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Improving or Adjusting Water Pressure Q&A

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Dear NH,

I have a 20-25 year old house. My problem is that in my master bathroom there is very little water pressure. In the hall bath though I have excessive water pressure, and in the kitchen the water pressure is normal. I have copper plumbing throughout the house. I am stumped???

SH from Tempe, AZ

SH,

Pressure variations in different parts of a home can almost always be found within the fixtures themselves. Sometimes, a generalized pressure problem can be traced to nothing more complicated than a well-overdue whole-house water filter replacement!  However, the variations throughout your home probably can't be attributed to a single, localized problem.

Newer fixtures have various flow restriction devices mandated by the Feds to reduce water use. If you purchase a new showerhead, for example, and are used to an old one, you will be amazed by the loss of water volume these newer fixtures produce. Some have removable flow restrictors, some incorporate permanent restriction. Permanent flow restrictors can sometimes be enlarged by deft drilling of the restrictor. This should be done with much caution to prevent damage to the fixture.

We can't rule out what I fondly call "Amazing Plumbing!"… amateurish pipe installation that features varying pipe sizes to use up whatever the plumber or homeowner had laying around in the basement, over -soldered joints which affect water flow, etc. So a thorough examination of your system may reveal the mystery bottleneck! And don't forget to check the shutoffs… the "last guy" may have intentionally or unintentionally closed a shutoff and not fully reopened it!

If the problem is with a shower or tub faucet, you may have a problem with the anti-scald valve. This is a feature of modern faucets that prevents a blast of hot water in the shower when some thoughtless (or sadistic) person flushes the toilet down the hall! It is basically a spring-activated valve that senses a drop in cold water pressure and immediately reduces the hot water pressure. These valves can become defective with age and with exposure to chemicals in the water causing a reduction in water flow to the fixture. Some faucets have the anti-scald features integrated into the valve cartridge while others have a separate anti-scald valve. In either case replacement of the defective part is the repair of choice.

With sink faucets, the two most common causes of low pressure are 1) one or both of the shutoffs are partially closed or 2) the aerator screen has become blocked with dirt particles. Sometimes the aerator screen can be cleaned, though replacing it is usually the better choice. It the aerator is old and has not been disturbed for years, chances are you will damage it during removal. In either case, replacement of the aerator with a new one is an inexpensive and complete repair.


Dear NH,

My wife and I have noticed that the water pressure in our house is sometimes very poor. Is this something we should be concerned about? Or is it just due to too many people in our neighborhood taking showers/using water at the same time?

RI in Pasadena, CA

RI,

It is unlikely that your neighbors' water use would affect your water flow. The size of the pipes used for municipal water supplies is large enough to keep the flow even to all homes, even if everyone turned their taps on at once. I would contact the company that manages your public water supply to see what experience they have with this problem.

Generally speaking, a draw on your water system in one part of your home will affect the pressure elsewhere, depending of course on the size of your home's pipes, the starting pressure and the volume of water flow. A garden hose, for example, will have a more dramatic effect than a toilet, since the volume of moving water is greater. Also, there are "automatic" systems that might cause temporary draws you might not be aware of at the time the pressure drops, such as self-cleaning water softening systems, sprinkler systems or automatic refilling of a heating system.

If you happen to be on a well system, variations of water pressure are normal. Some folks who are accustomed to the constant pressure of "city water" are astounded at the difference! Showers have to be carefully planned around toilet flushes, dishwashing and, of course, the laundry. Or else there may be lots of screaming!

Residential well systems operate within a range of pressures. Keeping the pressure absolutely constant would require the pump to cycle on every time you drew water, increasing the wear on the pump dramatically. This would also cause you to experience a "pulsing" in the water as each cycle of the pump moves water.

Popular Mechanics has good information on how a well pump works at this URL:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/improvement/electrical-plumbing/1275136?click=main_sr

You should also investigate whether your home has an automatic pressure adjusting system. Some municipal water supplies have such high pressure that residents install pressure-reducing equipment. A malfunction with this system could possibly cause unwanted pressure variations.

Of course, there could be other hidden factors I have missed. In which case you might want to have a plumber inspect your system for other pressure "bottlenecks".

NH

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Jerry Alonzy, the founder of Naturalhandyman.com

Written by Jerry Alonzy

Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.

As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+ and Facebook.