How to Diagnose and Fix Low Water Pressure at Home
Having low water pressure is a frustrating experience for everyone at home. Whether your low water pressure is confined to a single fixture at home or a widespread problem throughout the house, it’s important to get to the root of the problem.
Why is my Water Pressure Low?
Low water pressure can be a symptom of many different issues. Depending on the source of the problem, you might be able to boost your water pressure with a simple fix. In some cases, you might need to work with a professional to get everything flowing the way you want. Here are the most common causes of low water pressure:
- You have one or more fixtures that are worn out and need to be replaced.
- Your water main or water meter valves aren’t completely open.
- You have one or more small, undetected leaks in your plumbing network.
- You have a well water system.
- You have a faulty pressure reducing valve.
- You have buildup in your pipes.
As you can see, not all water pressure problems are the same. It’s time to take a tour around the house and see if we can isolate the problem. Follow these steps to track down the source of your low water pressure and work toward a solution.
Step 1. Test Out All Your Faucets and Fixtures
The first thing you want to do is find out if your low water pressure is isolated to one or two fixtures. Check the flow of water from every faucet in your home. Don’t forget the showers and bathtubs. Low shower pressure is a common problem, too.
While you’re checking the pressure from your faucets, make sure you check the pressure from the cold and hot water controls separately. If you notice that only the hot water seems to have pressure problems, your issue might actually be with your water heater.
If it seems like you only have low pressure in one or two fixtures, it could mean that all you need to do is clean or replace your faucets’ aerators. For each of the low-pressure fixtures, go through the following steps:
- Unscrew the aerator from the tip of the faucet.
- Soak it in vinegar to remove any buildup that might be blocking the water flow.
- If the aerator looks especially worn out, consider getting a replacement. They are relatively cheap.
- After soaking, rinse off the aerator and screw it back into the faucet.
- Check to see if the water pressure has improved.
If replacing the aerator doesn’t improve the water pressure, there could be a clog in the pipe and you should contact a plumber.
Step 2. Check Your Water Main and Water Meter Valves
If your water pressure problem is evident throughout the house, it’s time to check for another common problem area: the shutoff valves on your water main and water meter. First, make sure your water main is completely open.
Water main shutoff valves typically come in two types. The first, called a gate system, has a little wheel to open and shut the valve. If you have a gate system shutoff valve, make sure it is turned completely counter-clockwise. The other common type of shutoff valve is a ball valve. You can identify a ball valve shutoff by a small handle that can be positioned either parallel or perpendicular to the water main. Make sure the valve handle is completely parallel to the pipe.
Most water main valves operate as fully open or fully closed. However, your home may have a globe valve which regulates the pressure of your water supply. Turn it to a fully open position to ensure the supply line isn’t partially closed.
Step 3. Determine if Your Municipal Supplier has Pressure Problems
It’s not common, but it is possible that your local water supplier is pumping out water at a low pressure. Most of the time, local water companies supply water at higher than optimal pressures so they can deliver water to fire hydrants, high-rise buildings and residences at high elevations. But it doesn’t hurt to make sure it’s not your supplier that’s causing your low-pressure blues.
You can test out the water pressure with an inexpensive water gauge from any hardware store. Hook it up to an outside spigot to test the pounds per square inch (psi) of the water pressure. If the pressure from an outside pipe (i.e., where the city water directly feeds to your home) is under 50 psi, you know that the city is pumping water at a suboptimal rate, and it isn’t necessarily a plumbing problem in your home. In this case, get in touch with the city’s water department about the water line on your street. However, if the gauge reads above 50 psi, keep investigating.
Step 4. Check Your Home for Leaks
Still have low pressure? Check for leaks. Small leaks have a nasty habit of going undetected for long stretches of time. You can test your home for small leaks and then try to isolate the source of the leak.
One simple way to test your home for leaks is to go around and make sure all your fixtures and water using appliances are shut off. Go out to your water meter and write down the current reading. Wait for 20-30 minutes and return to the water meter. If the numbers on the meter have gone up, you most likely have a small leak somewhere.
If you want to get even more precise (and proactive) you can install a Flo by Moen device. Flo by Moen is a complete water damage prevention system that detects changes in pressure, flow and water temperature in real-time to immediately notify you of small leaks as soon as they happen.
If all signs are pointing to a small leak in your home, your next course of action is to go around the home and try to find the leak. Here are some common areas small leaks occur and what to look out for:
- Toilet tanks. Toilet tanks have lots of moving parts and they tend to degrade over time. When these components wear out, your toilet could end up running perpetually. Sometimes it runs so quietly you have no way of knowing it unless you do some creative testing. All it takes is a little food coloring. Pour some food coloring into the tank on the back of the toilet and watch the water in the toilet bowl. If it starts changing colors, you know you’ve got a small leak.
- Behind walls and ceilings. Small leaks can happen in pipes that are hidden behind drywall. Warning signs are discoloration on walls or ceilings, warped flooring or cabinets, water stains and signs of moisture. When your home’s framing and drywall have been exposed to moisture for a long time, they can start to harbor toxic mold. If you see any of these signs, you’re going to want to call your plumber.
- Don’t forget to check outside. Before you go too crazy checking every square inch inside your home, take a stroll around the perimeter and check all your outdoor spigots. Make sure they’re all completely turned off and inspect them for leaks. If you have a sprinkler system, check that too. It could be leaking even when it’s turned off.
Still haven’t found a solution?
There’s probably a blockage in your pipes.
If you live in an old building with galvanized steel pipes, you’re probably experiencing low water pressure due to scale, buildup and blockage from decades of use. Call a plumber to find the blockage and troubleshoot a solution, which may include anything from flushing your pipes to replacing damaged pipes entirely. In this case, leave it in the expert hands of your professional plumber and don’t do it yourself.
Low water pressure in your home can be caused by a huge variety of issues. The best approach is to narrow down the problem area and take the appropriate action. Sometimes, it’s a simple fix you can do on your own. More in-depth problems are best left to professionals.