Q&A: Oh, The Pressure?

Q I'm having an ongoing problem with the water pressure in my co-op apartment and the board's response (or lack thereof) to it. I'm on the top floor of a 25-story building, and water pressure became an issue after I did a full bathroom renovation in February 2007, which included the replacement of the old, two-handle shower body with a single-handle faucet, in accordance with building code. The older faucets do not increase pressure, but compensate for it by allowing five gallons per minute (gpm) water flow, versus 2.5 gpm with the newer faucets. The reduced flow intensifies the lack of pressure on higher floors and results in an extremely poor shower.

A plumbing engineer measured my water pressure at 14 pounds per square inch (psi) for the hot water and 16 psi for cold, which any plumber will tell you is extremely low. Based on my own research and talking to plumbers, single-handle faucets require at least 25 psi to operate properly, so I'm getting almost half the minimum pressure required to operate the shower. The problem is that the New York City building code requires at minimum only 8 psi; so despite three plumbers recommending that my building install a booster pump to increase the pressure, my manager and board have chosen to do nothing. (None of the board members live on a high floor, of course.)

One other resident has officially complained about the low pressure on the top floor. They too had their bathroom renovated with the same problem. They sold their apartment last year and had to reduce the price by a few grand because of it. I'm not sure what the new shareholder has done to remedy the situation. From what I know, the other top-floor tenants still have the older faucets. I was initially very diplomatic in bringing the issue up to the board and management, but after nearly three years, that has gotten me nowhere. At over $1,300 per month maintenance for a one-bedroom, I believe this is totally unacceptable. What can I do?

—Cold-Shouldered Cooperator

A “I can certainly hear your frustration,” says Manhattan-based attorney C. Jaye Berger, who specializes in real estate, co-op, condo, construction law and litigation. “From the information you sent, it appears that there was no water pressure problem before your renovation. You even say that the old shower body allowed more water to flow through versus the new energy-efficient ones. Unfortunately, I am not hearing anything in all of this which is the 'fault' of the building.

“The only way that I can see the building getting involved in this issue is if several shareholders on the upper floors are all having the same issue as you and can convince the board that a booster pump would be helpful for the building. You say that you know that one other tenant sold their apartment at a reduced price because of the same issue, yet you do not know what the buyer did to handle this issue. I would think you might want to contact them to find out. If they are not having a problem, your argument may be weakened. If they are, then you may have an ally. If you are going to 'make a case' to the board or the building manager about the need for a booster pump, you should be armed with all the information.

“You seem like you have done some of the work, but you need to poll your other neighbors. Has anyone who has renovated on the lower floors had the same problem ? You should find out what a booster pump costs and how easy or difficult it is to retrofit it into an older building. It could be that the pump might help you, but cause new problems for other shareholders.

“If you are unhappy with your board, plan on going to the next annual meeting and try to get on the board yourself. Of course you must keep in mind that if you were on the board and raised this issue about your personal situation, you would have a conflict of interest and would have to abstain from voting on any issues related to it.

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5 Comments

  • try taking the water saver valve out of your new shower head,that will give you a lot more pressure.. you will see it in the part that holds the shower head,you should be able to take it apart by unscrewing that part and you will see a washer and the valve, take a small punch and knock it out.Hope this will help your problem.
  • Hi Cold-shouldered Cooperator, I am curious as to what came about your situation with the water pressure? I am having the same issue as I too am on the top floor of a NYC co-op, and experience anemic water pressure. I have also done renovations and use a single lever shower body.
  • Hi Cold-shouldered, We are also having the same issue. Im on the top floor 13th Floor building and the previous owner has done some renovation to the apt. the pressure is low in the bathroom and kitchen as well.
  • What pressure is a building legally obligated to provide to apartments? Is anything above 8 psi (NYC code) required?
  • I'd love to have your issues - in my top-floor brownstone condo unit, the pressure is about 4 PSI. The condo doesn't want to install a booster pump, because the lower floors are less affected. Would anyone have an idea if they are obliged to bring the pressure to at least 8 PSI? Thank you!