How complicated can it be to take a temperature reading?
In the State of Washington, when a Licensed Home Inspector tests the temperature of the water, they are required to report when the water temperature is above 120 degrees and then advise the client that the recommended high temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
What I have found, over and over again, is that if I take the temperature reading at the kitchen–where I start my inspections–it might read 118 degrees F and lead me to think that the temperature is OK. Because most kitchens have mixing valves, I know that sometimes the temperature might actually be a little higher than that–so I know I am going to check it somewhere else too.
After the kitchen, the next part of the inspection usually moves to the highest level of the home. The idea is that you want to test all the plumbing from highest to lowest so that by the time you get to the crawl space it will be flooded by all the leaking so that you might not even have to do the crawl space. Not really–but you get the idea.
Lots of bathrooms–at either the tub or the vanity–may have faucets that are not mixing valves so that it is easier to get an accurate temperature reading. That said–lots of newer tub and shower fixtures have mixing valves with anti-scald features which again prevents accurate temperature readings. Regardless, I usually check the temperature at this bathroom and usually it agrees with the reading (or very close to it) that I got at the kitchen. In Washington State, limiting water temperature to less than 120 degrees F has been required at tubs/showers since 2003, so it is a good idea to check the tub and shower hot water temperatures of these newer homes.
By the time I have gone all through the other levels of the home and finally get to the basement, I often find the laundry sink which almost always has separate faucets, I know I can get a good temperature reading there. I take the temperature and all of a sudden it is 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
You scratch your head and say, “How can this be?”
The answer is that time has gone by–perhaps an hour or two or three.
When you get to the inspection, the water heater has been sitting idle and cooling off. Because there has been no demand for hot water it has cooled all the way down to its low point–the temperature at which the thermostat would normally kick in and start heating the water. However, these simple thermostats need a pronounced change in temperature for them to kick-in. The temperature of the water might go even below the normal kick-in temperature. During the normal every day operation of these thermostats, the temperature differential is likely between 5 and 10 degrees but can vary up to 25 degrees–the difference between whether a baby gets scalded or not.
And it is not just a concern for babies. As our population is aging, the elderly and infirm are also vulnerable to scalding.
These swings in temperatures are especially true of vacant homes.
The moral of this story is that it is best protocol to take the water temperature later in the inspection than it is to take it right at the beginning of the inspection–for the most accurate indication of what the temperature actually is.
While taking an accurate temperature reading in the context of a home inspection, proper adjustment of the temperature can be even more difficult–but that may be the topic of another post.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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