2015 building code

Q: Dear Ask Us,

I have been in patio homes in Arizona and here in Minnesota many times and have heard the complaint by the owners and by my own experience that it takes several minutes of running water to get hot water. What a waste of water when it could be addressed, at least partially, by requiring builders to insulate the hot water lines buried below the concrete slab. It would cost the builders, what, about $20 bucks, while the savings in the future would be many times that. Shouldn’t it be in the code? I’ve wondered for years, along with hearing the complaints by many. Maybe you can enlighten us.

A: City Manager Pat Hentges said his house has a basement, but he can still relate to the problem.

“My water heater is on one side of the house and the shower is on the other side and I have to let the water run for a while,” Hentges said.

Hentges, though, guessed that the insulated-pipe idea would solve the problem only when hot water was being used shortly after it had previously been used. Otherwise, especially if several hours had passed, even water in insulated pipes would see its temperature revert to that of the surrounding gravel below the concrete slab of a patio home.

“There’s kind of a diminishing return for insulation,” Hentges said.

But Hentges, saying that plumbing was beyond his field of expertise, suggested running the question by Kent Erickson, who handles plumbing inspection for the city.

Hentges was correct that Erickson knew more about the issue than he did.

“It has been a requirement (for patio homes) since about 2009,” Erickson said of the rule that hot-water pipes be insulated. “And even prior to that, most plumbing contractors were insulating those.”

While it might cost more than $20, insulating the pipes is relatively inexpensive, he said. Still, it’s not — as Hentges correctly suggested — a cure-all.

“That is true, and especially when you’re looking at patio homes,” Erickson said. “... It’s going to cool down to whatever the ambient temperature is.”

A traditional home typically has a main hot-water pipe with branch-pipes heading off to sinks and showers, so fresh hot water is drawn into the main pipe whenever any of the fixtures are used. In a patio home, a shower in the corner of the house often has a hot-water pipe coming directly from the mechanical room where the water heater is located, Erickson said. In that case, water may sit in that pipe for 12 or 24 hours between showers and no amount of insulation is going to keep it warm for that long.

By the way, another update of the energy portion of the statewide building requirements in 2015 added the pipe-insulation requirement to all types of homes — not just patio homes, Erickson said.

As for whether it’s worth it for people in older homes to add insulation to their pipes, he said it depends on how accessible they are and how much effort would be required: “It takes a long time to see the cost savings.”

Q: I have a question about the Riverfront hill between Vine Street and Lafayette. The blacktop is all chewed up or rough. Is the city going to mill that off or just let it go a few years?

A: Riverfront Drive is slated for a $5.1 million reconstruction from Main Street to Madison Avenue in 2022, so it’s unlikely the city will do any significant repairs along that section before then, said Deputy City Manager Alison Zelms.

“Beyond maybe some simple maintenance, I don’t believe we’re looking at any major changes until reconstruction,” Zelms said.

While 2022 might seem a long way off, the city tries to avoid putting money into pavement that’s scheduled for an expensive upgrade in the next few years. That doesn’t mean, however, that the city will sit on its shovels if a road is becoming unsafe.

“We’ve got people out around town before — dare I say it — the snow starts falling looking for areas that need a little extra love,” she said.

Speaking of Riverfront Drive, Ask Us Guy hasn’t gotten any additional questions about the water flowing onto the sidewalk along Riverfront Drive between the mattress store and the Kwik Trip area on South Riverfront Drive. That water, which turned the sidewalk into a mini-glacier during the cold-weather months, had been a concern of Ask Us readers for the last couple of years.

“Tell your concerned citizen that at least for the time being, we found the source of the water,” Hentges said. “We think it was run-off and water coming from basements and sump areas from the properties up above.”

The above-average rainfall of recent years has left sump pumps working and water draining for a much longer period, Hentges said.

City crews added tiling in the area, tying it into the storm sewer, and believe it will solve the problem.

“Thank the person for keeping that high on our priority list,” he said.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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