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Debate Over Hot, Cold Faucet Positions Taps Into Safety Issue

July 04, 1999|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: The buyer of our home has made an unusual repair demand, and we're unsure whether to comply with his request. We have a large Jacuzzi bath, with the faucet built into the rim of the tub, rather than on the wall. This allows for convenient adjustment of the faucet while standing outside the tub.

The buyer insists that the hot and cold water valves are reversed, that the hot water should be on the left hand side, rather than the right. If you face the faucet from outside the tub, the position of the faucet handles is correct. But the buyer is convinced that the hot water should be positioned to favor the person inside the tub. Changing the faucet connections is likely to be expensive, as they are located beneath the ceramic tiles. Is the buyer's demand a fair one? Are we required by code to change these connections?

Answer: Your situation is one of those gray areas where the code requirement is subject to interpretation. The Uniform Plumbing Code specifies that faucets "shall be connected to the water distribution system so that hot water corresponds to the left side of the fittings." Beyond this, the book is silent with regard to special circumstances. No elaborations are given.

When unspecified conditions arise in the course of home construction, the local building inspector must render an interpretation as to the intent and application of the code. When it comes to the positioning of hot and cold water connections at bathtub rim faucets, there does not seem to be a consensus among inspectors, contractors or plumbers. Some favor the user who is standing outside the tub, while others give preference to the bathtub occupant. Either arrangement can be justifiably alleged to comply with the letter of the code.

Fortunately, there is a reasonable solution to this dilemma, although what seems sensible to one may be deemed an exercise in illogic to another. Nevertheless, with an eye toward an equitable solution, I submit the following: When questions of code interpretation arise, the acid test is to consider the original intent of the code. In this case, why do plumbing requirements specify hot water on the left-hand side? Quite simply, the purpose of the code is to prevent scalding by the user. So let's apply this principle to your situation.

The placement of hot water at the left side of a faucet has become a matter of convention. It is the arrangement to which we are all accustomed. When we adjust water temperature, we typically do so as a matter of habit, rather than consciously considering which faucet is hot and which is cold. With a bathtub rim faucet, a person standing outside the tub is not likely to be scalded if the wrong handle is turned. The risk of scalding is more likely to affect someone inside the tub. This, of course, is my personal interpretation of the code and is likely to invite contrary opinions by other inspectors.

As to the current debate with your buyer, his repair demand may be a bit excessive because scalding accidents in such situations are extremely rare. If the faucet problem had been discovered during the course of construction, I would have recommended correction at that time. However, because alteration now would entail invasion of the ceramic wall tiles, I would say that the cost to fix the problem exceeds the actual risks involved. Therefore, my recommendation is to leave this arguable arrangement as it is. If the buyer is seriously troubled by the faucet arrangement, perhaps he should have it repaired after the close of escrow.

Cracked Walls Appear in New Construction

Q: Our home is less than a year old, and already cracks have formed at the metal edges of the wall and ceiling corners in some rooms. Our fear is that settling problems are causing these cracks, but the builder insists that the cracks are merely cosmetic in nature. How can we be sure that our problem is not caused by settlement?

A: Cracks at the edges of drywall corners are a common occurrence with some homes and are generally not indicative of foundation or settling problems unless displacement is evident at the cracks. If the cracks seem to be simple looseness at the metal edges, the problem is most likely the result of insufficient nailing of the metal corners prior to taping and finishing of the drywall.

Marginally adequate nailing of metal corners has become a common practice among some drywall installers. The rationalization for this shortcut in workmanship is that the taping and finishing process will cover up the poorly nailed edges. As you discovered, this kind of cover-up can have unattractive results and may give a false impression of structural settlement. To eliminate cosmetic cracks of this kind, the metal edges will need to be re-nailed. This, of course, will require retexturing and refinishing the repaired areas. If you have reason to believe the cracks are not merely cosmetic, further evaluation by a licensed structural engineer is recommended.

Got a question about any aspect of the home inspection? Send it to Barry Stone, Los Angeles Times, 540 Atascadero Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Or visit Stone's Web site: http://www.housedetective.com.

All questions will be considered for use in "Ask the Inspector" but cannot be answered individually.

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