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Old 12-22-2016, 03:52 PM   #1
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whole house low water pressure/flow


Hi,

Happy holidays! I'm looking for a creative answer here, I hope someone can help me. I've had a licensed plumber over, but he did his usual steps in such a situation, suggested I re-pipe the whole house and left

We bought this 1985 house 2 years ago. The water flow drops as fixtures are opened. This affects the whole house and on all 3 levels. You could be taking a shower, and someone opens a faucet or flushes a toilet, the flow drops. Open a 2nd faucet, and you may not have enough shower water to rinse the soap off. Things are especially bad when the washing machine or dishwasher are running (filling). I've stood in the shower a few times covered in soap waiting for water. I don't think this is normal.

Now, for some info:

1. As I said, the house is 1985 built by the builder for himself. It was not a DIY job
2. We're on city water
3. Plumbing is all copper pipes-- at least that's what I can see from the city line in the basement going up the walls. I think it's safe to assume they're all copper behind the sheetrock.
4. Pipes coming in and going up are all 3/4". I can't see behind the sheetrock, but being that this is a 1985 home and not a cheap one, I'd assume the fixtures are fed 1/2" pipe off the 3/4" runs as they should be to code. My previous house I plumbed the basement and had 4 fixtures on 1/2" pipe off a 3/4" pipe and when all faucets were open-- flow was great!
5. There's no Pressure Regulator. At least I don't see it at the meter or on any of the exposed pipes in the basement.
6. No filtration system in the house-- only a water softener right after the water comes in to the house and a water heater after that.
7. faucet aerators were cleaned. Issue still happens.
8. Both cold/hot water are affected.
9. All valves seem to be fully open.
10. I don't think any street work that dealt with utilities has been done while we've been here.
11. no visible leaks anywhere in or out of the house.

When the plumber came out, he measured pressure right after the water meter. I think it was 80. He measured it off the drain on the water heater, I think it was still 80. Same at the washing machine input line on the 2nd floor. 80. But I think once 2 faucet were opened, pressure dropped to like 40. I think even 30 or lower when the 3rd faucet was open.

My Thoughts:
Here's my logic. I don't think the house has galvanized pipes being it's an 1985. I don't think any DIY work on plumbing or anything else was done. Neighbors said the house may have sat for some time as the previous owners lived out of town in the winter and I think got divorced.

I think the problem is caused by something central which affects both hot and cold lines. Maybe the water softener. Though putting it in bypass mode doesn't help, perhaps the bypass isn't properly working? Can a water heater affect cold water?

Also, aerators had some sediment. Perhaps the copper pipes have sediment blockage or some other blockage such as lime or whatever.

Is there a way to clean the whole house pipes in a safe way? I read about filling them up with like 1:2 vinegar mix and letting sit for 3 hours. Does that work or a waste of time?

I read about backwashing the hot water in to the cold side and vice versa-- can that unclog anything possibly affecting the supply pipes?

Can you suggest any creative tests to do and things to check to at least point me in the direction of resolving this?

Thank you in advance!!
Julian
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Old 12-22-2016, 04:10 PM   #2
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


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When the plumber came out, he measured pressure right after the water meter. I think it was 80.
Ayuh,... Did the pressure drop that badly, right at the meter,..??

If so, call the water district, 'n see what they can do,.....
Is there anything 'tween the meter, 'n the line in the street,..??
A curb stop,..?? is it fully open,..??
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Old 12-22-2016, 06:56 PM   #3
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


If the pressure check right after the meter wasn't taken with a valve or valves open that are open when you are experiencing low flow that static pressure test has no value.
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Old 12-22-2016, 06:58 PM   #4
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Bondo may be onto something. You could get the plumber back and try his pressure test but this time turn on some taps and see what happens (or you could buy a gauge and do it yourself). Your problem might not be pressure but volume - your system is able to supply an adequate static pressure but not enough volume to maintain it. I would suspect something may have gone wonky with the street supply, but I also suspect the municipality will blame the house so you might have to prove a negative before they do anything. Any chance you can get a gauge right at or really close to the meter?

I'm not aware of methods to clear your lines - copper is not known for crudding up. You should be able to tell if your softener is on bypass simply by the water. If it is not noticeably harder on bypass, perhaps you don't need one in the first place. I have a plumbed bypass on mine so never have occasion to use the system bypass.
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Old 12-22-2016, 10:45 PM   #5
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Here's my thoughts fwiw...

You have a volume problem, not a pressure problem. The two are related but not the same,as Bondo stated earlier.

As this problem affects the entire house, both hot and cold, I suspect that the issue is further upstream. My guess would be between the water main and the house main, but it could be a problem with the water main if it also affects a neighbor on either side or across the street from you.

You don't state what part of the country you are in, and that can affect how deep the water line may be buried, but I suspect you may have a crushed main somewhere between the street and the house.
This could be caused by many things (tree roots as they grow and mature, a heavy truck driving on the lawn like a moving truck, dump truck, construction equipment, etc).

The only way I know of to verify this is to start doing some flow tests, starting at the furthest point and working back to the street.
Call your local water works and ask them what their flow specs for delivery are (as a baseline) for residential delivery. This may vary depending on the size of the supply pipe going to your home.

Accurately fill a 5 gallon bucket with water to 5 full gallons. Mark the side of the bucket where the water line is.
Place the bucket under the first faucet, and time how long it takes to fill the bucket to the line. Use this formula to calculate the flow...
The formula for calculating the flow in GPM is: 300 divided by the seconds it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket = GPM.

Then do the same test as close to the main shut off as possible, even disconnecting the main for the test to be run directly.

If the test results differ greatly, or are grossly out of alignment with the baseline, your problem lies within the house.
If the results are very similar, but still grossly differ from the baseline from the city, your problem is between the house main and the street.





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Old 12-23-2016, 05:27 AM   #6
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


I'm agreeing with the above guys.

A 40 PSI drop when you turn on one faucet? THAT is a big drop.

Have you confirmed the main shut off at the street is fully open?

Otherwise, this is how I'd test it.

First hose bib....put a pressure gauge on it.
Then, at the back of the house, turn on a faucet...say tub?

If you have a restriction between the street and the first hose bib....pressure will drop.

If the pressure at the first hose bib holds good...the problem is inside.

Key point....you have to get the pressure gauge close to the point where water enters the house.
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Old 12-23-2016, 08:59 AM   #7
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


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Originally Posted by ddawg16 View Post
I'm agreeing with the above guys.

A 40 PSI drop when you turn on one faucet? THAT is a big drop.

Have you confirmed the main shut off at the street is fully open?

Otherwise, this is how I'd test it.

First hose bib....put a pressure gauge on it.
Then, at the back of the house, turn on a faucet...say tub?

If you have a restriction between the street and the first hose bib....pressure will drop.

If the pressure at the first hose bib holds good...the problem is inside.

Key point....you have to get the pressure gauge close to the point where water enters the house.
This isn't a pressure problem. This is a volume (flow) problem,indicated by the severe drop in pressure when the fixture is flowing.


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Old 12-23-2016, 02:42 PM   #8
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Wow everyone! Thank you for the advice! Though I subscribed to the thread, I didn't get any email notifications of so many replies for some reason.

To answer some questions:

1. I'm in MN where it's winter now.

2. The house water shutoff at the curb is currently covered with snow, so I don't think I can check that for the next 6 months

3. I do have an opening on the pipe right after the meter where I can put a gauge on and I do have a gauge as well. I'll re-run the tests hopefully while I'm on vacation next week.

4. I sent a request for the city to come out and check their stuff. We'll see what happens with that

5. I will do the 5 gallon bucket test Al_Amantea suggested. One question is, how can I tell the farthest distance from my main as I don't know which way the plumber plumbed the pipes in the house?

6. I don't have a neighbor across the street from me. There is one behind me.

Thanks again for all your help. I'll keep checking back as the email notifications don't seem to work at this time.

Julian
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Old 12-23-2016, 02:46 PM   #9
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


One more thing to add. A few months ago, I tried to clean out the aerators on some faucets and found a lot of them had small rocks/coarse sand.

I've read about the technique about back washing the pipes by restricting output flow on one faucet and having another supply line at a different faucet drain in to the sink. However, I've only seen instructions to run the cold water through the hot water lines. Anyone know how to reverse it?
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Old 12-23-2016, 03:14 PM   #10
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Quote:
Originally Posted by juels98 View Post
One more thing to add. A few months ago, I tried to clean out the aerators on some faucets and found a lot of them had small rocks/coarse sand.

I've read about the technique about back washing the pipes by restricting output flow on one faucet and having another supply line at a different faucet drain in to the sink. However, I've only seen instructions to run the cold water through the hot water lines. Anyone know how to reverse it?
Small rocks and coarse sand gives us some indication the municipal water line had some maintenance done and being those people are on a time / budget schedule they usually aren't careful what the end used has to deal with.

If small rocks and sand are causing the problem your hot water lines from the heater and beyond shouldn't have a problem. The common vertical standing hot water heater will act as a sediment trap collecting any debris with a specific gravity greater than water. Example: The filter screens usually associated with the laundry unit will have sand in the cold water filter screen but not the hot water filter as it dropped out in the hot water tank.

Hopefully some else will know about back washing pipes. I suspect it isn't rocket science but not knowing the pipe configuration back washing would be nearly impossible in my opinion.

Dynamic pressure testing working backward to the meter looks to be the most promising to me at the moment.
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Old 12-23-2016, 04:27 PM   #11
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Quote:
8. Both cold/hot water are affected.
3. I do have an opening on the pipe right after the meter where I can put a gauge on and I do have a gauge as well. I'll re-run the tests hopefully while I'm on vacation next week.
Ayuh,.... I'm gonna Guess the issue is 'tween wherever yer water comes from, 'n the water heater,....

IF ya still have 80 psi at the meter with a faucet open, move yer gauge to after the softener,....
If the pressure drops when ya open a faucet, the softener is the problem,...
Repeat after each appliance or possible restriction til ya get to the water heater, but I'm bettin' it's up-stream of the water heater,....
If the pressure drops at the meter, the problem is up-stream from there,...
Quote:
2. The house water shutoff at the curb is currently covered with snow, so I don't think I can check that for the next 6 months
That's what shovels, 'n backhoes are for,....
The water district will have 'em, if it's their problem,...

I truly doubt back-flushin' yer plumbin' is gonna do anything for ya,....
Ya gotta go Up-stream til the pressure don't drop when ya open a spigot,...
At that point, ya just got ahead of the underlyin' problem,....
It's down-stream from there,....
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Old 12-23-2016, 05:01 PM   #12
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


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Originally Posted by Al_Amantea View Post
This isn't a pressure problem. This is a volume (flow) problem,indicated by the severe drop in pressure when the fixture is flowing.


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I never said it was a pressure problem. You use pressure to determine where the restriction is. A restriction (AKA reduced flow) has a pressure drop.

Between the street and the shut off at the house, there should only be a few PSI drop if you open up a faucet at the back of the house.
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Old 01-03-2017, 08:07 AM   #13
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


UPDATE:

Well, after a year of having this issue in the back of my mind and often dealing with it while standing in the shower with no water, the problem is finally solved. It did end up being a faulty water softener unit.

As I said in the beginning of the thread, diagnosing the issues started with a call to a plumbing company. I know the plumber did, in fact, bypass the water softener in front of me. However, being that that was a year ago, I don't remember for sure, but I think he just re-measured the water pressure which I don't believe changed after the softener was bypassed. I don't think he tried opening any faucets.

Anyway, I thought I start from scratch. Since my issue seemed to affect all fixtures, both hot and cold, on all levels of the house, I was sure the cause was something central. I shut off the water to the whole house, put the softener in to bypass mode, and turned the water back on. The biggest difference I found is my soaking tub on the 2nd floor. It has a faucet that previously, when turned on full, would run water straight down. After the softener was bypassed, when opening the handle, water started to shoot to the opposite side of the tub. Big difference! I can now flush the toilet and shower with no problem. In fact, the toilet fills up quicker.

Just wanted to thank all of you for your suggestions. I ended up putting in a new water softener. Took the old one apart to drain and didn't see any clogs-- must be something internal to the valve in it. But since I've made this fix, I've been extra happy for over a week now. It's like the house came back from the dead Besides, the water is now softer and it being winter here in MN, my hands are no longer cracking at the seems

Happy New Year!
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Old 01-03-2017, 08:56 AM   #14
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


Well how about that! Glad to hear that the problem is resolved. Also glad to hear it was a fairly easy fix.

One thing I would question is why is softener going to the hot water heater?
I was always taught that a softener will cause problems with a hot water heater, dishwasher, washer, etc., due to the sodium introduced to the heating elements.

Anyone else have thoughts or insights on this?
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Old 01-03-2017, 11:41 AM   #15
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Re: whole house low water pressure/flow


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Originally Posted by Al_Amantea View Post
Well how about that! Glad to hear that the problem is resolved. Also glad to hear it was a fairly easy fix.

One thing I would question is why is softener going to the hot water heater?
I was always taught that a softener will cause problems with a hot water heater, dishwasher, washer, etc., due to the sodium introduced to the heating elements.

Anyone else have thoughts or insights on this?
It does cause problems but some people still like the soft hot water so they do it this way.

Cheers!
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