Old houses should have had their problems fixed.

My new home in Bend, Oregon, is fifty years old and one would think that an older house would have the annoying problems corrected by now. Unfortunately this is not totally the case with this house. The house does have good thermal insulation and double pane windows throughout, which keeps it perfectly comfortable even on well below freezing nights. Also, it has insulation below the floor so even the floor isn’t cold, and the crawl space under the house was shut off from outside air flow for the winter. That was a worry because the temperature might get below freezing there and the water pipes might freeze; so to check the temperature I put a high / low thermometer down there and measured the temperature over a month. It has only varied from 52° F to 42° F. Freezing pipes at below 32° F doesn’t seem to be a problem.

The hot-water pipes go through a cold basement.

But, and it is an annoying but, both the hot and the cold water pipes are exposed to the crawl space temperature, and thus the starting temperature of the water when either the hot or cold faucet is turned on is the same as the crawl space temperature. That temperature is just fine for the cold water but the hot water must flow through 15 feet of pipe to get to the kitchen sink and 25 feet to get to the bathroom sink or bathtub. That means when the hot-water faucet is turned on the water must run full on for about 15 seconds before it even starts to warm for the kitchen use and for half a minute before it starts to warm for the bathroom sink use. It’s not a problem for the bathtub, which runs the water a lot faster and there is a wait to fill the tub anyway, but for immediate sink use it is such a delay that I don’t even try to get the bathroom sink hot water to warm up. It’s a total waste of that much time and hot water and why waste a couple of gallons of hot water to wet a toothbrush? We have considered getting a point of service hot-water heater which only makes water hot as it is used, but that costs quite a lot of money to install. So, we just work around the problem, which is what the previous owners have apparently done for fifty years.

I put the high-low thermometer on the ceiling light fixture and waited an hour through the full house warming cycle; it reached 82° F. even though the same thermometer here on my desk maximum temperature only reaches 72° F. The crawl space temperature is presently 43° F.

A simple solution to the cold hot-water problem.

There is an easy solution to some of this problem, especially when originally constructing the house. Put the cold-water pipe close to the floor and above the basement insulation; then at least the starting faucet water would be cool, the same temperature as the floor and prevent cold water pipes from freezing in winter. That pipe route would be ten degrees or more warmer than outside of the floor insulation. Even better, and what I might retrofit, would be to route the hot-water pipes above the ceiling but below the ceiling insulation because that location is typically ten degrees or more warmer than the floor. With that simple change of the hot-water pipe route, the starting hot water would reach the bathroom for thirty seconds at ceiling temperature of 80° F, which is comfortably warm instead of 42° F which is uncomfortably cool even for cold water.

Our daily world is affected by a myriad of little improvable things.