Three story townhouses, and even townhouses that might be considered four stories, are popping out of the ground all over Seattle. They represent special problems for the Home Inspector: from roofs too high to get on, to having to undergo extensive Cardiac Training to make the many flights from bottom to top.
These structures are also difficult to get a decent picture to use for the cover of the report—-so you end up using a picture of the kitchen, the gas fireplace, or the Hydronic heating system—-or occasionally a nice view of Mt Rainer or Elliot bay.
I know inspectors that would, in fact, likely keel over and die if they had to inspect a four story townhouse. For me they are kind of fun in that respect. Most of the time I find myself having to wait for my buyers to catch up. I have been known to joke with my buyers about how they will be able to give up their gym memberships once they move in—-no more Golds—-no more Jenny Craig—-no more Stone Gardens. It is no accident that the vast majority of people buying these critters are under 30, with no kids, and are Olympic Athletes—-go figure.
One particular, recurring issue that I have been finding in these structures is low water pressure and flow at the 4th story fixtures. Water pressure (as indicated by PSI), will push water up hill at a rate of 2.31 feet per PSI. A more practical way to look at this is that if the water pressure at the outside faucet at the ground level is 43 psi—-by the time it gets to the 4th floor Master Bath shower head it will be approximately 21 psi lower, or around 22 psi. Typically, the “minimum” pressure we like to see in homes is around 40 psi.
There are some fancy water-saver shower heads that would be a trickle at 22 psi. One of the routine comments I get from buyers when they call me to book the inspection is (after I ask them if they have any concerns about the home): “there seems to be very little water at the Master Bathroom.” I tell them—-oh that is very common and jokingly tell them to just use the shower at the ground floor level.
Actually it is “usually” a very easy fix. Most townhouse complexes, or the individual units themselves, have “pressure-reducing” valves. The pressure is just set too low, and the plumber merely needs to adjust the valve to provide adequate pressures to the higher fixtures. In the picture at the left, the Pressure Reducing Valve is the brass colored doohickey above the yellow main water shut-off handle at the bottom of the picture. At the very top of the picture, the blue thingamabob is the Expansion Tank—a type of thermal expansion device required whenever there is a pressure reducing valve on the plumbing system.
Note: the pressure reducing valve should never be adjusted by someone that doesn’t know what the heck they are doing. Here is why. Any system with a pressure reducing valve is also very likely going to have an “expansion tank.” The pressure in the expansion tank has to be adjusted to the same as the desired house pressure—-prior to installation of the tank—-just a little complicated for the average homeowner.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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