45 yr old condo - long time for water to get hot

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by Henry Ramsey, Sep 19, 2013.

  1. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Hi all. I was wondering what the options are to locate the reason for low hot water pressure in our hot water system of our condominium.

    I'm on the HOA board, and we have two buildings being served by a single 80(I think) gallon heater and a circulating pump. The water heater was installed new in May this year and is a Rheem. 7 units on one building and 8 in the other. They're setup to look like town homes, split level.
    One building gets lots of pressure and opening the hot water tap gets hot water within moments; the other one we're getting complaints of it taking up to 10 minutes for the water to get hot in the units from the second one away from the pump to the other end.

    We do have galvanized pipes and we have already been through the idea of replacing them and the majority of the homeowners vetoed it due to the need to raise our HOA dues and the costs of opening peoples' walls, so that's not an option.

    So other than flushing out the pipes from any debris is there a way to locate a bottleneck that might eventually cause a leak as well as slowing the water circulation?

    Any help will be appreciated.

    Henry Ramsey
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,262
    Location:
    New England
    Galvanized pipes tend to corrode from the insides, but guess what? That corrosion IS the pipe, and eventually, it can do one or both of two bad things: decrease the flow significantly (you're seeing that now I think) but the next stage is it just starts to leak since there's nothing left. It is rusting...eventually it will rust out enough to leak. It is kind of foolish to wait once symptoms start to show. Think of the complaints when the walls and floors need to be replaced from the leaks - much more problematic than fixing it now.

    I also live in a condo, and while the owners don't like it, sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet. We've been fairly lucky, but have had to do assessments a couple of times over the last 20-years to fix things we didn't have enough in the reserves to cover. Nobody likes it, but it must be done.

    Trying to flush the lines may hasten them leaking, and probably loosen up enough crud to plug up everyones showerheads and valves.

    If there's a bad check valve on one branch, or someone has a failed shower mixer or faucet valve - some valves can generate a cross-over situation which could prevent the recirculation system from doing its job...the water will take the path of least resistance. One way to check on sink faucets is to feel both supply lines...only the hot one should be hot. If both are, then the valve has failed and the hot water is crossing over, short-circuiting the recirculation.

    Good luck, but I do see a repipe in your future. Having hot water is a requirement, and the condo association is required to provide it. It's more common to have individual WH, but you have what you have, a shared resource...now, you have to get everyone reasonable access, or you may end up getting sued.
  3. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Hey Jim. Thanks for your comments. You've helped me a time or two at John Bridge forum too. My second bathroom project is 98% done. I have a few pieces of trim, a little more grouting, and some paint then I'm finished. Whew! I put the toilet back in on Sunday. Woohoo! Three working bathrooms now.

    Anyway, the hot water issue has been on going for a long time off and on. We've had quite a few leaks since I've lived here (most recently in April) and had to pay for the repairs and cleanup. I've seen inside of the pipes that were clogged and some had the diameter of a soda straw from the corrosion though the pipe is 1-1/2 or 2". And it's usually the hot water that has leaked, IIRC.

    Bottom line the HOA just doesn't have the money to re-pipe the building for various reasons including that the money is allocated for other repairs and or maintenance some of which is more pressing such as the foundation settling.

    The homeowners pay >$300 per month already so we cannot raise dues which would price some out of their units.
    We have some who are struggling to make ends meet as it is.

    If it were an option we'd probably look into it further. Also, we'd need permission to get access to the units.
    Since they're individually owned and we don't have keys we're at the mercy of the resident/owner to let us in to do the work.
    We have a right of entry in our documents, but it's reserved for emergencies. We had enough trouble to get people to be home
    for a foundation inspection and this would be about the same.

    For now we're stuck with flushing the pipes and checking for leaks.The plumber we use is scheduled for the 28th.
    We've done this a few times usually after a plumbing repair on then hot water lines. There is a valve on the building that can be opened to let water out and check if it's OK. It is a gate valve though a bugger to close fully once opened, so the plumber is going to change it to a ball
    valve so it can be opened at times to check for sediment.

    I've actually asked this guy about changing the pipes and he said it would be monumental and expensive.
    He's usually eager to do most anything but he said he wouldn't even want to bid on such a job. His specialty is old plumbing.
    Works on galvanized pipe and other old stuff but does a good job of working new in where needed.

    I will ask him to check on the check valve on the HW heater. It might even be fairly new though since he did some new piping around the heater to accommodate it to pass inspection. He also told me the heater that was there had copper connections without dielectric unions which hastened it's demise though it was only 8 years old. I wonder how much that also has hastened the demise of the pipes in the building. I guess we'll find out...

    Henry Ramsey
  4. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,384
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    The residents just can't afford to replace the pipe now. If they begin to fail throughout the complex, will they be able to afford not only redoing the pipes, but repairing the damage caused by the leaks? I realize it's not you call, but something to think about.
  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,262
    Location:
    New England
    If you have that much rust in the pipes, the checkvalve may not be able to close since it may have rust on the seals.

    On our last major repair, we needed almost $200K to fix our parking area (60-units - townhomes). We ended up getting a loan, and gave the owners a chance to choose the term (we also gave people the option of paying everything upfront, and they were able to avoid the interest costs - we adjusted the loan amount). There are ways to do this. And, yes, it's a major hassle. We pay a management company to be the bad guy so the board members are insulated somewhat - costs us about $8/unit/month and well worth it.
  6. dj2

    dj2 Member

    Messages:
    426
    Location:
    California
    Look Henry,

    Changing your pipes now is the cheapest solution to your problem. It will cost you much more once the major leaks start.
    You can explain your individual owners what they're dealing with and why they need to work together with you on this. It can't be postponed.

    If you don't have any money in the HOA's bank account, then a special assessment is needed.

    For a fast and hassle free re-pipe job, call plumbers who do re-pipe exclusively. Ask them about PEX, which could be less expensive and faster to install.
  7. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Is the check valve something that would be routinely changed with a water heater? If so I'm going to wager he changed it.

    As for the a loan; not going to happen. I'm a junior member of the board (in years) not necessarily in duty and I won't be able to convince anyone to take out a loan. Heck we need to amend our HOA declaration which is from 1976 so we can foreclose non-judicially on two true deadbeats (they won't call us back and haven't paid in as much as 30 months between them) and can't even get enough votes to make the change even after explaining our need at the annual meeting. No one here wants to help or get involved. We're going to have to pay an attorney from $175 per hour and that's going to cost a bunch before we get the property sold. Due to all the notice we have to give and the court docket it'll take months even if we eventually win we have to pay the fee in advance. The attorney is a good guy and he will work with us, but you see my point. The same goes with the board. I'm on the board since I'm one of only two people who has the time to dedicate to doing the day to day things that need to get done. We had a room full of people who declined to be nominated. Literally 5 of us were elected because there 5 positions open and no other nominees.

    I'm also not sure how bad our credit rating is from the lawsuit going on for 8 years. It was settled in 2010, but lingered so long we might not be able to get a loan. I know some banks won't give loans to buy units here and HUD routinely turns down people for our ALU wire.

    We had a management company to be the "bad guy" too and that is why we are in the money mess we are in. They spent our bank account to almost bankruptcy. They were given too much power and TX law gives them too much power to run rampant. We are a RED state with all that that implies. Big business is king, and the consumer and homeowner are not. The management companies in Houston are all bad. Many are hated by all but the attorneys who work for them to foreclose on units since they make money. All are part of CAI which is a corrupt non-profit run by attorneys who prey on the poor. Go look up their rep of attorneys foreclosing on little old ladies in Florida. All the mgmt companies we vetted in the past wanted thousands in fees to get started since we have so many problems.

    I was actually talking to someone about this kind thing last night and she said we should look for a "manager" rather than a management company. I'm not sure there is such a person though or maybe not in Houston. It might be worth our while to attempt to find someone though. So long as we're still the ones in control and he's doing our bidding. The person who sued us eventually won the Presidency of the HOA then became manager for a time. She was actually good in the function, but she's very unstable mentally which is not good for people wanting to get involved and it's why no one wants to still get involved since she still lives here.

    Anyway thanks for your comments I'll post back here if we find something worth while to report.
  8. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    The pipes have been failing over time and replaced promptly. There is no convincing people who won't even vote to amend our HOA declaration to allow us to foreclose non-judicially on two dead beats who will net us about 10k in dues between them. We now have to pay an attorney and have him go to court and it'll take months between the court docket and the 30 days notice we have to give at least twice. If we can't get people to help us collect money they're not going to see the need to change the pipes when the driveways are doing suspension damage to peoples' cars if they drive too fast.
  9. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Cheapest solution maybe but not cheap. We can't raise assessments beyond their current amount or we'll be forcing families out of their homes for inability to pay. Some are struggling now to pay the >$300 per month as it is. Most have a mortgage and since the HOA doesn't carry flood insurance (FEMA says we're not in a flood hazard zone) they're force-fed insurance in their mortgage payment. My mother and I actually co-own this unit and have no mortgage, but she pays the dues with help from me
    and we certainly couldn't afford to raise the dues beyond what we're paying now. Luckily though we do have assessment insurance but I don't think
    anyone else here does.

    Convincing the homeowners of anything is like coming to a dead end brick wall and screaming at the wall to move.
    We need to amend our HOA declaration to allow for non-judicial foreclosure on two deadbeats which would get us something like $10k. Going to court will cost thousands up front. Did enough people sign the amendment or respond to pass the amendment: NO. We got 15% of the property to sign, 1/2 of that is the board members and we need 70%. So we now have to send the attorney to court at our dime because people won't do what they need to do or don't care.
    The same thing will happen when we try to explain about the pipes. The people will see that we need new driveways and they'll tell us to do that first.

    I'm sorry to say, in the end the homeowners will only be convinced by a good soaking in hot water from their living room ceiling and nothing less.

    Thanks for the idea of plumbers who do exclusive re-pipe. I didn't realize they existed.
    If we ever come to a point where we have to do a large amount that might be the way to go.
  10. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,032
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    I am going to guess that your shower/tub valves are either Mixet or Moen. IF they are Mixet, the only solution is to replace the stems with the No-Mix unit. If they are Moen, you have to determine which ones have failed and replace the cores.
  11. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Many units here have the original 1970s shower and tub valves which were by Sterling. Some kind of builder grade valves I suspect with integral stops and tear drop shaped escutcheon plate. The sink faucets were also sterling. These were apartments converted to condo-style townhomes.

    I rebuilt my walk-in shower and didn't change the valve body since at the time I couldn't afford a plumber to do the work. It's too late now since I used Kerdi and don't want to take the wall down to replace the valve. It works just fine and I had full port ball valves put in to back up the integral stops rendering them unnecessary. We have good water pressure in this unit overall. In my tub/shower I put in a Moen, but I haven't even turned it on yet since I'm still finishing the remodel. What's funny is that this problem is not in my building which is closer to the water source and has the WH right on the end.

    The second building has a pipe which goes underground and feeding it. The distance is maybe 10 feet between the HW heater and wall and a bit more accounting for going under a 6" thick cobblestone sidewalk. Then it goes vertical inside the external wall and turns parallel to the building. The main water pipes go through the middle of our living rooms. I asked the unit owner of the first unit if they have problems with pressure and temp and was told yes. So it seems to be in the whole building and worse the further from the HW heater and pump.

    We're going to have the main line flushed out and see what happens. After that it's up to the homeowners of each unit. The HOA is responsible for the main lines and the branches to the faucets/sinks etc are on the owner. This means we won't be involved with re-piping except main line.

    Does PEX come in large size? I've never seen anything more than 1/2", but I'm not plumber so all I've seen is what's at Home Depot or Lowes.
    Our mains are 1-1/2 or 2" threaded galvanized pipe. Could that even be done in PEX should that ever be needed? I know the branch pipes are only 1/2" or 3/4" so that'd be much easier.
  12. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,262
    Location:
    New England
    Pex does come in multiple sizes, but may not be your best bet for the main trunk. It may work out for minimizing the tearing up walls and ceilings in the rest of the unit, though.

    One thing I'd try is to monitor the water meter (assuming you have one) maybe sometime late at night when it's likely nobody is using water. If the water meter is moving, shut off the water to the WH that is taking a long time to heat things up and see if the meter stops. If so, you may have an underground leak. Do you have any wet areas along the path of the pipe outside? WIth the pavement, it may spread out enough to make it tough.

    Recirculation systems are somewhat independent from replacement of the WH, so no, it may never have been checked or replaced when they replaced the WH.
  13. WorthFlorida

    WorthFlorida USCG escorting cruise ship leaving Port Everglades

    Messages:
    126
    Location:
    Lake Worth, Florida
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2013
  14. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    This is entirely academic since I know for a fact that in my lifetime these pipes will not be replaced by the HOA shy of a major catastrophe.
    BTW, these are condos in name only. They are designed and look like townhomes with a split floor plan up and down. There are 30 units in four buildings. They are actual apartment conversions according to two homeowners who were around when they rented back in the early 1970s and purchased the unit.

    Unless a catastrophic failure were to occur we will not convince the homeowners to allow the replacement of the pipes. There is also no chance of going to separate water heaters or tankless which would be the way it would be done if ever. We do pay for the water and natural gas as a common expense. The electric for the outdoors is also a common expense, but back in the 1980s the common electric meter that carried everyone was made split for each unit. So everyone now pays their owner electric bill including the HOA for the driveway lights on separate meters.
    We also have a present of 1970s construction: aluminum wire. If anything was ever changed it would be our fooky wire before the water pipes. Our fire insurance premiums are higher for the ALU wire and would go down a bunch with a change to copper. But it is as impractical to rewire as it is to re-pipe. Not going to happen in my lifetime (and I'm only 37). As I said this is academic since I cannot act alone to force the owners to purchase new pipes. There are 30 owners and convincing them to agree on anything is near impossible.

    Nobody is asking for replacement of the pipes so unless that happens I'm not going to mention it. TX law does not have any applicable provision for replacing of common water or providing services. We cannot take out a loan. The HOA had a long running lawsuit which went on for years. We don't have anything financed at all and so I don't thing we even have a credit history. Plus, I think I remember an attempt to get a CC for a pool supply store and being turned down for lack of credit history back in 2010.

    We haven't had enough leaks to get people involved. Maybe down the line but now it's just not going to happen.
  15. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    That's what I thought. I cannot find PEX in a size large than 1" anywhere and I'm sure our mains are 1-1/2" or 2" so PEX would not work for the mains as you said. I suppose that would be an option to people for their branches to the kitchens and baths like you said.

    The re-circulating pump is right inside the building that houses the water heater and it's been replaced in the last 4 years. All the piping in there is self contained for the heater. If it's there then it's either been checked or replaced. This plumber has replaced most of the galvanized pipe there with new copper and unions too so I'm really thinking that would likely be checked if not changed outright.

    The water after the meter goes directly to the building in almost a straight line. There is a single ball shut off valve for the whole of 15 units with no local valves at all. It tees off after the meter to the second pair of buildings across the driveway about 50 feet. It goes into the building then vertical in the outside wall. Then horizontal through the living room ceilings of each unit until it reaches the WH heater.

    There are no signs of water leakage anywhere along the pipes.
    We'd know in a hurry since the pipes run through everybody's living rooms and all the units are occupied.

    After the water heater the cold water pipes go under ground several feet away from the hot water pipe to the second building in the same manner as it did from the meter. There are likewise no noticible signs of leakage. We don't have any water pipes in the ground except between the buildings as I described.
  16. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Our weather calmed down enough for me to check the WH area and as I suspected, all the piping around that new WH is new copper with union fittings to the old galvanized. So the check valve has to be new as well. And the hot water line is hot and the cold water line room temperature which is normal. So does this eliminate a check valve as the issue?
  17. 6t7gto

    6t7gto DIY Junior Member

    Messages:
    47
    Location:
    Bedford, Ohio
    This may or may not be doable but how about a 10 gallon or such size point of use water heater in each unit.
    Feed it with the hot water supply from the main water heater and tie it into the hot water line in the unit.
  18. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    So you're saying add auxiliary holding tanks to each unit? That would be promising if we had a place for them to go in each unit. Some units have a closet in the living room like I do but others have had them removed so there is no place to put a tank. The main water pipes go through the living room ceilings. If we had to pipe to send the water to a holding tank all the way at the back of the unit say it would be impractical and we'd do better replacing the pipes. In any event as I said last night it is academic. My neighbors are never going to want or allow the board to replace the pipes. We have to take a vote of the whole of the property and need a super majority to agree. That is near impossible. Thanks for the idea though. If it did come up to do new piping that might be a promising idea if we could figure where to put the tank(s).
  19. WorthFlorida

    WorthFlorida USCG escorting cruise ship leaving Port Everglades

    Messages:
    126
    Location:
    Lake Worth, Florida
    Placing a point of use water heater for each unit is not a good choice for this situation. 1) Each water heater will need it's own dedicated electric circuit. Expensive to run wires and the buildings have aluminum wire. The panels may not be able to handle the additional load. 2) The temperature pressure relief valve may need its own drain line. Some areas will not allow hot water to just dump onto the floor.
  20. Henry Ramsey

    Henry Ramsey New Member

    Messages:
    61
    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    Found the problem,

    I found the problem this morning was in fact the recirculating pump has either failed or is clogged up. It isn't the pipes after all. I know the pipes likely still have issues, but at least that is no longer the immediate reason for the water problems.

    One unit owner at the far end of the property from the WH said he had no hot water at all yesterday, but I do have hot water and the people right
    near the WH do also.

    I've been hearing this odd noise through my wall like a piece of metal spring going "spoing" and the sound of a water valve shutting suddenly.
    I thought it was my neighbor's toilet running then stopping until until I checked the pump and found it was off and then suddenly came on and
    made the same noise I've been hearing for about 5 days now. I shut the pump off since it was extremely hot so I'm guessing it has hitting some
    kind of internal thermal trip and shutting off the cooling and turning on again.

    I have a call into the plumber so with luck we'll be able to get a new pump or fix this one.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2013
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