Under Pressure (Or Lack Thereof) in Boston
Improper water pressure is a common plumbing problem. If you have such a problem, the first step toward diagnosing and remedying it is measuring your static water pressure.
This is easy enough to do with a water pressure measuring gauge, which most Boston hardware and home improvement stores carry. This simple device consists or a measuring gauge and a standard hookup like those on a garden hose that you can screw onto an exterior hose bib or your washing machine’s cold or hot water bib. To check your house’s static water pressure level, just screw on the measuring gauge, open the faucet, and the gauge will show how much pressure you have on whichever floor the faucet you are using for the check is located (the water pressure on your Boston home’s second floor is typically 8 psi lower than on the first floor).
So, what is the proper water pressure level? For residential plumbing, it’s best to be within a range of from 50 to 70 psi. Plumbing fixtures for home use are designed to withstand a maximum pressure of 80 psi, so at 80 psi and above, you risk damaging your fixtures. On the other hand, if the pressure is much below 50 psi, you may experience annoying problems of insufficient water flow.
In the case that your water pressure is too high, you’ll need to adjust your PRV (pressure reducing valve) which should be located near your house’s main water shut-off. If you don’t already have one, then you’ll need to get one installed. The PRV is easy to adjust and will maintain the house’s water pressure at a precise level.
In the case that your water pressure is too low, you should first contact your Boston water supplier and find out if that level is normal for your neighborhood. If it is, then the only possible fix is to invest in a water pressure booster pump. These are available in a variety of designs and at a variety of prices, but it is definitely advisable to have one of these booster pumps installed by a professional Boston plumber; this is not a D.I.Y. project.
If the pressure is lower than it should be, there may be a problem with the exterior pipes, such as a leak, blockage or crimp. Who is responsible for fixing the problem depends on exactly where it is. Boston homeowners are responsible for maintaining the plumbing from the point at which it enters their property. The pipes outside your property line are the responsibility of your Boston municipality.
There is also a chance that your problem is not one of water pressure per se, but rather one of water flow. If your check shows sufficient static water pressure, but you feel that you’re getting insufficient water coming out of one or more of your plumbing fixtures, there is most likely some problem affecting the water flow in your Boston home’s internal plumbing.
The problem could be as simple as a dirty faucet aerator or shower head. To clean them, just unscrew the offending aerator or shower head and soak it in a solution of 50% water and 50% white vinegar overnight. If you can’t unscrew it, you can put the water-white vinegar solution in a plastic bag and then attach the bag around the fixture with a rubber band.
If you have poor water flow from all of your fixtures, you’re probably facing a much more expensive repair job. A likely cause is corroded galvanized steel pipes. Boston homes are no longer plumbed with galvanized steel pipes because they only last about 40 years. As they are corroded by the very water running through them, rust deposits build up on the inside, decreasing the pipes’ diameter, which results in decreased water flow. The only way to fix the problem is to replace them with copper or PEX pipes.
The problem could also be one of poor workmanship or design. A crimp or inexpertly soldered joint in your plumbing can reduce water flow, as can a circuitous layout with excessive bends and overall length of pipe.
One way to improve your water flow is to increase the diameter of your pipes. This is a little counter intuitive, but larger diameter pipes help to maintain your house’s dynamic water pressure, which is the amount of water pressure at a given point in your plumbing system when one or more plumbing fixtures is in use. Pipe diameter doesn’t affect static water pressure, which is a measure of the amount of water pressure in the system when no fixtures are drawing water.
The larger diameter pipes you have, the more water there is present in the system before you start drawing water. Therefore, the impact on the overall system when a given fixture starts drawing water is reduced. The good news is that you don’t have to increase the diameter of all your pipes to benefit from this effect. If you increase pipe diameter at any point in the system, you are increasing the amount of water in the overall system and lessening the impact of individual fixtures on dynamic water flow. Of course, the larger the increase the bigger the benefit.
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