There’s an important piece of equipment that some homeowners might not know about but, if they’re like a handful of Cary residents, might wish they did.
When the town increased water pressure earlier this month as part of a water tank construction project being built to accommodate a growing population, some folks didn’t check – or didn’t know to check – the pressure-reducing valves in their plumbing systems.
The result: burst water pipes. The ground floor of one woman’s home flooded and her neighbors reported lesser damage.
Town officials say they are aware of seven damage claims filed as a result of the higher pressure implemented earlier this month. In July, the town sent 920 letters to homeowners in the affected area explaining what it was doing and advising them to check the pressure-reducing valves in their homes.
Not everyone read the letters.
Renate Stech, 70, was in Germany when the letters went out, and says she didn’t see it when she returned. Two days after she came back, on Aug. 13, she was out of town when she received an urgent text from a neighbor saying water was pouring out of her house in Preston Point.
“My entire bottom of the house was destroyed,” Stech said Tuesday.
A retired widow who has lived in the house since 1997, Stech had to move everything that wasn’t damaged from the ground floor into her garage or upstairs. She said her house had recently been remodeled with a new kitchen and bathroom, which will have to be redone.
She said a plumber found the pressure valve reading 206 pounds per square inch, far more than the typical 50-80 PSI. The state plumbing code requires the valves be installed in houses with greater than 80 PSI.
Jamie Revels, utilities director for the Town of Cary, said the others who have filed claims have not reported damage anywhere near that extensive.
He said the vast majority of the houses had pressure-reducing valves installed when they were built, and until 2005 they had a higher water pressure level. But the valves, like other household plumbing, age and occasionally need to be replaced.
Revels said the town is working in small clusters as it makes the changeover to the higher pressure so crews can respond quickly to emergencies and be responsive to residents’ concerns, including free pressure testing. He said problems reported so far were mostly fittings separating from pipes.
Carolyn Miller, who lives across the street from Stech, was home when water started flowing inside a master closet. She submitted an insurance claim for $5,400 but believes the damage will be greater as the repair bills mount, including for mold treatment.
“The only saving grace, I was home and heard it dripping, and I thought, ‘Oh no,’ ” Miller said.
She said her PRV measured the water pressure at 129 PSI. It was a valve she never knew existed, even though she received the town’s warning letter.
“I read it,” she said. “I saw the dates on it. I thought, OK, hopefully I won’t have a problem. I didn’t realize I had to make sure the pressure valve was working. ... I would have thought they would have come out and checked before they turned all that water on.”
The water tank project is due to Cary’s population growth – 18 percent between 2010 and 2016 – and its merger with Morrisville’s water system and the expansion of the town’s pipe network in the western end. The 2-million-gallon storage tank and pump station will be near the intersection of N.C. 55 and Good Hope Church Road.
Construction will begin this fall, and the project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2019.
What’s a PRV?
Pressure-reducing valves protect pipes and fixtures in high-pressure areas. In some cases, they need to be installed, replaced or adjusted.
Water pressure has a lot to do with topography: Homes with greater elevation between them and storage tanks have higher water pressure.
The state’s plumbing code requires PRVs be installed if the water pressure in the main pipe exceeds 80 pounds per square inch.
PRVs are usually found just inside a building’s crawlspace or in a closet at the front of the residence.