by Robert P. Mader
Of Contractor's Staff
CHICAGO — Manufacturers of commercial shower valves agree that hotel shower temperatures can get out of control. An informal survey of hotel room water temperatures by Powers found scalding water in 91% of hotel rooms.
While some of them disputed the research conducted by Powers, all the manufacturers contacted by CONTRACTOR say that better maintenance of shower valves and hot water systems by hotel staffs will address the problem of scalding water. There is no consensus, however, on whether hotels should use thermostatic valves, pressure balanced valves or combination valves, although a majority said properly installed and maintained pressure balanced valves do the job.
"In our system we thermostatically control the water at the source," said Dominic Solis, director of marketing for Symmons. "A master mixer right at the water heater is the best way to control water in a building. The states and city codes have driven the valves that way, where they want master mixers. Then there are consistent temperatures throughout building, so there's no reason to have a thermostatic device downstream. It's redundant to have two thermostatic devices in line."
Dale Archer, national accounts manager for Hansgrohe, said that he recently checked into a hotel late in the evening and found the shower was so hot and so uncontrollable that he ended up taking a sponge bath in the sink. He complained to the maintenance-staff the next morning, only to return to find the problem wasn't fixed.
Some problems are caused by bad system design, such as mixing the hot water for kitchens and laundries with hot water for guest rooms or neglecting to install a master-mixing valve, he said. Archer, whose preference is thermostatic valves, said that setting limit stops in shower valves is the most important part of the installation. Every room should be checked and adjusted with a hand-held thermometer in the water stream while the limit stop is set, he said.
Michael Wandschneider, product manager of showering faucets for Kohler Co., noted that each type of shower valve has features that may be of more interest to a hotel than others.
" But what we are finding is that hotels that have a large number of rooms find it cost prohibitive to use a temperature-sensing valve or a T/P valve," Wandschneider said.
Thermostatic valves require the same amount of maintenance as a pressure balanced valve, he said. Wandschneider noted that most manufacturers have tried to make it as easy as possible for installers to calibrate their valves.
Manufacturers also have to make their valves easy to use for hotel guests, said John Cairo, vice president/ hospitality and commercial sales for Delta Faucet Co.
"We have both [thermostatic and pressure-balanced]; 99% of it is pressure balanced," Cairo said.
Delta is positioning its Brizo thermostatic valve as a premium line, he said.
None of the manufacturers think that scalding conditions in hotel rooms will lead to code changes.
"You might see a manufacturer that has exclusively thermostatic valves or T/P valves who would say they are the only way to have safe option, but that's not the case," Wandschneider said. "A straight pressure-balanced valve is a safe option, and that's what the code is there to assure."
Solis suggested a two-part solution. The thermostatic mixing valve in the boiler room has to be installed and set properly and then maintained. Hotel staff has to check it periodically to make sure the mixed water temperature setting hasn't been changed.
"The most important part is the handle limit device," he said. "In every device, whether it's pressure-balanced or a temperature-sensing device or a combination of both, every single one has a handle limit device. If you don't set the handle limit device in a thermostatic valve it could still give you 130°F."
Hotel staffs make two errors, he said. One is that they assume that when they get a new building that everybody has set all devices properly. And the second is changing the mixed water temperature when they get a complaint instead of going to the room and checking the shower valve calibration and limit stops.
" It's just vigilance," Solis said. "That's all it is."