Apartment building showers driving me insane!
December 9, 2007 9:49 AM   Subscribe

How do I circumvent the wildly variable water pressure and temperature in my apartment building?

I live in a small (approximately 12 units) apartment building. The water pressure is incredibly variable and, with the pressure, so is the water temperature. During high-volume usage times when people are taking showers, washing dishes, and doing laundry (morning and evening), the water cycles from FREEZING cold to scalding hot with concomitant changes in water pressure (ranging from a trickle to a decent full-force flow) throughout the shower. As a result, a lot of water is wasted while I wait for the water to go back to normal (or while I fiddle with the temperature for a temporary fix) -- not to mention the really unpleasant showers I end up taking. Sometimes I'm lucky and get an entire shower of regular pressure and temperature.

Short of coming home from work during the middle of the day to take a shower, is there ANYTHING I can do to provide a more consistent shower experience?
posted by proj to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're on the ground floor and could get approval, I wonder if something like a well-tank would work for you.

The idea is that you create a large volume buffer between you and the water supply. You could probably even use a water heater that isn't plugged in for this purpose, but you would need approval given the large volume of water.
posted by JMOZ at 10:18 AM on December 9, 2007

Have you told the property owner that the building's infrastructure isn't meeting modern water needs? Don't know what one does about pressure in multi-unit buildings (IANAP), but it's possible someone with a keen eye could find and remove unneeded right angles and whatnot in the pipes. Your too-cold hot water problem could be addressed by installing a small inline tankless water heater in the bathroom, if mgmt. are down for such things.
posted by mumkin at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2007

I'm with you on trying to fix this yourself, but I have to agree with mumkin that this is an issue that the owner/management company should be told about. It's their building. They provide the water. In your building's case, they aren't doing their job. Yes, it may take a savvy plumber, may take more than one try, but the building's plumbing CAN be fixed.

It would help if you could survey the other occupants in your building. Just ask a simple question and tally up the responses. Then give the results to management, showing that it isn't just you, it's the whole building.

I used to live in an old brick apartment building that had your problem. On the fourth floor, the water pressure sometimes went so low that it went negative -- it actually sucked air into the spout! I finally persuaded the cheapskate owner that it was a big problem that needed his attention. His plumber replaced old pipes, one at a time, and solved the problem. Pipes were filled up with lime deposits and restricting the water flow -- especially noticable as low pressure when demand is high.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:09 AM on December 9, 2007

You could get up waay early. Take a shower, then do dishes, then laundry if you need to that day, then perhaps some leisure activity. I suggest this only half facetiously. I find that I'm way more likely to get anything done during free time in the early morning than late at night.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2007

It seems like there are two options for eliminating the problem. Changing infrastructure or changing behavior.

You've already got some ideas about fixing the pipes, adding heaters etc... so I'll focus on ideas for changing behavior. The idea is to eliminate high-volume usage times. If there are only 12 apartments it might be possible to coordinate your activities such that folks aren't washing dishes or doing laundry at 7am so that people can take a shower and that showers don't happen right after dinner so people can do dishes. Then try to spread out the people who take day/night showers evenly. If you and your neighbors can begin to think of yourselves as a community you might be able to avoid the tragedy of the commons. Figure out what causes the peak behavior, recognize how you each contribute to the overall system and then change the behavior.

Awareness of the problem could go a long way if people see that they have the ability to contribute to a solution. Like cities that ask residents not to fuel up their car or mow their lawns before 6pm on particularly smog-filled days. No one likes to have behavioral change forced on them. But if everyone has a hand in formulating a schedule then it becomes more palatable. The alternative (short of a plumbing retrofit) is for folks to keep taking cold showers.
posted by Jeff Howard at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2007

I can't speak to how to fix the plumbing. However, as someone who is grumpy for hours if my sacred hotwatertime is made stressful, I say this: take baths. No need fill the whole tub and soak, just enough to sit in and stay warm and wash yourself in. I did this for a year in one apartment, and grew to rather like it.
posted by desuetude at 12:14 PM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for a bunch of good responses so far. Unfortunately, the landlord hasn't been too responsive to repair requests in the past -- the building is totally paid for so most of the rent is profit and I assume this disincentives the landlord to spend money on repairs. Right now I am waiting on another repair and I will speak with the landlord at some point about this.

As far as changing behaviors, I've tried bathing at 6, 6:30, and 7, as well as 7pm -- onward in the evening. Unfortunately, the majority of the building's occupants are 8-5 professionals who are home at the same time as me. I'm pretty much unwilling to get up earlier than 6, so I guess that option's out. The bath suggestion is a good one except for hair-washing. I am totally in agreement, however, that if my sacred hotwatertime is interrupted, it can cloud my morning.
posted by proj at 12:21 PM on December 9, 2007

One idea about infrastructure: the building management in my apartment artificially limits the heat of the water in our water heater because of concerns voiced by parents of small children about getting scalded. When I moved in the water was dangerously hot. Barely needed to use any to get a decent shower. Now it's a more reasonable temperature. The unintended consequence is that people use a greater proportion of the hot water for their showers and thus expend the supply more quickly. Lots of lukewarm showers at peak times. See if the management is willing to turn up the heat.

Another alternative, move to a different building with decent showers.
posted by Jeff Howard at 12:29 PM on December 9, 2007

The bath suggestion is a good one except for hair-washing.

You can wash your hair in the bath -- do your hair before washing the rest of you so that you're not rinsing your hair with soapy water. You may need a cup/bowl/small pitcher to pour water through your hair more easily. (Me, I'd just slide down in the tub and swish, if I'd run enough water to do so.)

Also seconding that they likely have turned down the temperature on the water heater, as Jeff Howard mentioned, as this is generally recommended by the manufacturers for both safety and fuel savings.

Unfortunately, the landlord hasn't been too responsive to repair requests in the past -- the building is totally paid for so most of the rent is profit and I assume this disincentives the landlord to spend money on repairs.

Bah...if they were better people, the fact that the rent is all profit would incline them toward repairs. But anyway, what does the landlord-tenant law in WA say about availability of water pressure and hot water? Do you have any legal leg to stand on? If so, deduct a certain amount from rent (put in escrow, again, see state laws) each time you can't get a decent 10-minute shower. Before you go to that step, though, what about organizing with the neighbors to complain?
posted by desuetude at 1:20 PM on December 9, 2007

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