Some mistakes are bigger than others

BY DAVE YATES IF I HAD A DOLLAR for every blunder I've made during my past 35 years in the plumbing trade, I could retire a wealthy man right now. However, my employers and I ( once I ventured out on my own) owned up to my errors and corrected them in order to protect our reputations and ensure good will with our customers. More than once, I heard the phrase: What were you thinking? On a recent consultation,

IF I HAD A DOLLAR for every blunder I've made during my past 35 years in the plumbing trade, I could retire a wealthy man — right now. However, my employers and I ( once I ventured out on my own) owned up to my errors and corrected them in order to protect our reputations and ensure good will with our customers. More than once, I heard the phrase: What were you thinking?

On a recent consultation, I was faced with an impressive array of Kohler high-flow "performance showering" faucets that had been installed in a cavernous, recessed-floor, ceramic-tiled bathing environment that measured 80 in. by 80 in. The shower "stall," if you could call it that, had a waste and overflow that would allow the entire area to be filled to a 20-in. depth!

According to the owners, a number of problems existed: No temperature control for bathing; the overflow would not retain water, rendering the recirculating shower-tower inoperable; poor flow from various showerheads, wands and body jets; and problems controlling the two tankless water heaters providing hot water to this atypical master bathroom. Their complaints were reinforced as they ran various combinations of the nonfunctional plumbing array.

Off to the basement! The 1-in. copper water service entered the home and immediately ran through a pressure-reducing valve, water meter and then switched to PVC.

Underneath the master bathroom area were two tankless water heaters — each a different size — set up in a parallel piping application without the benefit of flow regulation to balance their flow rates. Each tankless water heater was vented with galvanized piping without a back-draft damper, while the manufacturer's installation literature requires stainless steel flue piping and a damper to prevent freezing. Both had frozen once before and both had new heat exchangers, according to a letter the manufacturer had sent to the previous owners.

The T&P relief valves were installed on the cold inlet piping, rendering them virtually useless!

CPVC piping was utilized on the hot water distribution system, but a PVC check-valve had been installed to isolate the hot water flow to lavatory bowls to a single tankless unit — no doubt because having both supplying parallel flow would require 1.5 gpm instead of 0.75 gpm to trigger burner operation because the faucet aerators are 1-gpm rated.

A large well-water expansion tank was attached, indicating someone had attempted to correct pressure problems during use of the fixtures. A large filtration unit stood guard without any labels or literature to signal its intended use.

The array of distribution piping to shower faucets and outlets was concealed behind plywood panels covering the recessed box that protruded into the basement level. Water stains were quite evident along portions of the plywood panels.

Static pressure was 70 psi. Turning on a single shower, however, dropped the pressure to 45 psi.

Checking the Watts literature for the U5B pressure-reducing valve revealed that we should be seeing a 40-gpm flow rate, but timing a 2-gal. bucket revealed we had just 2.2 gpm. The PRV was previously adjusted for maximum delivery with its screw pinned all the way down. The inlet screen was not fouled with debris. The home was just three years old, but the PRV looked like it was many years older. Replacing it resulted in an immediate improvement of flow and our new static/use pressure drop matched Watts' flow rate chart exactly.

Both tankless water heaters had been retrofitted with digital controllers and programmed for 111 ° F to prevent scalding because no temperature adjustment could be achieved at any of the three Kohler pressure-balance high-flow faucets. Kohler is sending the homeowner new cartridges and indicated that it does not recommend "flash-style" water heaters be used in this application. We have suggested installation of Kohler's temperature-balancing high-flow faucets, which will detect any temperature changes and react to protect the bathers.

We removed the expansion tank because it didn't serve any function other than holding a large volume of stagnant water. The filtration unit turned out to be a chlorine filter, which isn't needed as the municipal water contains less than 2 ppm and it, too, can create a flow restriction. The PVC check valve can't be used in a hot water line because PVC is not rated for hot water service.

We've adjusted the overflow so we can get the 211 gal. needed to adequately cover the pump intake to prevent cavitation and loss of pumping. Seeing 80 gpm being forcefully ejected from a 10-jet shower tower is a remarkable sight to behold! The flow is forceful enough to traverse the 80-in. span across the shower stall where it directly hits the cover plate of the faucet on the opposite wall. As you'd expect, this results in quite a bit of water entering the wall cavity and flooding into the basement. The water exits through the plywood box where the previously noted stains appear.

What were they thinking?

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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