The House

blue_mountain - Plumbing Adventures

The plumbing in the house worked fine when we moved in. Recently, new problems had developed:

 

  1. When basement shower was turned on it make terrible noises and had very low pressure
  2. Pipes made banging noises
  3. Reduction in amount of hot water available from water heater.
I had to do a lot of troubleshooting to determine the causes. Ultimately, 1 and 2 were caused by rediculously high water pressure coming into the house. The water pressure at the water heater cold water input was about 150 PSI. It should have been about 70 PSI. 
I checked the water meter pit in the front yard. The water meter was brand new so I knew our water company had been doing some work recently. Unfortunately there was no pressure regulator in the pit. I would have to add one myself. The pit was confined so I decided to add the regulator inside the house, where the main water line comes in, just after the main water shutoff valve.
These regulators don't last forever so I wanted a way to measure the water pressure before and after the regulator. All of the plumbing in the house was copper so I had to brush up on my sweating skills. You can see in the photos the final result. I did as much sweating of pipes at my workbench as I could. There were still some joints that had to be done in place.
Out of all those joints, one had a pinhole leak on the backside by the concrete wall. Bummer! I cut that section out, and sweated new joints together and refitted. I had another pin hole leak, this time on a different joint I had just done. Now I was started to get really annoyed. I cut that section out and replaced them with push-on shark bite fittings. I wanted to use copper everywhere but the sharkbite fittings are good to 200 PSI which was fine for the fittings after the pressure regulator. The shark bite fittings sure do make things faster. The difference in cost is really minimal in the long run, including the cost of your time.
Now we are running 60 PSI water pressure in the house and the basement shower works great with no pipe noises.
Through this whole process I was investigating all aspects of the plubming in my house. I also found that the expansion tank on our potable water lines was shot. I replaced it with a larger unit that I precharged to 60 PSI.
Next I turned my attention to problem #3, the low amount of hot water. This took me a few hours of reading manuals looking at wiring to figure out. I don't have a water heater per se. I have a hot water storage tank. The boiler that heats the water for my baseboard heaters also runs a heat exchanger in the hot water tank. The water tank is just another heat zone for the boiler. This is suppoesdly more effecient, especially in the winter as the boiler is going anyways.
There is a wall thermostate next to the water tank. It connects to a sensor on the tank, and then runs to the control for the boiler. I had always thought changing the temp on this thermostat would cause the water in the tank to get hotter. I was wrong... and so was the person that installed that theermostat. There is an aquastat on the side of the tank. 24v runs to the aquastat, which allows that voltage to pass out on another line when the temperature of the water in the tank drops below a set point. Unfortuantely that output went to the input on the thermostat. The thermostat would in turn allow that 24 volts to go out to the boiler if the thermostat was calling for heat.
So the hot water tank would get hotter if:
  1. The aquastat measured the water termparture was too low
  2. The wall thermostat was calling for heat beceause the ambient room temperature was below a setpoint.
In short, the thermostat had no place in this system. It served absolutely no purpose and I have no idea why someone wired it in. Not only that, all the 24v electrical wires were run taped to the heat exchanger pipes from the boiler to the tank. These pipes get really fricken hot, and heat increases resistence in wiring, so 24v was actually 20v. I removed the thermostate and rerouted the wires. Now the aquastat can directly cause the boiler to turn on, just like it was designed to.
While I was in there I also turned up the setpoint on the aquastat so the water inside gets hotter.
I also did some maintenance on the boiler at the same time.
  1. Lowered the water pressure in the system. It was constantly at 30 PSI which was just shy of tripping the pressure relief valve.
  2. Purged air bleed valve (no air came out, but I know the thing works now).
  3. Lower pre-charge pressure in expansion tank down to 25 PSI. It was at set to 35 which would have rendered it useless as that was above the pressure releive valve setting.
  4. Adjusted the mechanical max temperature fail safe setting. It was set to 180 degrees. The manual states it should be set to 220 degrees to allow the more intelligent auto controls to work before the mechanical limit takes effect. I set it to 200 degrees. The boiler used to only fire for about 30 seconds before reaching 180 degrees. This was a very short cycle. Now it takes a couple minutes before it reaches 200 and shuts off. This should be more efficient and lower our gas bill. I didn't go to 220 degrees per the manual just in case I was misunderstanding something
All this boiler work might reduce pipe banging. Only time will tell. Overall I am happy to have done this work and have a better understanding how the plumbing system in my house works.
The ceiling of the basement is a maze of copper pipe. Some for potable water and some for the heating system. Personally I hate working with copper. The chance for leaks is high when it is assembled by a novice like myself. Copper is expensive. Copper expands and contracts with the water temperature. Copper also corrodes. In my baltimore house I removed the 1930's 1/2 inch internally blocked copper pipe and installed CPVC everywhere, with a proper 3/4 in size to 1/2 inch offshoots. This was actually very easy and the resulting increase in water pressure was great. Plus you can recycle the copper for money.
If I ever really get into the plumbing in this house, I will seriously consider swapping out for CPVC.

 

Pictures

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basement bathroom toilet closet. That is the main water shutoff
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I need space to install the pressure regulator
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in the ceiling above the shutoff valve. the pipe goes to a T
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the horizontal pipe just above the valve goes straight to this toilet
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the toilet line will not be pressure regulalated. It is not worth the effort
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pipes for pressure gauges all joined up
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I don't trust this $10 gauge to not leak, hence the valves before each gauge
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no more water in the house until this job is done
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I love this mini pipe cutter. It is brilliant!
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first attempt with everything in place. One of my copper joints leaked
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There is a coupling above and below the pressure regulator so it can be replaced without cutting
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this expansion tank is shot. It is full of water.
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the new expansion tank is larger and I correctly set the precharge to 60 PSI
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this is what I am using for the pressure regulator, a Watts LF25AUB Z3
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third attempt. This time a couple joints are shark bite fittings. No leaks
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the valve (closed) allows water to flow to the boiler auto fill valve (also closed)
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our boiler
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Teledyne Laars JVS160N
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the mechanical max temp set point was too low at 180 degrees F
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I later turned it up to 200 degrees which allows it to run longer for greater efficiency
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wall thermostat for the hot water tank. This was just plain wrong and very confusing. I removed it
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Now the boiler is commanded by the aquastat directly without involving the thermostat
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turned up the aquastat set point from 120 to 150 degrees. We have 7 people in this house
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Aquastat is a Honeywell L4080B. This is a very simple and slick device
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thermostat very confusingly just measured ambient room temperature, nothing to do with water temp

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