Office Watercooler

The watercooler is the oasis of the corporate jungle, where office denizens discuss such important topics as American Idol, the company softball team, or the latest New Jersey corruption bust.

Illustration by Brown Bird Designs.

Watercoolers are about a century old. Credit for their invention usually goes to two men—Halsey Willard Taylor (founder of today’s Halsey Taylor watercooler and fountain company) and Luther Haws, who worked separately but shared the goal of providing safe, potable water. Taylor’s father had died of typhoid brought on by drinking contaminated water.

Watercoolers have changed since the days when huge blocks of ice were used to chill their contents. One new wrinkle is the bottle-less cooler, which draws its supply from the building’s water lines. A further wrinkle is seen here, where piped-in water is stored in a permanent bottle instead of in a hidden reservoir. John DiPietropolo, president of A Clear Alternative, a Pennsauken water service, says people still find it reassuring to see a clear jug on top of the cabinet.

1. GREEN WATER
Many bottleless coolers use external filters like this to clean water. Eliminating bottle deliveries means fewer trucking miles and less pollution. It also means less back strain for whoever picks up the 40-pound, 5-gallon jugs and places them on the cabinet. And no empties to take up space.

2. TO AIR IS HUMAN

As you dispense water into your cup, something must replace the water or the bottle will collapse from the pressure of the surrounding air. So a small air tube enters the bottle and runs straight up to the float, above which there’s an air pocket. There is a small filter on the “room” end of the tube. As water leaves the bottle, filtered air replaces it. The float descends as the water level drops, opening a valve that allows more water to flow in automatically.

3. STRAINING FOR EFFECT
Water can be filtered externally or in the machine, or both, as here. Or it can be purified through reverse osmosis. RO was developed in the late 1950s by the military to desalinate water. In RO, water gets pushed through a semipermeable plastic membrane that strains out chemicals like chlorine, a carcinogen. While water passes through, contaminents are diverted to a waste drain.

4. BABY, IT’S COLD INSIDE
Gravity pushes water out of the bottle, through the internal filter, and into an insulated basin, where it is cooled to about 50 degrees by coils from a small refrigeration unit at the base of the cabinet.

5. HOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?
For hot drinks, water flows from the basin into a stainless steel tank, where electric coils heat it to a preset temperature.

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