Before we start, some background:
SO WHAT IS WATER PRESSURE, EXACTLY?
Well, as Jeff Cruickshank, a senior associate at environmental engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer explains, water pressure is just potential energy. More energy means higher water pressure. The closer you live to your municipal water supply, the stronger your initial potential energy. If you’re on a rural well system, live far away from the water source or up on a large hill, your water pressure will likely be lower than the alternative. So, to get all sciency on you: The more work your water has to do to get to you, the lower the pressure. Similarly, if you have old, corroded, dysfunctional pipes, you’re wasting all that potential energy on the simple act of getting the water to you. So what can you do? Keep reading to find out.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM, AND WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
First things first, call your city’s water department, and have them come out to give your system a once-over. If you’ve experienced a sudden drop in pressure, a city inspection can help you find a leak. If you’re new to the house or apartment, the water department can measure your pressure against your neighbor’s.
Once you’ve figured out that you have a problem, Cruickshank says the next step should be to call a plumber – or your landlord. Pipes, especially pipes of galvanised steel pipes, corrode over time, and to use the technical term, fill with gunk. That gunk effectively decreases the diameter of the pipes, and allows less of the H20 through, which translates to that pathetic drip you call a shower.
Depending on the amount of piping you have, the age of your pipes and the severity of the clog, Cruickshank recommends replacing galvanised steel for a copper or plastic pipe (plastic being much cheaper). “Often, when you replace the pipe, you solve other problems,” he says. “You can fix leaks, and the removed risk of corrosion can increase the quality of your water.” Bonus!
But that’s a lot of work – and a lot of money. If you (or your landlord) don’t want to replace the pipes, or if your pressure problem is a function of where your house is in relation to the water supply – up on a hill, a zillion miles from anywhere, or something like that – your best bet is probably to install a water pressure booster pump. You can get one for under $US300, and they’ll bump the flow all over your house. The downside to installing a pump is, because it uses a significant amount of power, it could potentially bump up your electricity bill every month as well. And unless you’re Joe the Plumber, you’re probably going to have to hire this job out. Again, kind of a big job.
Good news: Not all fixes require a total house makeover. If you have low pressure isolated to one faucet or shower, it might be as simple as cleaning or replacing your faucet aerator (the tip of the faucet you can unscrew). The same principle applies as with the pipes: Clean out buildup to get the water flowing. Still having local water-pressure problems? It’s probably the low-flow showerhead you installed to save water on Earth Day.
If you truly love your planet, you’ll suck it up. But if you promise to take short showers, you could unscrew the showerhead and drill out the restrictor – it’s the little metal or plastic piece in between the threads and the main chamber of the showerhead that looks like it only allows a small amount of water through. Widening the hole lets more water through, and unleashes a torrent of sweet H20. But, again, you should probably take one for the planet. That or find a better low-flow showerhead – some of them really are quite good.
Annie Hauser is New York City-based writer, and she’s on Twitter, naturally.