"We wait too long for hot water!"
Column #848 05/21/2011
On The Level
Q.We recently added a 1,000 square foot addition to our two story home. This addition was only to the first floor and was done to place the master bedroom on the first floor. When doing the addition we added space and redesigned the kitchen in addition to adding a master bedroom and large master bathroom. This was done to accommodate my disability of not being able to ascend stairs without pain. The addition was designed not only to accommodate my current disability but to make the home a place where both my husband and I can age without any barriers.
The only problem that still isn’t resolved is the hot water-- in the new kitchen and master bathroom areas-- is very slow. The shower is the most annoying because it takes at a minimum of four minutes for the hot water to get to the shower. Not only is this annoying but it is a waste of water. We have plenty of hot water with an 80 gallon hot water tank which is more than adequate for 2 people. The hot water arrives to the two second story bathrooms in a timely manner. Can anything be done so hot water arrives in the bathroom, especially the shower, faster?
A. The first thing I want to warn you about is the now unused plumbing on the second floor. You need to have someone go upstairs about once a week and flush the toilets and run a bit of water in the sinks, tubs and showers to keep the waste line traps wet. I’ve walked into homes where some baths that don’t get used have dried out traps and I can smell them at the front door. The dried traps turn the drains into vents and sewer gasses can vent into the house. Unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Sewer gas is methane.
An 80 gallon water heater for two people doesn’t waste water but uses electricity you don’t need to use keeping such a quantity hot 24/7. It sounds to me like your water heater was sized for a house full of teenagers who take half hour showers. For you two a water heater half that size would probably suffice.
The sinks are easier to remedy the hot water wait. There are a couple of systems that you could employ. One is a system that uses a small pump located under the sink that when you call for hot water it quickly pushes the cool water in the unused hot water line quickly back into the water heater to be resupplied with heated water from the tank. This system requires wiring an outlet to the cabinet under the sink. You’ll need both an electrician and a plumber to get this done as well as any other plan we can come up with.
Another solution would be to stick a small point of use water heater under the sink. Pipe the hot water line from the water heater to the cold water inlet of the little heater. By the time you have exhausted the little heater’s hot water supply, hot water will have arrived from the main water heater. Knowing that a gallon of water is 231 cubic inches you could do the math computing the length of the pipe times its diameter to get the volume of cold water that you’ll need to replace but my rough guess is that a 2.5 gallon heater will probably do. The water temperature probably will not be even, starting off hot, then cooling some, then heating back up. But it will be usable.
The shower is the bigger problem. If your addition has a basement under it you are in luck but if not a similar plan as for the sink would do but you’d lose space close to the shower, like a linen closet, in which to stash the secondary water heater. If you have the space under the addition then I’d consider relocating the main water heater to under the shower’s location the solve the problem. It’ll take a bit of plumbing and rewiring but in the long run for you the cost would be worth it. What you have discovered is when houses and additions are planned the planners and installers tend not to consider things such as where water heaters are located for the end users convenience. People tend to accommodate such built-in inconveniences by adjusting their habits. I lived in a house where the water heater was easily 35 feet from the shower head. I’d turn the hot water on then go do something else for a few minutes. A waste and an irritant so I commend you for taking a proactive approach.
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