Perception is reality and nowhere is this truer for us at Whywait Plumbing than when dealing with the issue of hot water temperature and the possibility of a serious hot water burn.
Everyone has a different perception of how hot they want their hot water whether it is for cleaning or sanitation or personal hygiene use.
Recent research in the United States from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, confirms hot water heater temperatures are too high.
In Australia, most manufacturers preset the thermostats for hot water heater temperature at 60-65 degrees. This is dangerously high for a significant proportion of homes, presenting a scald hazard particularly for young children and the elderly. This is because literally hot water burns like fire because:
At 60°C, a serious burn can happen in 1 second
At 55°C, a serious burn would take 10 seconds
At 50°C, a serious burn would happen after 5 minutes
It is estimated a serious hot water burn causes an estimated 1,200 hospital admissions and 50 deaths per year. Young children and elderly adults have thinner skin which burns more quickly putting them at increased risk.
In Queensland, it is the law that hot water delivered to bathrooms used primarily for personal hygiene purposes be regulated by use of a tempering valve or a thermostatic mixing valve that does not exceed 50°C. This is due to the fact that in 1995 the laws were changed requiring tempering valves to be installed on:
all new homes having a hot water system installed
replacement or upgrading of an existing hot water system
or when moving an existing hot water system to a new location on the property
However, homes built before 1995 will frequently still have hot water being delivered at 70°C. It is estimated that 37% of homes still have older electric or gas heaters delivering hot water that presents a scald hazard that will cause a serious hot water burn in one second.
Frequently these homes are rental properties. Many landlords and real estate property managers are unaware that recent litigation has placed a ‘deed of care’ onus on them to ensure the safe delivery of hot water in domestic bathrooms used primarily for personal hygiene purpose.
The installation of a tempering valve is an acceptable solution to hot water scald prevention. Delivering hot water at a consistent temperature is difficult without a tempering valve. This is due to the fact that as a hot water tank is depleted through use then replenished and reheated, the water temperature will not be constant throughout the tank.
Despite a perception by many people, a hot water service thermostat is not designed to provide precise estimates of water temperature. Its purpose is to begin heating when the temperature drops below a set level and turn off when it reaches a set level. Without a tempering valve installed it is almost impossible to assess the exact temperature of hot water delivered from a tap.
The advantage of a tempering valve is that guesswork is eliminated as tempering valves are designed to blend hot and cold water to deliver mixed water at a constant temperature and thus reduce the risk of a serious hot water burn.
Unfortunately for plumbers, property managers, homeowners and property investors hot water has increasingly become a legal minefield with the duty of care provisions.
It is for this reason Whywait Plumbing recommend that you install a tempering valve and maintain it compliantly with annual testing.
During much of the year on the Gold Coast we frequently hear clients ask why do I need to maintain my hot water system there is nothing wrong with it and I’m still getting plenty of hot water. In summer it is easy to forget just how much we depend on our hot water systems for showering, bathing, cooking, washing dishes and washing laundry.
But by April many people suddenly appreciate just how important their hot water system is when it fails to deliver enough or frequently no hot water. Frequently the signs that there is a problem with the hot water system have been there for months and often would have been diagnosed and rectified as part of an annual service. Because hot water systems appear to be complicated many people adopt a head in the sand approach but in reality like most working fixtures in your home they will always benefit immensely from a bit of routine maintenance
In over 37 years of experience we at Whywait Plumbing are well aware that Murphy’s Law applies usually in a spectacular fashion to the failure of a hot water system with most of them failing and leaking late at night usually when it is very cold. In all honesty basic maintenance of your hot water system is fairly simple but vitally it can double the effective lifespan of your hot water system.
To maintain your hot water system the main things you need to allow for are:
- replacing the sacrificial anode every 5 – 7 years
- flushing out all of the minerals and sediment that over time are deposited in the bottom of the storage tank every 3 – 5 years
- have the tempering valve maintained, tested and certified every year
- flush the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR valve) every 3 – 6 months
- replace the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR valve) every 3 – 4 years
- replace the expansion control valve (ECV valve) every 3 – 5 years
Apart from flushing the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR valve) all the other work is legally required to be undertaken by a licensed plumber.
Most concerning from our perspective is the failure to replace the sacrificial anode which is the biggest single cause of premature hot water service failure. Regularly replacing your sacrificial anode will extend the life of your hot water service by ten years or even more. Whywait strongly recommend that you call us to service your hot water system and replace the sacrificial anode every 5 years as the cost of the service is minor compared to the thousands of dollars replacement costs not mentioning the inconvenience.
The one task we recommend you personally undertake is to activate and flush the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve. TPR valves continuously work automatically discharging hot water if the temperature or pressure of the water in the storage tank gets too high. Many people fail to understand if your TPR valve is not functioning properly it can potentially cause the tank to explode.
Flushing a TPR valve is relatively easy and straightforward, plus is something you can do yourself, but if the valve is already continually dripping water in all likelihood it needs replacing. To trigger the relief valve and flush it out all you need to do is lift the lever on the front of the valve all the way open and let water discharge from the drain pipe for 5 – 10 seconds then slowly put back the lever in place.
Very simply maintaining your hot water system is an investment not a cost.
By Gary Mays
You can save money by washing your hands in cold water because research just released by Dr Amanda Carrico a research assistant professor at Vanderbilt University proves you do not need hot water to wash your hands.In fact using hot water is completely unnecessary to hygienically clean your hands and is simply wasting expensive hot water.
Washing hands with soap and cold water is as effective as hot water.
In reality all you need is cold water, a good quality soap, friction to scrub your hands for 20 seconds followed by rinsing them off and then finally completely drying your hands. The research proves that this simple hand washing procedure is just as effective as using hot water plus it reduces your energy costs and saves you money.
The heating costs of hot water are the largest single energy cost in most Queensland homes with it generally being around 30% of your electricity or gas bill. Eliminating hot water from your hand washing routine will reduce your electricity or gas bill by 5%.
Dr Carrico’s research is conclusive that you cannot tolerate water hot enough to kill germs on your hands. Hot water at 55°C will kill some germs but even at that temperature will scald you. In fact constantly using hot water to wash your hands can irritate your skin and adversely affect the outside protective skin layer.
In Queensland the laws were changed in 1995 requiring tempering valves to be installed on new hot water system installations covering new homes, non like for like replacements or when moving an existing hot water system to a new location on the property. This means that it is law that hot water delivered to bathrooms used primarily for personal hygiene purposes be regulated by use of a tempering valve or a thermostatic mixing valve so that is does not exceed 50°C. Therefore unless your home was constructed prior to 1995 it is unlikely that your hot water is hot enough to effectively kill germs on your hands even if you could tolerate the high temperatures.
By all means use warm water if it is more comfortable for you but there is no need to have it hotter than 40°C which the research proves is just as effective as water at 55°C in removing germs from your hands.
By Gary Mays
Cloudy, hot water looks yuck.
Why is my hot water cloudy is one of those perennial questions that arise for the plumbing technicians at Whywait Plumbing?
Generally, the problem is based around reoccurring issues of, “what do you think causes cloudy (white not dirty) water that comes out of the kitchen tap when on hot. It doesn’t do it on cold, and if you boil cold, you don’t get the same residue. The photo attached is the residue after 30 seconds when the water settles.”
Very simply in most cases, cloudy, hot water is caused by dissolved gases in the water. We assure you it is safe to use.
To get cloudy water from your hot tap, you have to create the right set of circumstances for everything to come together at the same time.
So why is my hot water cloudy?
To explain this a little more, you have to understand that all your water is stored in your water pipes under pressure. Therefore water under pressure has a higher capacity to hold dissolved gases. When water under pressure is heated the ability to hold those dissolved gases is reduced.
Primarily what happens then that is your cold water is heated in a water heater it creates hot water under pressure. This results in supersaturation occurring with dissolved gases. Ultimately those gases are released when you turn on the hot kitchen tap.
Another way to look at it is that when you turn the hot tap on you create that same kind of effect as when you pop the cork off a bottle of champagne because all that pressure has to go somewhere.
Why hot water is cloudy when you first turn on a tap?
The reason your water is milky or cloudy when you first turn the water tap on is that turning on the tap releases the pressure. This pressure release is often an initial highly pressurised burst. Because the dissolved gas comes out of the water in the form of tiny gas bubbles right throughout the water filling a glass or container. The gas bubbles then rise to the surface of the water and burst so that the water has a cloudy or milky appearance.
The cloudy, hot water will clear in a few seconds. As it is gas bubbles dissolving the water will clear from the bottom up. You can easily observe in a glass the water rapidly clearing from the bottom up.
The good news is that dissolved gas or air in water in reasonable quantities is not uncommon and means that the water is in a “healthy” condition.
We guarantee cloudy water does not mean you have defective hot water service or your water is contaminated. Generally, gas bubbles in your hot water supply will increase with the increase in temperature of your water because of the hotter your water, the lower the number of gas bubbles that can be held.
What should I do if my hot water is always cloudy?
If after the initial burst of hot water, your water is continually cloudy then it needs further investigation. Gas bubbles do not cause the cloudiness that does not dissolve in hot water.
Seldom is it a fault with your hot water service. If the water does not lose the cloudiness within thirty seconds, you likely have a water filtration problem or a sediment buildup in the hot water tank.
Investigating cloudy, hot water needs to be undertaken by a licensed plumber so if you are continuously asking yourself why is my hot water cloudy you need to call us at Whywait Plumbing on (07) 5580 4311 and book a site visit.
Judging by the number of phone calls in the last few days to Whywait Plumbing there is genuine concern amongst our clients over the threats posed to them from Legionella risk in their domestic hot water systems.
We can assure you whilst there is always some Legionella risk, there is almost no risk of you or your family contracting Legionella bacteria as a result of it breeding in your home hot water system.
The outbreak of Legionella bacteria in the hot water system at Wesley Hospital that killed a 60-year-old cancer patient and left a 46-year-old woman seriously ill has minor ramifications to be sure because all hot water systems can pose a risk.
That potential risk is why Whywait Plumbing is constantly advocating appropriate maintenance on your home hot water system to minimise that risk even further.
However, there is a huge difference between your home or domestic hot water system and the warm water recirculating system at Wesley Hospital. The Legionella outbreak in their warm water system has not been as a result of contamination in the hot water storage system or the hot water pipes but appears to be literally at the point of delivery from the shower where the water is cooler.
A warm water system is vastly different to your home hot water system with Wesley’s water temperature set between 42.5°C and 43°C. This is lower than the maximum 45°C legislated in the Plumbing and Drainage Act for hospitals. This low-temperature setting is a result of guidelines from Queensland Health that dictate hot water temperatures in hospitals be reduced to avoid the possibility of serious burns to young children and elderly patients. The downside of this requirement is that the possibility of Legionella bacteria surviving in reticulation pipes is increased. Water temperatures of around 46°C will kill legionella bacteria.
Warm water systems are typically found in care facilities, such as nursing homes, hospitals and child care centres, where water for purposes such as bathing and cleaning is provided at approximately 45°C to prevent scalding.
Your home hot water system if it is a storage tank is heating the hot water to between 60°C and 70°C. If you have a tempering valve or thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) installed then that has been set to deliver hot water at 50°C at each individual tap.
If you have no tempering valve installed, you virtually have eliminated all risk. But you have increased the risk of someone suffering a scalding from hot water. As always it is about managing risk.
However, there is an urban myth prevalent that you can reduce electricity costs by turning the thermostat down on an electric storage unit to 50°C. This is not recommended for many reasons but it will not save you electricity and to physically get a thermostat down that low requires physically breaking the locking mechanism on it that allows the setting to be between 60°C – 70°C. If you want to lower the delivery temperature the only acceptable and compliant method is to install a tempering valve.
In 99.99% of cases, the temperature ranges your hot water system operates in is almost certainly killing any Legionella bacteria. The risk if any, is after the storage tank in the reticulation pipes. By turning your shower on and running the tap with hot water first then cooling down with cold water to your desired shower temperature you are virtually eliminating what risk there is.
What the outbreak at Wesley Hospital has confirmed is that there is a risk from warm water and that maintenance of your hot water systems will manage and eliminate that risk.
What Whywait Plumbing do recommend is that you take advantage of our ongoing reminders and offers to service your tempering valves. This not only ensures that water is being delivered at 50°C but eliminates any possibility of Legionella. It also ensures you are complying with the requirements of most insurance policies in ensuring that routine maintenance is undertaken plus we provide you with a written report and a form 4 compliance certificate that is further evidence of your hot water unit being compliant.