip from coal seam to electrical outlet. But this is the subject of a future post.


At August 7, 2008 at 6:43 PM , Blogger Sherlock said...

Very thoughtful post. I like your willingness to learn from experience. The HydroMaid wasn't ready for market, but perhaps it could be made so.

A question: Was this really a greener option than an electrical disposal? I ask because the review points out that one must run the faucet for much, much, much longer to get the HydroMaid to work. I mean, it sounds like literally a hundred times as long.

Our electric disposal needs only 5 seconds of running water to fully clear a sink full of vegetable trimmings. The HydroMaid sounds like it would need several MINUTES to do the same job.

Is that really easier on the environment?

Thanks for experimenting on behalf of the rest of us.

At August 13, 2008 at 9:58 AM , Blogger richard said...

Fair question sherlock: after all, the
water pressure (and all the treated water for that matter) are not free, but require substantial amounts of energy to produce.

But in the brief periods when mine worked,
I experienced closer to a 2 to 5-fold time increase, but only if one mastered how to use the Hydromaid most effectively. It digests food almost peristaltically, with smaller and smaller particles being generated as it moved through the cutting blades. If you waited until everything had cleared, then it would take maybe 50 to 100 times as long, but if you used it just frequently enough, the small particles would not spoil and would be carried off the next time you used it.

But this means there is another gotcha - for it to be greener, it would have to be in a high volume household.

At July 25, 2011 at 5:50 PM , Blogger . said...

Well, I've had a hydromaid for at least 10 years. It finally has stopped. I have loved it all these years and am really sad they no longer are in business. I understand the economy got to them.

I did get an early model which stopped working and they replaced it - no charge.

Now I sadly go buy an electric garbage disposal.

At October 20, 2013 at 5:33 PM , Blogger babalugatz said...

Licensed master plumber 26 years.
Installed in new house '03...
Absolute piece of shite
Run water for 5 minutes? To grind up 1/2 a lemon?
Super price tag...tons of water used per cycle

At October 20, 2013 at 5:37 PM , Blogger babalugatz said...

Bob Vila is a a paid schill
Bet he doesn't have one in his home (s)


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