High Water Pressure

Smith1 (18)When I first bought my current home, the water came out of the shower head like a fire hose tackling a four alarm torch job. It was a mite high.

This was okay with most of the family as they were female and had long hair. For those that have not raised daughters, a moment of education. Long hair requires lots of water to get all the shampoo out, preferably at decent pressure so that the hair rinses clean all the way to the roots.

It was also something I was aware of as I tested it as part of my inspection prior to purchasing the house. I do this for most houses I inspect, provided that the water is on, and I can test without making an enormous mess inside. Usually, I use a hose bib on the exterior of the home. As you might imagine, this is not one of my favorite tests in the middle of winter.

Unfortunately, no matter how popular the fire hose effect is for my kids, it’s not good for the plumbing system. The plumbing is actually a highly engineered system, as are all the fitting, fixtures, and appliances attached to the supply plumbing.

To give you an idea of the potential for trouble, think about your plumbing lines and connections as balloons. What happens to the balloon if you put too much air into it? Yep, it pops. The plumbing does as well, though probably (but not certainly) as catastrophically.

You have hundreds of fittings within the home –not just on the pipes, but on the appliances such as the water heater, the dishwasher, and the clothes washer. You also have a multitude of O-rings, valve fittings, and the like on your faucets, their valves, and the shower heads.

That’s a lot of spots with the potential to leak.

High water pressure also causes early degradation of the appliances. Dish and clothes washers are designed to operate at specific pressures, usually 15 to 80 PSI. Increasing these also increases the wear and tear on the equipment, shortening their service lives.

So how do you know if your water pressure is too high?

Well, a pressure washer effect in the shower is a good clue but testing is the easiest way to know exactly what the static pressure is. You can buy a standard water pressure gauge for about $10 at your local hardware store, or even online from Amazon. Simply screw it onto a hose bib outside and read the pressure. You can also test indoors at the washer hose connection but have a small bucket or pan ready to catch the drips.

A word of warning – we do have some municipalities in our region that have separate water supplies for the indoor and irrigation water systems. Make sure that you are testing the potable water supply. The washer supply will be part of the potable system.

What to do if you have high water pressure.

Ideally, you would like to see the water pressure between 40 and 80 PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) when you test it. This is considered the normal range though if I tested once, during the middle of the day and hit 82 PSI, I would be inclined to re-test, especially during the peak usage hours to see what kind of pressure drop occurs when everyone is home and using water for showers, cooking, and doing dishes.

If you measure it and you do have high water pressure, correction of the problem is as simple as installing a Pressure Reducing Valve near the main valve where the primary water supply enters the building.

Now, I did say “as simple as . . . .” That doesn’t mean that I recommend that you do it. I recommend that this work be done by a licensed plumber, especially in older homes that may have supply lines that are degrading. It is not an expensive repair and I feel it is worth having a person with the training and proper tools tackle a job that, done incorrectly, would have a geyser spraying across the house.