by Mark E. Schrull
In thirty years of work in the water department, one of the most frequent complaints I would receive from residential customers was, “Why is my water pressure so low?”
The answer to this question can be a complicated one. It is safe to say most home owners are not plumbers just as most are not auto mechanics or pilots. When it comes to plumbing they know little or nothing except when they turn a faucet on, water comes out.
Calling in a plumber can get expensive. Most get a fee for the service call after which they are paid by the hour. Some citizens had even reported paying huge sums of money to a reportedly reputable plumber, only to find they were still not satisfied with their pressure long after the plumber’s truck was gone. Don’t let this happen to you.
Before calling in a professional, there are many steps you can take yourself to reduce the time a plumber will be at your home, thereby reducing your cost. If you’re lucky, you can improve your water pressure without calling a plumber.
SIMPLE THINGS TO CHECK AND DO
The first question you should ask yourself: “Is my low pressure in one area of the house, or is it in the whole house?” If the problem isn’t in the whole house you’re in pretty good shape. Is the problem only in your shower? It may very well be your shower head is clogged. Shower heads can be changed and even cleaned. Speak to your local hardware store about the problem. Most people can change a shower head easily or even clean it.
Is the problem only in a certain sink? Check in the area underneath the sink and see if there are individual valves on the water lines heading up to the faucet. If there are, make sure they are open all the way. Perhaps someone didn’t open them all the way when they changed the washers the last time. Sink faucets also have strainers or aerators at the tip of the spigot or the spout, which may be clogged. Your hardware store can help with that as well.
If the low pressure seems to be in the whole house, you should attempt to check and see whether the water pressure and flow is acceptable coming into the home. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT and I cannot emphasize this enough. There is no point in hiring a plumber to replace water lines throughout the house if the water pressure and flow coming into the home is low. You can spend a fortune replacing every line with copper, replacing every faucet, every shower, and I promise you, your water pressure will not improve significantly if you have low pressure coming in.
If you have a basement or utility room, and your fortunate enough to have a utility tub in that area, see what the COLD-water pressure is like when it is turned on. Utility tubs typically don’t have strainers or aerators, and they are usually close to the main water line, which runs into the home. If the pressure is good there, you now know the pressure coming into the house is good, and the problem is inside the home.
If the pressure is low at the utility tub you should check your main water valve. It is usually located near the water meter if you have a meter inside your home. If your water meter is in the tree lawn, there still should be a main water valve on the main water line coming into your home. Every homeowner should know where the main water shut off valve is located in case of an emergency. If you don’t know where is it, have a relative or friend help you find it. Once located, make sure the valve is open all the way.
Just because the water department turned on the water to the home at the tree lawn turn stop when you moved in, it doesn’t mean they checked the valve on the inside of the home. Most water service workers have very busy schedules and have to make many stops in one day. Usually they will turn on the turn stop and read the meter and as long as the water is on, they are off to the next place they need to go. I have seen many low-pressure complaints corrected by simply opening the main water valve in the basement all the way.
After you have checked all these things, and you have discovered the pressure and flow coming into the house is low, before you call in the professional plumber, give the water department a call. Ask to talk to the Water Distribution Department. If they don’t have a department by that particular name, ask to talk to the department in charge of water service connections. Your object here is to speak with someone who can send a service person from the water department to your home to do two things. One, check to make sure the water stop valve is on all the way, and secondly, check your water meter to make sure it is not clogged in any way and the water is flowing through it freely.
Most water departments will do this for free once, as long as you are the homeowner and willing to wait for an appointment. You will definitely have to be home for this.
Hopefully the pressure problem in your home can be solved by a meter replacement or making sure the stop valve is on all the way. If so, great! I am happy for you.
If, on the other hand, if you have tried and checked all these things and your water pressure has not improved, there is one more thing you should check into before calling in a plumber.
THE BASICS OF WATER SERVICE LINES
At this point you should have determined you have low pressure coming into your home and replacing pipes inside the home is not going to make a difference. You must go to the source, the water main.
Has the water tap on the water main ever been replaced? (The water tap is the direct connection to the public water main on city property.) Most city or county water departments keep records of such work. Call or visit the department in your town and check these records.
In most cities, only the water department can make a replacement tap on the public city water main. The Water Engineering Department or the City Engineer’s Office should have these public records. The Building Department may even have records, which indicate whether your portion of your water line has been replaced. (The portion of your water line, which is on the homeowner’s private property and the homeowner’s responsibility.) Perhaps a previous homeowner has already replaced the homeowner’s portion of the water service line in the past. If this is the case, there is no sense in paying a contractor to replace it again if it is still going to be fed by an old water tap made in the early nineteen hundreds. It would be like feeding a six-inch fire hose with a half-inch garden hose.
Even if your private section of your water service line has never been replaced, there is no point in hiring a plumber to replace your water line from the city turn stop to your home, if this new water line is going to be fed by an old water tap.
Perhaps the water authority replaced the city water main some years back. If that’s the case you already have a relatively new water tap on the water main feeding your service line and all you need is a new line from the turn stop to your home.
This detective work may cost you some time, but it will surely save you money and aggravation. You now have the knowledge to hire a plumbing contractor with confidence. You’ll be able to explain to the plumber your situation and will be able to discuss your options with him or her in an intelligent manner.
Perhaps you have determined you need both a replacement tap and a new water service line. Most water departments will work with you and the plumber so both jobs can be completed in a timely manner.
BEFORE YOU CHOOSE AND HIRE A PLUMBER
Lastly, it is important to follow a few common sense rules before hiring any contractor.
Most cities and counties have a list of licensed, bonded plumbing contractors you can choose from. They will not however, in most cases, recommend a name off the list. It is up for you to decide which to hire.
Call several. At least three! Have each come and give you their estimate at a different time. Do not show them the cost estimates of the others. You will be able to compare prices, materials used, when the job will begin, how long the job will take, and check their status with the Better Business Bureau. http://www.bbb.org/us/
Questions to keep in mind about your water line project are:
What materials will be used? Copper, Plastic, and what size. (A water service line for a single family home should be at least ¾”.)
Does the price include landscaping? (Will the trench be graded, covered with topsoil, and re-seeded after the ground settles and the job is complete.)
Guarantee. What kind of guarantee is there for the completed work? Are any leaks covered? (Leaks at the connection points are especially important.)
Is the contractor insured against accidents? (The contractor should have insurance in case he hits a gas line, or causes some other damage.)
How long will the job take? When can you expect the work to begin? When can you expect the work to be completed?
Also keep in mind; depending on many factors, you may be out of water while the work is performed. Reserve water the day before for drinking, making coffee, or any other purpose.
And lastly, should some unexpected problem arise, what contingency plan does the contractor have to connect you with water temporally if the job should take more then one day.
These questions, and anything else you can think of are important and no respectable plumbing contractor should mind answer them for you.
In conclusion remember this, the water system throughout your home is similar to a tree. It all starts at the trunk of the tree, the water main. It then flows into the water service tap line feeding your home, the main branch of the tree. It passes through a turn stop or curb stop and becomes your responsibility or problem. Once inside your home the main branch breaks off into many smaller branches. One branch goes to the hot water tank and then branches into smaller lines feeding all the hot water connections throughout your home. The other branch breaks off into smaller branches and feeds all the cold-water connections in your home. If you have low water pressure coming into your home, address that problem first, then attack the smaller branches at your leisure or as your time and budget allow.
(Originally published by the Yahoo Contributor Network 2/12/2012)
Copyright Mark E. Schrull 2012 – 2014 All rights reserved.