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How long is too long to wait for water?
October 17, 2010 10:56 AM   Subscribe

[TenantsRightsFilter] I know that landlords and property management companies are required to provide hot water, but is there a time frame associated with this hot water?

This is in San Jose, California.

I just moved into a new apartment last week, and I really really like it. Except when I try to use hot water. I have hot water, however it takes a ridiculous amount of time for it to get warm. The kitchen sink takes somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes to get warm (since I don't have a dishwasher this is a particular nuisance), and the shower takes around 5 minutes. I haven't had the patience to wait for warm water in the bathroom sink, but I've noticed that if I just got out of the shower, I get hot water almost instantaneously in the sink (as long as the shower water was hot to begin with).

My question is thus: are landlords/property management companies expected to provide hot water that becomes hot in x minutes, or just provide hot water? I am wasting quite a bit of water (and more importantly, time) waiting for the water to become warm. To wash dishes I can boil water first, which would take less time than waiting for the water to get warm out of the tap, but it's 2010! I shouldn't have to do that.

I spoke with the manager of the apartment complex, and some of the other people that live there, and apparently this is just "the way it is". But I can't really live like this. I have signed a 1-year lease, and I need to know if this is an acceptable reason to be able to break my lease. I have a baby due in about 3 weeks, and having warm/hot water accessible at all times seems like something that would be necessary for a child.

For bonus points, if this is not enough of an issue for me to break my lease, what other options do I have for warm water? Could I put a tankless water heater under my sink(s)? Would I be required to pay for the additional electricity used? Any other thoughts, suggestions, or comments?

Thanks in advance,
s.
posted by sacrifix to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You don't say how large the apartment building/complex is, but is it possible that they just have one hot water heater that happens to be 300 yards of pipe away from you? If so, there may not be anything you (or they) can do about their bad construction designs. I don't think the law goes into the degree of detail required to provide a complaint about slow hot water.

If you have physical access to the water heater, ensure that the temperature is sufficiently high (probably all the way up). There will be a dial on the heater itself.

If you put a heater in the apartment itself then you'd have to cover the costs of running it.
posted by rhizome at 11:18 AM on October 17, 2010


If utilities aren't included in your lease, you would be paying extra for the electricity. If you utilities are included, I don't see why a tankless water heater would change anything. However, if your main concern is washing dishes, you might do better to look into an instahot tap. Easier to install (and take with you), and will give you just about enough water to bridge the gap while your other water heats up.

Honestly, I would be absolutely shocked if that were enough to get you out of a lease. That's pretty standard for places I've lived. If the hot water heater is inside your apartment, try turning up the heat on it. Hotter water will warm the pipes faster. Also, make sure to turn the water on full blast when you're wanting it to get hot.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:23 AM on October 17, 2010


"Could I put a tankless water heater under my sink(s)?"

You could. Most of the ones I've sen require a hard wire connection though.

Some bottled watter dispensers have built in heaters. We use one but we don't buy water instead refill the big jug from the tub whenever it gets empty.
posted by Mitheral at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2010


I have to wait a little while for hot water (although not nearly as long as you do). My advice: turn on the water when you get into the bathroom, then brush your teeth and do whatever else you can do with cold water in the bathroom. It doesn't fix your problem, but it means less wasted time.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2010


I live in triplex, amongst other triplexes. There are 2 upstairs 1 bedroom apartments and 1 downstairs 3(?) bedroom apartment. From what I can tell from talking to other people, there is one water heater per building.

> Also, make sure to turn the water on full blast when you're wanting it to get hot.

One of the issues that I forgot to mention is that the water pressure for hot water is very, very low. Probably at least 1/4 of the pressure of the cold water.

> you might do better to look into an instahot tap.

That would probably be my option for the kitchen sink, but is there anything that I can do for the shower?
posted by sacrifix at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2010


You should definitely contact the landlord saying that it's unacceptable and something must be done about it. Something you could do in the meantime is leave the hot water running on a slow trickle all the time, so the hot water will always be available. This doesn't solve the problem of wasting water, but it does solve the problem of you having to wait for it.

You should also call the San Jose Department of Housing (408.535.3860) and determine what your specific rights are.
posted by phunniemee at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


> My advice: turn on the water when you get into the bathroom, then brush your teeth and do whatever else you can do with cold water in the bathroom.

Right, I do that now. And then go smoke a cigarette, make a bagel, tidy up the place, and then it's starting to get warm when I go back to the bathroom.
posted by sacrifix at 11:33 AM on October 17, 2010


> Something you could do in the meantime is leave the hot water running on a slow trickle all the time, so the hot water will always be available.

Wow that really offends my hippy sensibilities but I'm thinking that might be the thing to "fix" my issue.
posted by sacrifix at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2010


the water pressure for hot water is very, very low.

This sounds like the root of the problem. If the pressure is low, then it takes longer to empty the pipes of cold water AND the water that was warm has more time to cool on its way to the faucet. I'd look at the size of the pipe feeding the hot water heater, make sure the shutoff valve at the water heater is completely open, etc.
posted by jon1270 at 11:50 AM on October 17, 2010


One of the issues that I forgot to mention is that the water pressure for hot water is very, very low. Probably at least 1/4 of the pressure of the cold water.

Make sure all of the valves that feed your faucets are open all the way. If the flow is still low there may be a problem with the size of the pipes or the feeder valve for the water heater.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on October 17, 2010


I once had a (different) hot water problem in a rented apartment. The water heater broke and we were told it would take more than a week to get the necessary replacement part. This affected a multi-tenant unit (at least 12 apartments), including families with small children. I didn't have children and happened to work someplace where I could go in early and use a shower, but I was outraged that they claimed it would take more than a week to get the part they needed.

I sent daily snail mail letters to the apartment management, the Better Business Bureau, and our state's Consumer Protection Division. For the benefit of the apartment management, I clearly noted who had been "carbon copied". I definitely mentioned that it was unreasonable to leave families with small children without hot water for over a week.

Hot water ran again after 2 days. I don't know if my letters actually had any effect in expediting the repairs, but writing them sure felt better than doing nothing.
posted by ellenaim at 12:27 PM on October 17, 2010


If you end do up leaving the water on a trickle all the time, you could keep buckets underneath the tap(s) and use the water you've collected for cooking, dishes, feeding plants, and so forth.
posted by aniola at 1:58 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The low water pressure is actually probably a really good clue. If you can, ask the upstairs neighbors how their water pressure is. (Am I reading correctly that you're in the middle floor of a three floor place?) If their water pressure is really low or their hot water non-existent, the heater is probably on the ground floor and without the necessary power to move water to the upper levels. When you talk to the landlord, suggest that moving the hot water heater to the upper floor or middle floor would make the situation better for everyone, not just you. (Water flowing downhill and all that.) Do have someone investigate whether the valves are open all the way and whether the pipes are the right width. Very low water pressure like that is actually more likely to get you help in the tenants' rights department.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2010


um. i live here in the midwest, but it's my understanding that water is pretty expensive out in california. when you mention this to the landlord, make sure to mention how much water you're wasting every day to get hot water. whatever money they have to spend on getting the situation repaired will hopefully be offset by a reduction in the water bill.
posted by lester at 2:11 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I bought a bucket and use the water that's running while I'm waiting to hand wash my delicates in. It makes me feel a little bit better, at least.
posted by anaelith at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2010


Oh, and if you're really running THAT much water, you can also collect it in a big bucket and use it to flush the toilet.
posted by anaelith at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2010


> Am I reading correctly that you're in the middle floor of a three floor place?

Sorry, no, it's a 2 story building. 2 apartments (including mine) on the top floor, one on the ground floor.

> but it's my understanding that water is pretty expensive out in california. when you mention this to the landlord, make sure to mention how much water you're wasting every day to get hot water.

That's a good point. Thank you.

I'll test it out tonight and see if the trickle thing works. Hopefully it does.

Unfortunately I'm thinking that the situation will not get resolved to my satisfaction so I'll just have to switch around the order in which I do things. For example, get up, start the water, go make my lunch, then go take a shower instead of the other way around.

Thanks for all of your input.
posted by sacrifix at 2:19 PM on October 17, 2010


Perhaps you can also look into asking the landlord to install a hot-water circulation pump (google it). These include one pump that is installed on the hot water line (typically right where it emerges from the water heater). At the far end of the hot water line, there is a temperature sensitive valve that allows cold water in the hot-water line to pass into the cold water line. During operation, this is equivalent to open your hot-water tap, except you capture the "wasted" water by putting it back to the cold water line. Typically, the pump can also sense the pressure in the line, so when the valve shuts (because hot water has arrive at the far end), the pump will automatically shut off. This will solve both your hot-water delay and pressure problem (provide that the pump has enough capacity; and the pipe were sized correctly in the first place).

These pump are cheap (~$200), Costco sells them.
posted by curiousZ at 3:10 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


You have a good start for ideas. In the absence of a landlord solution or your own financial outlay, letting your shower slowly trip into buckets seems your best option to keep hot water available in the pipes. Still awfully wasteful no matter how much you try to save buckets.

Apart from the shower issue, I can add a *very* simple solution to the mix. I live in what we call a "dry cabin" in Alaska. Our water comes from a spigot in town, where we fill jugs, take them home and then stand on a chair to pour them into a 35-gallon cistern, which gravity feeds our only faucet. Our hot water comes from a kettle on the stove.

May sound ridiculous from your perspective, but I swear to you once you get used to having a hot kettle on hand, you won't give it a second thought. It becomes another routine. Obviously this does nothing for your shower problem, but for dishes, for face-washing and for infant bathing, just mix the kettle water with cold tap water and you'll manage. Perhaps not ideal for you, but it's an option. And if you have a countertop electric kettle, even faster. You'll develop a real habit of water conservation this way, too.

Good luck.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 4:07 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what your local rental housing codes are like, but here in Los Angeles the water from the tap must come out at minimum pressure.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:31 PM on October 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would find the hot water heater and take a look at it - make sure that the temp dial is turned all the way up.
posted by radioamy at 4:42 PM on October 17, 2010


- Call the San Jose Dept. Of Housing, research the requirements in your area, and put in a formal complaint. They should send out someone to inspect the pressure, etc. of your taps fairly quickly.

(normally I would recommend warning the landlord first and giving them a chance, but it sounds like they are aware and don't care. do what you think best here.)

- DO NOT TOUCH OR INSPECT THE HOT WATER HEATER. DO NOT NOT NOT ADJUST THE TEMPERATURE YOURSELF. Leave that for the housing inspector to do.

#1 This hot water heater is not your property. If it is not in your apartment, don't touch it!

#2 There are laws regarding the temp - you don't want to accidentally scald yourself or others.

#3 Do not tinker with the plumbing in your apartment, therefore... DO NOT install any kind of water equipment more complicated than a fancy shower head, especially without the express written consent of your landlord. Otherwise, you will be responsible for structural repairs if equipment is installed incorrectly (or it breaks) and you cause a flood. Who wants that expense, hassle, or liability? Not you!

#4 DO use the proper channels (housing authority complaint) to get immediate action.

BOTTOM LINE: There are a million things the landlord can do to improve the pressure, and therefore reliability, of your hot water. All of these things require a licensed plumber. It's actually not that difficult a problem to fix, so make the landlord handle it.

Additionally, most apartment buildings have hot water circulating continuously for an entire building... and the lag is still much much shorter than you report, with better pressure. The system in your 2 unit building is faulty and requires repair. That other folks "just put up with it" is ridiculous and unnecessary.

Keep records of your complaint and get a copy. Use that and any follow-ups by the Housing authority to negotiate your way out of the lease if it doesn't improve.

(If I were keen to keep on good terms with Landlord, I might research the situation w/ the housing dept. and politely point them out to the landlord prior to filing a formal complaint... but you know the landlord better than me...YMMV.)
posted by jbenben at 5:06 PM on October 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


We had a similar problem and it was the combination of a gravity feed hot water system many many years old AND a water-limiter device added to reduce water usage. Which didn't work if you had to wait forever for hot water in the middle of winter. Several irate phone calls later (and I was heavily pregnant so irate probably doesn't cover how it all looked and sounded) we had the whole system replaced.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:43 AM on October 18, 2010


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