I have done posts in the past about the importance of the home inspector checking the water temperature at all points of use in the home.
While outside the Standards of Practice for many home inspectors, in Washington State, we have a sort of Left Handed approach to this issue (we are on the left hand side of the country after all). Our Standards of Practice merely state that we are to report: “whether or not the water temperature was tested and state that the generally accepted safe water temperature is one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit.”
Scalding is not a laughing matter, and as a Seattle Home Inspector I routinely find the water temperature above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whenever I start to whine about the water being too hot, I sometimes get a response like: “I like my water hot!” The truth is that human skin will not tolerate even 120 degree water without pain and discomfort. Prolonged contact with even 120 degree water will result in injury.
What I think people are really saying is that when they take a nice long shower, the water temperature cools off to a point where it does not feel hot enough. This is usually due to inadequate volume of hot water (water heater possibly too small—-or too slow of a recovery rate). It is more of a case of the water not being hot enough “any more.” All of this semantics is wasted on anyone that just wants to have a nice long shower however.
The solution to this problem is to crank up the water heater so there is more to dilute. Then there might be enough for one really long shower or even enough for two people to take showers one right after the other. Of course showering together might solve the problem too–assuming there is not too much fooling around.
The solution of “cranking-up-the-temperature-on-the-water-heater” is problematic in that we are then going to have hot water at above the recommended high limit of 120 degrees. However there is another good reason to have the water temperature of the water heater at 130 degrees besides creating more volume to dilute. At temperatures below 130 degrees we create an environment conducive to certain bacteria–including Legionella. The point of this post is not to go into all of these aspects of heating water. Just suffice it to say that your water heater should be set to about 130 degrees and then there should be a tempering valve installed to adjust the outgoing water to safe levels below 120 degrees. Pretty simple really.
Under no circumstances should you adjust your water heater to above 120 degrees if you do not have a tempering valve.
Now I want to get back to why inspectors should be checking the water temperature at all points of use.
First and foremost we should be doing it because the temperature at the start of the inspection will often be lower than at the end of the inspection when the water heater has kicked-on and has heated the water to its high limit. This is why the temperature at the last fixture we check should give us the best idea as to what the actual highest water temperature is.
I have found the water temperature at the kitchen sink to be 118 degrees F and by the time I got to the laundry sink in the basement it was 140 degrees F. I for one would not want to have stated in my Inspection Report that the water temperature was 118 degrees–or worse yet, said nothing at all. It is not within the scope of this post to go into all the reasons for these variations in temperatures. I have posted about that in the past.
Here is another reason why inspectors should be checking the water temperature at all locations.
The other day at an inspection the water at the kitchen sink tested at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. “Holy Crap Batman,” I said to myself, “–what the heck is the temperature going to be at the last fixture?” While it is a general rule that that Generals rule, in this case the temperature was not higher at the last fixture as one might expect. It turned out that the water temperature at the Master Bathroom shower was 97 degrees F. Now let me see–what is human body temperature again?
It is no wonder that the home owner was complaining about running out of hot water before he could finish his shower!
What was happening was that the bottom heating element was not functional—either the element was bad or the thermostat was bad, which caused the upper heating element to attempt to compensate. The upper heating element clearly was not up to the task as it could only heat the top few gallons to a very high temperature and then was quickly used up. Even showering together would not fix this problem.
It is time to call the plumber and have the water heater fixed.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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