Water dispenser abstract
A compact, countertop water dispenser preferably dispensing ambient,
chilled or hot water, and preferably allowing single-hand dispensing
of ambient and child water, as well as child-resistant hot water
dispensing. In one embodiment, powered by thermoelectrics, a side-mounted
water container feeds a first reservoir, which feeds a second reservoir
in liquid communication with hot and cold tanks. Predetermined reservoir
water levels may be maintained by float switches and solenoid valves
may be used to enable/disable water flow from the tanks and dispensing.
Many other features are provided as described below.
Water dispenser claims
1. A water dispenser, comprising: a first reservoir in liquid communication
with a water container, the water container being mounted on the
side of the dispenser; a second reservoir in liquid communication
with the first reservoir, and with each of a hot tank and a cold
tank, wherein water from the second reservoir fills and replenishes
the hot tank and the cold tank; a dispensing mechanism for dispensing
hot water using a child-resistant actuator; wherein the water dispenser
has countertop dimensions, including a countertop height.
2. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the dispensing mechanism
is capable of selectively dispensing chilled or hot water.
3. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the dispensing mechanism
is capable of selectively dispensing room-temperature, chilled or
4. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein water may be dispensed
using a single hand.
5. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the child-resistant
actuator requires two hands to actuate.
6. The water dispenser of claim 1 further comprising a filter
for filtering the water prior to dispensing.
7. The water dispenser of claim 6 further comprising an automatic
filter shutoff device.
8. The water dispenser of claim 7 wherein the automatic filter
shutoff device senses water containers with differing volumetric
capacities and adjusts its shutoff capabilities accordingly.
9. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the second reservoir
comprises at least two separate reservoirs, one of which receives
steam or expanded hot water from the hot tank.
10. The water dispenser of claim 1 further comprising a fan located
at the rear of the dispenser for use in removing heat from the dispenser.
11. The water dispenser of claim 10 wherein the speed of the fan
is modulated around a set point temperature range to facilitate
maintaining the water in the cold tank within a desired range.
12. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the dispenser includes
a cooling system powered by a thermoelectric device.
13. The water dispenser of claim 1 further comprising separate
switches for energizing heating and cooling systems within the dispenser,
enabling dispensing of chilled water without energizing the heating
system, and enabling dispensing of hot water without energizing
the cooling system.
14. The water dispenser of claim 1 further comprising a check
valve positioned in liquid communication between the hot tank and
the second reservoir for preventing hot water from flowing from
the hot tank back into the second reservoir.
15. The water dispenser of claim 1 further comprising solenoid
valves for selectively enabling and disabling the flow of water
from the hot and cold tanks.
16. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the cold tank includes
a baffle facilitating the separation of hotter and colder water
within the tank, and helping to minimize water turbulence within
17. The water dispenser of claim 1 wherein the second reservoir
includes a baffle for separating water flowing into the cold tank
and water flowing into the hot tank, facilitating the provision
of cold tank water inlet temperatures which are closer to ambient
temperatures than would otherwise be the case without a baffle.
18. A process for dispensing water from a dispenser unit having
countertop dimensions, including a countertop height, and located
on a countertop, comprising: placing a water container in liquid
communication with a first reservoir; placing a second reservoir
in liquid communication with the first reservoir, and with each
of a hot tank and a cold tank; filling the hot and cold tanks using
water supplied from the second reservoir; filling the second reservoir
from using water supplied from the first reservoir; maintaining
a predetermined amount of water within the first and second reservoirs
during dispensing; and enabling child-resistant dispensing of hot
water using a child-resistant actuator.
19. The process of claim 18 further comprising the step of providing
a fan for removing heat from the dispenser, and modulating fan speed
around a set point temperature range to facilitate maintaining the
water in the cold tank within a desired temperature range.
20. The process of claim 19 wherein the fan is continuously cycling
when the dispenser unit is energized.
21. The process of claim 18 further comprising the step of causing
steam from the hot tank to be released into the second reservoir.
22. The process of claim 18 further comprising the step of mounting
the water container on a side adjacent the dispenser.
23. The process of claim 18 wherein the step of maintaining a
predetermined amount of water within the reservoirs is accomplished
using float switches.
Water dispenser description
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention generally relates to the dispensing of filtered,
bottled water within enclosed spaces. More specifically, the invention
relates to a filtered water dispenser suitable for use in an enclosed
space envelope, such as on a kitchen countertop,which preferably
provides ambient, cold and hot temperature, filtered water.
It is desirable to provide an affordable countertop water dispenser
with a preferred height less than about 24 inches, and in a particularly
preferred embodiment less than about 18 inches. Preferably, the
dispenser is located adjacent a replenishable water source such
as a water bottle, and may provide filtered, chilled, hot or room
temperature water. The replenishable water source preferably has
a volumetric capacity allowing easy handling (e.g., 1-3 gallons).
An efficient and compact cooling system, such as thermal electrics,
is also preferably provided. It would also be desirable to provide
a dispenser with various additional features, including: an easy-carry
handle for the water container, an ergonomic appliance size and
feel; one-hand touch dispensing controls; safety feature for child-resistant
control over hot water dispensing; temperature indicators; and selfcontained
dispenser shutoff, and a filter cartridge which may be easily replaced
when a monitor indicates that the filter has reached the end of
its useful life; antibacterial control; and conformance with applicable
regulations, including UL, NSF, CE and CUL.
These and other advantages may be provided by the countertop dispenser
of the present invention, as further described below.
DEFINITION OF CLAIM TERMS
The following terms are used in the claims of the patent as filed
and are intended to have their broadest meaning consistent with
the requirements of law. Where alternative meanings are possible,
the broadest meaning is intended. All words used in the claims are
intended to be used in the normal, customary usage of grammar and
the English language.
"Automatic filter shutoff device" means a device in fluid
communication with a water container which filters water and then
interferes with the ability to dispense water from the container
after a predetermined amount of water usage (i.e., the "shutoff"
feature), which may generally correspond to the useable life of
the filter, has been reached. "Automatic" in this context
means that shutoff occurs without the need for user intervention
to trigger shutoff, such as without the need for the user to respond
to a visual or audible signal from a filter monitor. An example
of such a device which may be used in conjunction with the present
invention is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6354344 titled "Automatic
Shutoff Device For Filtered Bottle Water Dispenser," whose
disclosure is incorporated by reference in its entirety into this
"Countertop height" means any then-industry standard
height(s) between a kitchen countertop and kitchen cabinets. Currently,
the "countertop height" in the U.S. is about eighteen
"Countertop dimensions" refers to a countertop dispenser
unit having suitable length, width and height dimensions such that
the unit has a size envelope and footprint enabling it to be located
within and between an industry-standard kitchen countertop and an
industry-standard kitchen cabinet.
"Child-resistant actuator" means an actuation mechanism,
such as but not limited to mechanisms consisting of buttons and/or
slides, permitting hot water dispensing while providing a measure
of security against undesirable dispensing by children. "Child-resistant
manner of dispensing" means dispensing using a "child-resistant
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The objects mentioned above, as well as other objects, are solved
by the present invention, which overcomes disadvantages of prior
water dispensers, while providing new advantages not believed associated
with such devices, including those advantages listed above as well
as other advantages as well.
In one preferred embodiment, a water dispenser includes a first
reservoir in liquid communication with a water container which is
mounted on the side of the dispenser. A second reservoir is provided
which is in liquid communication with the first reservoir. The second
reservoir is also in liquid communication with each of a hot tank
and a cold tank. The second reservoir may include two separate reservoirs
(e.g., reservoir 40a, 40b). One of the reservoir (e.g., reservoir
40b) may be separated into separate compartments using a baffle.
The other of the reservoirs (e.g., reservoir 40a) may receive steam
or expanded hot water from the hot tank. Water from the second reservoir
fills and replenishes the hot and cold tanks. A dispensing mechanism
for dispensing hot water using a child-resistant actuator is provided.
Alternatively, the dispensing mechanism maybe capable of selectively
dispensing chilled, ambient or hot water, or any variation of these
(e.g., ambient and chilled only, ambient and hot only, chilled and
hot only, etc.). Preferably, the water dispenser has countertop
dimensions, including a countertop height.
Preferably, the dispensing mechanism is capable of dispensing ambient
or chilled water using a single hand, i.e., "single touch"
dispensing. However, because of safety issues involved in dispensing
hot water, it is desirable to only allow hot water dispensing in
a child-resistant manner, such as using a child-resistant actuator
which requires two hands, or which requires different and/or separate
movements by a single hand (e.g., push and slide, etc.).
Although not required, the water dispenser of the present invention
may be provided with a filter, such as an automatic filter shutoff
device which may be used to sense water containers with differing
volumetric capacities and adjusts its shutoff capabilities accordingly.
A fan may be located at the rear of the dispenser for use in removing
heat from the dispenser. The speed of the fan may be varied or modulated
(e.g., from 2200 RPM down to 750 RPM and then back to 2200 RPM)
around a set point temperature range (e.g., 2.degree. F.) to facilitate
maintaining the water in the cold tank within a desired range. Preferably,
continuous cycling is provided.
Preferably, the dispenser includes a cooling system powered by
a thermoelectric device. It is also preferred to provide separate
switches for energizing heating and cooling systems within the dispenser,
enabling dispensing of chilled (and/or ambient) water without energizing
the heating system, and enabling dispensing of hot (and/or ambient)
water without energizing the cooling system.
A check valve may be used, positioned in liquid communication between
the hot tank and the second reservoir, to help prevent hot water
from flowing from the hot tank back into the second reservoir. Solenoid
valves may be used for selectively enabling and disabling the flow
of water from the hot and cold tanks. Float/level switches may be
used to maintain sufficient water levels in the reservoirs and tanks,
and to prevent pump cavitation.
Preferably, the cold tank includes a baffle facilitating the separation
of hotter and colder water within the tank, and helping to minimize
water turbulence within the tank. It is also desirable to include
a baffle within the second reservoir, for separating water flowing
into the cold tank and water flowing into the hot tank, facilitating
the provision of cold tank water inlet temperatures which are closer
to ambient temperatures than would otherwise be the case without
In another aspect of the invention, a process is provided for dispensing
water from a dispenser unit having countertop dimensions, including
a countertop height, and located on a countertop. First, the countertop
dispenser unit is powered/energized, and a water container, such
as a water bottle, is placed in liquid communication with a first
reservoir. A second reservoir is placed in liquid communication
with the first reservoir, and with each of a hot tank and a cold
tank. The hot and cold tanks are then filled with water supplied
from the second reservoir. The second reservoir is then filled to
a predetermined level with water supplied from the first reservoir.
A predetermined amount of water is preferably maintained within
the first and second reservoirs during dispensing; this may be accomplished
using float/level switches, for example. Child-resistant dispensing
of hot water is enabled using a child-resistant actuator. In one
preferred embodiment, a fan may be used for removing heat from the
dispenser. Fan speed may be modulated around a set point temperature
range to facilitate maintaining the water in the cold tank within
a desired temperature range in an energy-efficient manner. Preferably,
the fan continuously cycles when the dispenser unit is energized.
In one embodiment, steam or hot water expansion from the hot tank
is released into one portion of the second reservoir. Preferably,
though not necessarily, the water container is mounted on a side
adjacent the dispenser.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The novel features which are characteristic of the invention are
set forth in the appended claims. The invention itself, however,
together with further objects and attendant advantages thereof,
will be best understood by reference to the following description
taken in connection with the accompanying drawings. The drawings
illustrate currently preferred embodiments of the present invention.
As further explained below, it will be understood that other embodiments,
not shown in the drawings, also fall within the spirit and scope
of the invention.
FIG. 1 is a top and side perspective view of a countertop dispenser
unit according to one preferred embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 1A is a sectional view along reference line 1A/1A of FIG.
FIG. 1B is a sectional view along reference line 1B/1B of FIG.
FIG. 2 is a perspective, parts view of the components forming the
countertop dispenser unit shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is an enlarged perspective view of the components within
the portion circled in FIG. 2;
FIG. 4 is a schematic view of showing one preferred water layout
for use with the countertop dispenser unit;
FIG. 5 is a schematic view showing an alternative water layout;
FIGS. 6-16 are perspective views of alternative embodiments for
effectuating child-resistant hot water dispensing;
FIG. 17 is a top and side perspective view of the dispenser unit
with a preferred water bottle having an integral handle;
FIG. 18 is a side perspective view of the preferred water bottle
with integral handle; and
FIG. 19 is a side and top perspective view of the preferred dispenser
unit from the user's vantage point;
FIG. 20 is a top and side perspective view of the upper reservoir
of the dispenser unit, shown with the lid open;
FIG. 21 is a perspective view of the cold tank, with the fan shown
in dotted lines;
FIG. 22 is a sectional view showing the cold tank with its cover
FIG. 23 is a perspective view showing the cold tank with its cover
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
Set forth below is a description of what are currently believed
to be the preferred embodiments and/or best examples of the invention
claimed. Future and present alternatives and modifications to these
preferred embodiments are contemplated. Any alternatives or modifications
which make insubstantial changes in function, in purpose, in structure
or in result are intended to be covered by the claims of this patent.
Referring first to FIG. 1 a preferred embodiment of the countertop
dispenser of the present invention is generally designated by reference
numeral 20. Countertop dispenser 20 may include a first reservoir
24 supporting a water bottle container 22 shown in dotted lines.
Threaded bottle ring 22a is designed to engage with mating threads
on the upper portion of lower reservoir 24 and has an inner aperture
sized to accommodate filter 100 (FIG. 2). Filter/shutoff device
100 engages the bottle neck (not shown), and its purpose is described
below. Immediately adjacent reservoir 24 is dispenser wrapper 40.
Wrapper 40 has an alcove/front face 41 containing dispensing lever
28 (attached via pin 45) and drip tray 60 (FIG. 2), within which
a glass may be placed for filling with ambient, chilled or hot water,
which is provided as further described below.
Referring now to FIG. 2 dispenser wrapper 40 includes upper cover
51 rear panel 43 with fan grill 43a, dust cover 33 and dust filter
34 and base 29 and drain hole cover. Within wrapper 40 is included
PCB (electronic board) enclosure cover 27 PCB enclosure 27a, PCB
board 26a, transformer 26 hot tank inlet hose 28 hot tank 31
hot tank venting hose 35 check valve 61 cold tank 32 cold tank
inlet hose 36 filter housing 38 seal ring 75 second reservoir
level switch 76 switch power PCB 37 and switches 74a, 74b. Spout
cover 67 may be provided in selective liquid communication with
pump inlet hose 87 and pump 30 as well as with spout 86 and seal
ring 86a. Spout 86 in turn, may be provided in selective liquid
communication with cold tank outlet hose 25 and hot tank outlet
hose 28 each of which communicate with solenoid valve 96. In operation,
and still referring to FIG. 2 countertop dispensing unit 20 may
be powered by plugging into a wall socket, for example, although
other power supplies (e.g., battery) may be provided. Once power
is provided to the unit, power indicator 53 energizes (e.g., to
a green color). Switches 74a and 74b may be activated separately,
as each provides power to the cooling and heating systems, respectively.
In this way, if only cold water is desired, it is efficient to leave
the heating systems deactivated, and vice-versa. (Alternatively,
in a dispensing system that provides ambient, cold and hot water,
if the heating system is deactivated, the unit can provide ambient
and cold water.)
Referring to FIG. 2 during initial set-up, bottle 22 (e.g., a
2-gallon bottle) filled with water is placed in liquid communication
with lower reservoir 24. Initially, with pump 30 energized, water
is permitted to flow from bottle 22 into lower reservoir 24 then
through suction tube 24a into upper reservoirs 40b, and then into
cold tank 32 and hot tank 31. Float switch 76 in upper reservoir
40b causes water to continue to be pumped to the upper reservoir
until cold tank 32 and hot tank 31 are filled. Once these tanks
are full, upper reservoirs 40a and 40b begin to fill, until a sufficient
level is reached; when level switch 76 reaches a predetermined level,
it then moves to a "down" position, disabling the pump.
Countertop unit 20 is now ready for dispensing.
During continued dispensing, assuming there is enough water in
bottle 22 the level in the upper reservoirs 40a and 40b is controlled
by float switch 76 which also controls the water level in lower
reservoir 24. Float switch 23 prevents pump 30 from cavitating.
When float switch 23 is in the "up" position, this prevents
further water from reaching reservoir 24 from bottle 22.
Still referring to FIG. 2 a thermistor (not shown) is connected
to controller 37 and preferably cools the water within cold tank
32 until the set point is reached (e.g., about 0.degree.-6.degree.
C.). Cold-water and hot-water solenoids 96 are each normally de-energized
(closed). Depressing lever 28 by (e.g.) pushing a glass to be filled
against it activates the default mode for cold water; right-hand
side blue light indicator 81a on PCB board 82 will energize, causing
blue indicator 55 (which may be an LED or other convenient light
source) to light. (Power indicator lights 53a, 81 and 81 may each
be located on PCB board 82.) Depressing lever 28 activates a microswitch
(not shown) behind pin 45 energizing the cold water solenoid 96
and beginning a draw of cold water from cold tank 31. This diminishes
the water supply in upper reservoir 40b , requiring replenishing,
which will occur from reservoir 24 until float switch 76 disables
Cold temperature cycling may be adjusted by adjusting fan speed,
which may run at (e.g.) 2200-2700 RPMs, preventing freezing within
the cold tank and extending the life of the unit.
To obtain hot water, the user depresses lever 28 and also activates
and hold child-resistant button/switch 64 (as further explained
below), energizing hot water solenoid 96. This energizes the (e.g.,
red) hot light indicators 81/54 and also begins flow from upper
reservoir 40b into hot water tank 31. This flow continues until
both the hot water tank and then the upper reservoir reach sufficient
levels, at which time pump 30 is disabled by float switch 76.
Referring now to FIG. 3 microswitch 64 controls actuation of child-resistant
button 69. Microswitch 64 fits within lower slide guide 63 and
is attached to slide switch 68 by spring 62. Child resistant button
69 fits within bezel 62 which may snap-fit within aperture 51 a
of upper cover
Referring back to FIG. 2 the valve system is preferably designed
to maximize air flow. Hot tank inlet (not shown) runs from check
valve 61 into hot tank 31. Hot tank outlet 31b connects to hot tank
outlet hose 78 and then to solenoid 96. Hot tank 31 may employ a
standard heating element, using bimetal control and cutoff switches.
As water within the hot tank heats, pressure increases within the
tank; check valve 61 prevents hot water from returning to upper
reservoir 40b . Steam or hot water expansion from hot tank 31 is
released into upper reservoir 40a through vent tube 31a and then
venting hose 35. Ideally, water within reservoir 40b is maintained
at about room temperature for optimum energy efficiency, since both
hot and cold water tanks draw from this source. Venting cover 93
on top lid 51 may be used to allow steam to be released to the atmosphere.
Referring now to FIG. 4 a preferred, compact layout for providing
ambient, chilled or hot water dispensing is provided. In this embodiment,
ambient water is dispensed from water bottle 22 to first/ambient
reservoir 24 via filter/shutoff device 100. Pump 30 brings the water,
at an ambient temperature, to a second reservoir 40a , an expansion
chamber separated from reservoir 40b (minimizing reservoir 40a's
hot water impact on colder water within reservoir 40b ), within
wrapper 40. Solenoid valve 96 takes water from the cold tank or
the hot tank and delivers that water to spout 86 via cold tank
outlet hose 25 and hot tank outlet hose 78 respectively. Alternatively,
the unit may be designed for dispensing ambient-temperature using
three tanks (room temperature, hot and cold) and appropriate solenoid
It will be understood that, given separate heating and cooling
switches 74a, 74b, cooling systems may be de-energized on the unit
when there is only a need for ambient and hot water; conversely,
heating systems may be de-energized on the unit when there is only
a need for ambient and chilled water. In alternative designs, of
course, the dispenser may be designed to dispense only hot and chilled
water, only ambient and chilled water, only ambient and hot water,
or any other combination, given use, need, climate, locale, etc.
Referring now to FIG. 5 which maybe provided with the same user/dispensing
interface as shown in FIGS. 1-4 an alternative yet compact water
layout is provided. In this layout, a more pressurized system is
provided in which ambient water is pumped from reservoir 24 either
to hot tank 31 or cold tank 32 for selective dispensing as shown.
As described above, to save cost, in a preferred dispensing embodiment
only a single pump may be used to provide room temperature, cold
or heated water from a corresponding reservoir. A mechanically-actuated
or solenoid-actuated selector, as also described above, may be provided
to open the water path to provide a desired water temperature. Using
a partially pressurized as opposed to completely pressurized system
may be more economical. However, using a fully pressurized system
powered by a wall socket plug-in would allow dispensing without
using a pump.
Shutoff device 100 may consist of an automatic filter shutoff device
as defined above, such that water refill is not permitted until
the filter cartridge is replaced, as further described in co-pending
U.S. Ser. No. 10/692603 titled, "Bottled Water Dispenser With
Shutoff, Variable Filtration Capacity and Replaceable Cartridge
Filger," the disclosure of which is incorporated into this
patent application in its entirety. Such a device 100 also permits
selective lockout/shutdown to occur after sensing different volumetric
capacities of water bottles based on varying neck sizes.
Canister 100 may include a filter cartridge using varying types
of filters, such as the PureSmart.RTM. filter available from Elkay
Manufacturing Company, Watertech Division, of Oakbrook, Ill. The
carbon-loaded, non-woven media of the PureSmart.RTM. water filter
may be used as the primary filtering mechanism. However, the carbon-loaded
filter media may be too restrictive to be utilized in a simple flat
configuration. As a result, for use with the present invention the
filter media may be combined with a support/separation media. The
combined media may be pleated to increase the available surface
area within the canister. Once pleated, the pleated media pack may
be die-cut to the proper diameter for insertion into the canister.
A retainer ring may be inserted into the canister and a sealant
may be injected onto the distribution plane of the retainer. The
cartridge may then be spun in place using centrifugal force at a
rate effective to direct the sealant to the peripheral edge of the
filter media element without wetting the filtering surface of the
filter media, as further explained in U.S. Pat. No. 5063926 which
is incorporated by reference in this disclosure in its entirety.
It will be understood, however, that countertop dispenser unit
20 of the present invention need not be used with a filter, or with
a shutoff mechanism, if not desired.
Referring now to FIGS. 6-16 alternative embodiments of dispensing
actuation mechanisms 69a-69j are shown. Mechanism 69 preferably
provides single-hand dispensing, but is also preferably child-resistant
to prevent unintended dispensing, such as unintended hot water dispensing.
Such mechanisms may require selective amounts of sliding (e.g.,
FIG. 7); simultaneous sliding and/or pushing or vice-versa (e.g.,
FIGS. 8 9 11 and 15); providing a hidden or concealed "hot
lock (e.g., FIG. 10); pushing a selected surface or pushing simultaneous
surfaces (e.g., FIGS. 11-13); or selective amounts of turning and/or
coupled with pushing (e.g., FIG. 14).
Referring now to FIG. 20 a suitable baffle, such as planar baffle
160 may be used to separate upper reservoir 40b into two compartments,
one compartment providing water to cold tank 32 through inlet 36a
and the other providing water to hot tank 31 through inlet 28a.
It was found that using a baffle in this manner provided a 2.degree.
F. benefit during normal cycling of the unit. It is desired to maintain
inlet water to the tanks at about ambient temperature, for optimum
efficiency. Steam and hot water expansion from hot tank 31 can backflow
up the inlet and into upper reservoir 32; this backwash of warmer
water would without baffle 160 enter the portion of upper reservoir
40b servicing the cold tank. Thus, baffle 160 allows the cold water
tank inlet temperature to be closer to ambient temperatures than
it otherwise would be.
Referring now to FIGS. 21-23 cold tank 32 is also preferably provided
with a baffle 180 which may consist of a series of parallel plates
as shown. Thermistor 140 and fan 130 are also shown. In one embodiment,
an ice ball is formed within the cold tank. Baffle 180 controls
the turbulence of water flowing through tank 32 and around the ice
ball, ensuring that the water flow slowly disperses and evenly flows
over the sides of the tank and over the ice ball within the tank.
In addition, baffle 180 regulates the mixing process within the
tank, and helps maintain stratified temperature layers, facilitating
removal of chilled water and its replacement with the entering warmer
It will now be appreciated by those of ordinary skill in the art
that the countertop water dispenser of the present invention has
various advantages, at least some of which are now discussed in
more detail. The water dispenser has a reduced unit height, preferably
less than 24 inches and most preferably equal to or less than about
18 inches (which is a current architectural convention for a minimum
countertop height, though such heights have varied dramatically
over the years). In a preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 1 for
example, a side-mounted bottle provides ease of installation and
removal. The dispenser 20 height or countertop height "X"
(FIG. 1A) is preferably suitably sized to allow dispenser unit 20
to fit between the kitchen countertop/kitchen cabinet space that
is then industry standard. Alcove 41 is also suitably sized to easily
accommodate typically-sized 16-ounce water glasses and typically-sized
household pitchers. It may be desirable to utilize four reservoirs
for dispensing: (1) unfiltered, room temperature water; (2) filtered,
room temperature water; (3) filtered, chilled water; and (4) filtered,
heated water. This is difficult given the limited counter space
available. Accordingly, in a preferred embodiment reservoirs (2)
and (3) may be combined, allowing significant counter space to be
saved. Filtered, room temperature water may be provided by pulling
water from a portion of the reservoir that is adjacent the thermoelectric
area, as described above. The source for filtered, heated water
may be pulled from this same area, as also described above.
In a preferred embodiment, an ergonomically designed handle may
be used for easily lifting and carrying water bottles 22. Water
bottles with side-mounted handles also provide ease of installation
and removal. Referring to FIGS. 17-19 the bottle may be designed
with an integral handle 120 such that the bottle may be rotated
so that the handle is hidden from view as the dispenser rests on
the countertop (compare FIGS. 17 and 19).
In a preferred embodiment, cooling efficiency is enhanced by drawing
heat in from the side of the unit and rejecting heat from the back
of the unit. A side heat rejection location also ensures that filtered
and unfiltered water reservoirs will not be incidentally heated
which would undesirably further retard the cooling process. An air
filter may be used to remove dust particles from passing into the
unit. The cooling efficiency of a dispensing unit powered by thermoelectrics
is directly proportional to its ability to reject heat generated
by its thermoelectric source (i.e., the cooler the "hot"
side can be maintained, the colder the "cold" side can
be maintained). It was found that the likelihood of blockage (due
to pushing unit to back of wall, for example) and the resulting
loss of ability to reject heat is lower when heat rejection takes
place at the side of the dispenser rather than the back. It is also
not desirable to reject heat from the top of the unit, as that can
generate dust and wind in the face of nearby persons. In a preferred
embodiment, a thermoelectric module may be used as a thermoelectric
heat sink available, for instance, from Shunde Fuxin Electrical
Appliance Industry Company Limited, No. 11 Hongfengd., Lifeng Industry
Area, Rongli, Ronggui Town, Shunde, China. In one preferred embodiment,
the cooling chip of the thermoelectric unit was a 75 watt chip.
On the cold side a small heat sink may be located. On the hot side
a large heat sink (e.g., aluminum-sided) may be used, with a fan
to dissipate heat. At 115 volts, the thermoeletric unit of one embodiment
generally drew between about 80-95 watts. The unit ran at about
1.1-1.3 amps. The hot tank used either a 320-watt or 400-watt heating
element. Amperage of both cold and hot tanks is about 4.5-5 amps.
Target cooling ranges are about 35-55.degree. F.
Mounting feet (not shown) may be located on the underside of countertop
dispensing unit 20 allowing the user to pull the unit out from
underneath a cabinet to more easily remove or install a water bottle
or pitcher. Mounting feet are preferably made of a suitable, low
friction material such as Teflon, which slides easily and will not
mar or scratch a countertop surface.
A thermal cutoff is also preferably provided, to ameliorate burn
and fire safety concerns. A high temperature cutoff, preferably
selected below the boiling point of water (e.g., 200.degree. F.),
is preferably integrated with a thermal run-away cutoff. Such a
redundant system provides enhanced safety against electrical fires,
for example. Preferably, the dispenser unit has a 15 amp maximum
current draw (house fuses are typically triggered at either 15 or
20 amps). In a preferred embodiment, for example, a maximum cold
water temperature of 52.degree. F. may be provided, and a minimum
hot water temperature of 170.degree. F. may be provided.
It is obviously desirable to prevent freeze-up of the exit tube/cold
tank outlet hose 25 from cold tank 32 and a suitable heating element
(e.g., a heating coil selectively powered by a solenoid or microswitch)
may be provided for this purpose. An adjustable thermostat or winter/summer
switch may also be used for this purpose. While it may be desirable
to have some ice build-up within the cold tank, to prevent excessive
ice formation a suitable mechanism, such as a photoeye, may be used
to monitor this. Preferably, optimum cooling temperatures are maintained
by by cycling the unit, i.e., bringing the temperature up and down,
by changing fan speed. A fan (not shown) in the rear of dispenser
unit 20 removes heat from the unit. By modulating the fan speed
(e.g., at 2200 RPM, down to 750 RPM, and then back to 2200 RPM)
around a set point (e.g., +/-2.degree. F.), optimum cooling conditions
maybe obtained in an efficient manner. In one embodiment, the fan
was operated at 2200 RPM for about 15% of the time. Preferably,
continuous cycling using fan modulation occurs, as this is presently
believed to provide higher efficiencies and performance. Cycling
saves on the life-cycle of the unit. In addition, it is believed
to be more energy efficient. In one embodiment, the thermoelectric
unit drew 96 watts of power, about 1.2 amps, while the hot tank
drew about 400 watts of power.
Using the principles and features of the present invention, including
a thermoelectric unit as described above, cold and hot tanks may
be located in close location to each other, with appropriate chilling
and heating as described, and further described below.
Additional features are preferably provided. These include a removable
drip tray 60 (FIG. 2), preferably designed to be dishwasher-safe
either from detergents or temperatures, which allows removal to
facilitates cleaning and/or to accommodate taller containers. Also,
the cold reservoir preferably has a minimum capacity of 33-ounces,
which will allow filling of four, 8-ounce cups. Similarly, the hot
reservoir preferably has a minimum capacity of 28 ounces, allowing
the filling of four, 7-ounce cups. Lower reservoir 24 may be provided
with a minimum desired capacity (e.g., 100 ounces), while upper
reservoirs 40a , 40b may also be appropriately sized to effectuate
the unit's dispensing purposes. The capacity of the water bottle
or water pitcher may preferably be limited by the weight of water
that must be carried and lifted above the countertop surface. This
capacity is balanced against the number of fills needed per week.
While a 2-gallon or 3-gallon water bottle, or a 64-ounce water pitcher,
may be suggested maximum capacities, this may vary depending on
the use (e.g., dispenser located in nursing home where elderly may
use, versus one located at a high school, etc.).
Referring to FIG. 2 a single-piece base 29 may be used, serving
as a "z-axis" base to facilitate bottom-up assembly, limiting
the need to flip over the unit during assembly.
Dispenser 20 components are preferably injection molded and/or
blow-molded, may be but need not be antibacterial, preferably minimize
noise produced during use, and are preferably compliant with appropriate
industry standards, such as UL, NSF, CE and CUL.
In a preferred embodiment, a dispensing and filtering system according
to the present invention includes several already-described and/or
additional features convenient to the consumer, including: (1) a
clear bottle for visual verification of water level; (2) mounting
feet enabling the consumer to pull the cooler away from the wall
to refill a bottle; (3) 2-gallon bottle with a handle for lifting
the bottle up and away from the countertop-disposed cooler; (4)
an easily replaced filter system which automatically prohibits engagement
with a new water bottle when the filtration capacity is met; (5)
a dispenser capable of being pre-set for cold water dispensing for
dispensers having hot/cold water, and pre-set for ambient water
dispensing for dispensers having hot/ambient water; (6) one-hand
but preferably child-safety dispensing provided by, e.g., a paddle,
button or switch (e.g., hot water dispensing may first require the
consumer to press and/or hold down a safety button).
Preferably, although not required, the following product design
features may be provided for aesthetic reasons: (1) exterior components
injection molded, of ABS or PC; (2) injection molded exterior parts
to be Class A with #2 SPI-SPE finish; (3) vent rear or underneath
unit; (4) injection or blow-molded 2-gallon clear bottle made of
ABS, polycarbonate, PET, SAN, PP or PVC materials; (5) green/power,
red/hot and blue/cold indicator lights; (6) have compact dimensions
for placement on a countertop surface and beneath kitchen cabinets
(e.g., 16.5" by 15.6" h by 12.5" d; and (7) static
and UV resistant cabinet construction, including scratch resistant
feet to avoid scraping kitchen countertops.
While system performance will obviously vary based on unit size,
power requirements, consumer need, etc., in one preferred embodiment
cold system performance (at 75.degree. F.) was tested as follows:
first 6 oz draw of <=44.degree. F.; three 6 oz draws of <=52.degree.
F.; cold water volume of 32 oz; 30-40 minute recovery from 75.degree.
F. to 44.degree. F.; and a dispense rate not greater than 0.5 GPM,
and not less than 0.3 GPM. In this preferred embodiment, hot system
performance (again tested at 75.degree. F.) was tested as follows:
child safety feature and hot tank switch; first 6 oz draw of 190.degree.
F.+/-3.degree. F.; hot water volume of 42 oz; four 10 oz draw >=170.degree.
F.; 20 minute recovery from 75.degree. F.-190.degree. F.; dispense
rate not greater than 0.3 GPM, and not less than 0.25 GPM; temperature
adjustability on rear of unit; and non-drip faucet. In this preferred
embodiment, ambient water performance features included: ambient
temperature +/3.degree. F.; and ambient water volume of 100 oz.
While engineering/quality related performance obviously may vary
depending upon particular state codes, desired features, etc., in
a preferred embodiment the following performance criteria was provided:
3-year design life; meets FDA requirements for non-contamination;
met manufacturer taste and odor specifications; drip tray is dishwasher
safe; PCB enclosure made with a VO fire-rated material; cooler noise<65
db, at the front of the unit while on a standard countertop; NSF
component listing for filter, UL/CSA/CUL certification; and sufficient
It will be understood that dispensing units with alternative functions
may be designed according to the principles of the present invention.
For exanple, a filtering unit dispensing only ambient water may
be employed. Alternatively, filtering units dispensing hot/cold,
ambient/cold and ambient/hot temperature water may also be employed,
in addition to the unit described above dispensing ambient/cold/hot
water. Preferably, each unit is designed with a filtering function.
Touch switches for hot and cold water, and child-resistant safety
switches for hot water, are preferably employed.
The above description is not intended to limit the meaning of the
words used in the following claim that define the invention. Rather,
it is contemplated that future modifications in structure, function
or result will exist that are not substantial changes and that all
such insubstantial changes are intended to be covered by following