The plumbing industry needs to practice what its codes preach.

Since the first day I began banging on the computer keys writing articles in this great profession, I have argued in support of complete protection of the public against hot water scalding. I continue to support protecting the public. All of you know hot water scalds. If James Carville were in the plumbing business instead of Democratic politics, he would declare, "It's the hot water, stupid!"

After all, the pain threshold in a shower is 117 degrees F. The hotter the temperature, the faster the body scalds. We also know that if you change the water temperature 3 degrees F, the body responds. Many times the response is jumping out of the way of the water, resulting in other injuries. There are cases of deaths from hot water in a whirlpool bathtub where water temperature was at 111 degrees F.

With low-flow showerheads, the water temperature in a shower can change 30 degrees F within a fraction of a second. This is extremely dangerous. We are talking major burns to the body.

What is distressing to see is that some shower valves that have no protection against scalding still are being installed. The reason it is distressing is that every model plumbing code in the country requires either pressure-balancing or thermostatic mixing shower valves. So I ask you, how can old-style, two-handle shower valves still get installed across this country?

The answer to this question is easy: It is not you, it is your competitors. The ones who don't read PM. They probably don't read anything about the dos and don'ts of the industry. You know who I am talking about, and you have all sorts of names for these people. However, name-calling doesn't protect the public.

No More Excuses

I have a better idea. Let's use the system. That's why our elected officials put plumbing codes into place. The person responsible for making sure the public is protected is the plumbing inspector. Unfortunately, some of the other contractors are either hoodwinking or buffaloing the inspectors into allowing two-handled, old-style, nonpressure-balancing, nonthermostatic shower valves.

I have heard all their excuses:

  • The owners are rich and this is a free country; they should be allowed to install the shower valve of their choice,

  • We will set the water heater at 120 degrees F and that will protect the occupants, or

  • It's a manifold system so the problem doesn't exist.
To all of these reasons I say, "Hogwash!"

Heck, remember when price was the main concern. Today, the difference in price is almost nonexistent. You can pick up a pressure-balancing valve for dirt cheap. So there really is no excuse for not having the proper shower valve installed.

The best defense is a good offense. Let's take our case to the plumbing inspector. I have devised an open letter to every plumbing inspector. Feel free to copy this letter and send it to your local plumbing inspector:

Dear Mr./Ms. Plumbing Inspector:

I appreciate the job you do as our plumbing inspector. It is often difficult when many of us like to argue small points, but you handle it well and I really do appreciate it.

There is an important issue that I would like to bring to your attention. I am a very big supporter of having scald protection in the shower. I mean VERY BIG! The only way to achieve this protection is by the installation of pressure-balancing or thermostatic mixing shower valves. These are the only type of valves I would ever consider installing for shower valves.

The proper valves have a temperature-limit stop that prevents the valve from delivering hot water above the set temperature. Many prefer that this maximum temperature be set at 110 degrees F. However, the plumbing codes recognize that a cast-iron tub requires a higher temperature of 120 degrees F to maintain bath water temperature. It is important that this maximum temperature limit be field set.

There has been so much written about how dangerous hot water is. Scalding can occur at very low temperatures. That is why we need this high level of protection. Approximately 3,800 scald incidents occur every year. These can all be avoided.

Not only is scalding a problem, but any sudden change in temperature can result in a slip or fall in a shower. It is reported that more than 110,000 injuries occur every year from shower-related incidents. Thousands result in treatment in the emergency room. Yet it is so easy to solve this problem by installing the right plumbing fixtures.

The issue of shower scalding has been debated on the national level. Every major plumbing group has supported protection in the shower. All of your quality local plumbing contractors support the installation of pressure balancing or thermostatic mixing valves.

All that I would like to ask you to do is hold the line. Don't let any contractor talk you out of requiring pressure balancing or thermostatic mixing valves. There is nothing equivalent to the use of these valves. These valves are the only available means to protect the public against scalding, slips and falls in the shower.

Thank you for your time and keep up the good work. You are a vital part of our industry.


Julius Ballanco

If you do use this letter, I would suggest signing your name, not mine. However, if you just want to pass the article on to your plumbing inspector, feel free. Anything to get this rigidly enforced.

By the way, the national discussion on hot water continues. Look for plumbing codes to expand, not reduce, their restrictions on hot water. You will see more emphasis on technology that can control hot water to prevent scalding. Hot water protection is the wave of the future. But before we get there, we need compliance with our current code requirements.