From the Forum – Limited Supply of Hot Water/Short Shower Issues

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Limited Supply of Hot Water/Short Shower Issues:

“We just moved into a new building in Shaw (Jefferson Marketplace) and are having an issue with our hot water. We live in a two bedroom, two bath apartment with a washer/dryer and dishwasher. Each unit apparently has its own hot water heater, and the installed system only has enough hot water for a single short shower (under 5 minutes) before losing temperature. The system will recharge with enough hot water for another short shower after 30-45 minutes. There’s not nearly enough hot water in the system to run the dishwasher or washer at the same time as a shower – but that’s more than what I am requesting. I just want a normal length shower and for both me and my fiancee to be able to get ready around the same time in the morning.

The maintenance supervisor has come and raised the temperature of the water heater 3 times already but, both he and the property manager live in the building and acknowledge the problem and have said the entire building is dealing with this. However, the property manager has said that the units passed inspection with the water heater units installed and that “once the weather breaks, the water coming into the building will be at a warmer temperature aiding in the duration of hot water.” I’m not optimistic that the management company will be doing anything to fix the problem.

What is our recourse for this situation? My understanding is that, under DC landlord/tenant law, landlords must provide tenants with “reasonable amounts of hot water.” This clearly doesn’t seem reasonable to me. If we are entitled to a rent abatement, great, but I really just want this fixed. Having just moved, we’d really not want to move again so quickly. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks!”

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22 Comment

  • Obvious first question: how big is your water heater?

    • Since the building and equipment is new, I am assuming the developer installed the smallest possible water heater (those 12-15 gallon) sized ones, electric to boot which takes far more time to heat water than gas. It probably has less than a 10 gallon recovery per hour. For comparison, I bought a higher end gas unit to serve both my family and the people living in my basement apartment (5 total people) which has a recovery of 130 gallons an hour.

      The problem with those small heaters is that the amount of water they have at temperature is so small that it doesn’t have the thermal mass to help heat up in the incoming cold water.

      And despite what he says, nothing is going to change in the spring. Yes, water in the municipal system is colder now, but its only a few degrees. The issue is you have a cheap water heater.

      It is perfectly to code, there isn’t a regulation anywhere that says a landlord has to provide enough hot water for two consecutive 5 minute showers, so it is something you will simply have to deal with. A live and learn scenario.

      • Anonomnom

        I also live in a 2 bed 2 bath and had a similar issue. Luckily for us, when we cranked up the heater to the highest temp it would allow, we are able to get 2 showers in between 5-10 minutes each. Perfectly reasonable, sure I would like more, but we can survive.

        I just wanted to reply to “Waterheater”‘s comment. Yes, the problem is mostly your heater, and yes that is what will end up solving your problem. But, as someone intimately familiar with this situation, the difference from summer to dead of winter is huge. We never run out in the summer/spring, with the heater at the same temperature, so I’ve got to imagine that it must be the difference in how cold the ground water is coming in.

        That also being said, see if your landlord can show you how to raise the temp. I am pretty sure there are some regulations that forbid management from setting past a certain temperature, but if they show you how to do it you might be able to crank it up more. Just don’t burn yourself!

      • Yeah… my guess was that the only real solution is for the OP and his/her fiancee to move out when the lease is up.

  • I had the same problem in my apartment during my first winter and we found we had to turn the water heater to the maximum heat during the winter when the cold than usual ground water would reduce the time frame, but much like your maintenance man said during the summer we had to turn it way down and it was a non-issue.

    As for size, normally you would need to have a tank about 25-30 gallons for the 2 of you easily get ready within 1 hour of each other in the morning. The best way to help that is to install a low flow shower head to reduce your shower consumption.

    Best of luck, I know it can be so annoying!

    • If it is new construction, the shower head is likely already low flow due to construction rules = in most cities anyway, so I assume so for DC.

      • HaileUnlikely

        True indeed. However, the *pressure* on different low-flow shower heads varies widely. I have found a few that provide a very satisfying shower due to the pressure, even with a very low flow rate, which have made it possible and comfortable for me to enjoy hot water for a full duration of multiple showers.

  • Agreed that the obvious first step would be to find out how big the water heat is or even better what its “First Hour Rating” is. That’s the amount of hot water it can provide in one hour after a cold start (which is a little different than just capacity).

    Codes are oddly silent on water heating sizing and “reasonable amount” is a little arbitrary, but you could certainly make the case that not having enough hot water for two 8 minute showers isn’t reasonable.

    The incoming water being cold does have an impact and it’s actually a double impact. First because the heater will have heat it a larger amount when it comes in the heat (greater delta T) and then again because there’s a greater amount of hot water in a comfortable mixture of the shower (since the cold water is colder than normal). But you should definitely still be able to take 2 showers in 1 hour.

    I agree with the comment above, the quickest/easiest/best immediate solution for you is to get as efficient showerhead as you can find/are comfortable with.

  • west_egg

    Sounds like this might be a tankless water heater? If so, your property manager is right — the situation should improve once the ground warms up. They don’t work very well in cold climates; it probably wasn’t a good idea for your building to install these in the first place, for reasons you’ve unfortunately come to understand.

    • A tankless water heater doesn’t run out of hot water, because it doesn’t store any water. If the problem was a tankless water heater, basically the OP would have to be complaining that the water coming out of the shower is never hot enough on cold days. Because he/she is saying that they run out of hot water, I would deduce that a small tank is involved.

    • Tankless heaters don’t suffer from the recovery problem that the OP is describing. Under sized units might not be able to provide the GPM if there is too much demand at one time (more than one shower plus a load of laundry at once), but that doesn’t sound like the problem. The reply above is what I was getting at, the tank is probably (A) under-sized at < 30 gallons and (B) a cheap electric model that takes forever to recover. Impossible to know if they have an actual problem or if the system is just functioning as designed without more details.

      • Yeah, I was thinking installing tankless heaters would likely have prevented this problem from occurring to begin with.

  • Call DCRA and ask for an immediate rental unit inspection. They will measure the temperature and the LL will get fines and a fix it order.

    • This is completely and 100% false. The temperature is fine, its the quantity of water thats the issue.

  • The easiest solution would be to install a low-flow shower head. you can find them on home depot or amazon. Look for a shower head of 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM). Most out of the box shower heads are 2.0 to 2.5 GPM, so you will instantly increase your shower time by at least 25%. They cost as low as $10.
    The other solution is for you and your fiance to cozy up and shower together! Lastly, don’t run anything else while showering. Question: What shower head temperature would you consider adequate?

  • I also live in Jeff Marketplace and I’ve never had this problem. We have run the washer, dishwasher, and shower at the same time and never had any problem. We typically take 10 to 15 minute showers back to back — there are two of us — and I’ve only ever noticed a drop in temp right at the end of my shower.

    During the deepest cold, I didn’t feel the water ever got hot enough but I think I was just frozen to the bone.

    Maybe suggest that they replace the water heater; it sounds as though it could be faulty. I mean out of 280 units, the odds are that a few of each appliance will be defective. (We had to have out garbage disposal replaced three weeks after moving in.)

  • gotryit

    I had that problem with an old (tank-style) water heater. I think we found out the problem was that the inlet tube had broken off inside the tank. So instead of new cold water being brought down to the bottom of the tank, it was mixing with the hot water on the way out of the tank. We’d only get a couple of minutes of warm water before it was pretty cold.
    That really saved me money on my water and gas bills…
    Maybe you have the same defect with the new water heater?

  • For low-flow heaters the high Sierra brand is pretty good – the 1.5 gpm one is actually tolerable. If you have an undersized tankless it would provide enough hot water for a few minutes and lukewarm water thereafter. No easy fix to that, sadly.

  • Since your building manager acknowledges the issue you might request they install a mixing valve (aka tank booster) at the hwh; it allows you to turn up the hwh higher than usual and not worry about scalding (FYI your hwh may have dual elements, if it does make sure they turn up both). If the plumbing is tight they may not be able to fit it so don’t assume they are jerks if they decline.

  • I manage 80 housing units around central DC. I’ve probably had 8 units where people complained about the hot water this winter. All of them have pretty big tanks. Unfortunately, all hot water issues become more pronounced in the winter. The only easy workaround is to turn the temperature up to around 140 degrees. Obviously you have to be careful not to burn yourself with water that hot. Hot water on demand seems like a good option except some of those units only go up to 120. That can be too low depending on the run and the temperature around the pipes. My units are under short term leases so customer service is very important. However if you signed a year lease and the management company doesn’t want to play ball then you are SOL. There’s no way they are going to start upgrading the water heaters in individual units. Any upgrades will be building-wide.

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