Cold Showers on Upper Floors of an Older Home
LESLIE: Now we’ve got Tammy in Philadelphia on the line who’s looking for a better shower. How can we help you today?
TAMMY: Hi. I was calling in because I wanted to find out – I have an old Victorian house and I have a three – it’s three stories. I have a bathroom on the third floor and a bathroom on the second. And when I – if someone is in the shower on the second floor and then someone takes a shower or runs the water upstairs, on the third floor, the shower goes cold. And I’ve been asking my contractors and my plumbers and I’m not getting a consistent answer. So, I’d like to remedy that, because I’m doing remodeling.
TOM: OK. So are you opening up walls as part of this remodeling?
TAMMY: Yes. Completely stripped down to the studs.
TOM: OK, great. So, first of all, the reasons you have reduced water pressure in older homes are generally because you have old steel pipes that suffer from internal rusting and they clog. They close down, kind of like a clogged artery, and then you can’t push enough water through it.
Now, that could be your main water pipe, it could be the supply pipes that are inside the house or a combination of them. And so, since you’re taking the walls apart, the general rule of thumb is that whenever you expose these old steel pipes, you want to replace them with copper pipes or with PEX, which is a different type – a newer type of plumbing pipe.
Now, the other thing is you may not have enough water pressure coming in from the street.
TAMMY: Well, the pressure is not that big of a deal, because I think that the pressure is kind of OK. It’s just that, basically, we have two bathrooms in the house and you can only use one at a time. Like the water completely goes ice cold if you’re in the shower and somebody comes in and uses the sink.
TOM: Well, that’s because the pipes may not be supplying that hot water. They may not be moving enough hot water.
What size water heater do you have?
TAMMY: Forty gallons.
TOM: Alright. Well, that’s a minimum size but it should be OK for two bathrooms.
TOM: And is it an older water heater?
TAMMY: No, I just replaced the water heater.
TOM: When you replaced it, did they change any of the plumbing around it? Is it still going through the steel pipes?
TAMMY: I don’t think that they changed the pipes around the – no, I don’t think so.
TOM: So, you need to talk with your plumbers about what kind of pipes you have, whether or not that’s contributing to the problem. And you need to know what the water pressure is at the street. Because if you’re not getting enough pressure, that could be the whole cause of it.
TAMMY: OK. Now, I Googled and I saw something online called a “pressure-balance valve.” Would that remedy the issue at all?
TOM: So, a pressure-balance valve is designed to be used primarily in a shower. And what it does is it keeps the mix between hot and cold balanced so that you don’t get scorching or freezing-cold water when the pressure drops. So if somebody was to, say, run hot water downstairs and now rob all that hot water from the upstairs shower, it would not change the balance of water from – the mix of water between hot and cold. So the flow would be less – you’d have less of a stream – but it wouldn’t be – the temperature wouldn’t change.
TAMMY: OK, OK.
TOM: Right. So, no, that’s not it. I don’t think that’s the cause. I mean that would certainly be a good thing to have and something you should consider. But I don’t think that’s the reason you’re not getting hot water on the second floor. I just don’t think you’re moving enough water up there.
TAMMY: OK. So, basically, what I need to do is tell them to check the piping around the water heater.
TOM: Yeah. And the plumber should know this. Not only around the water heater but basically, if you’re going to open up those walls, what kind of pipes do you have and are they corroded? And should they be replaced to help alleviate this, OK? And if all else fails, you could always add a second water heater upstairs. You can add a tankless water heater, which would be a really small unit. And it would supply additional water to that second-floor bathroom.
TAMMY: Oh, OK. OK, that’s interesting. OK. Well, I think that kind of remedies the problem.
TOM: Alright. Well, good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.