Resident Hot Water Scalding – Property Maintenance and Product Compliance

Timothy Sass, MSCE, P.E., Consulting and Design Engineer

Case Description: When the subject West Philadelphia three-bedroom row home was originally constructed 80 years ago, it was built to house a single family. More recently however, the home’s bedrooms and basement began serving as living quarters for individual families. The 4 families living in the row home also share its only bathroom on the 2nd floor.

Mr. Stefan* is renting one of the rooms in the house. Recently the young father took his young son into the 2nd floor bathroom to give him a bath in the sink. As Mr. Stefan got his son situated in the sink, his son inadvertently kicked the hot water handle on the faucet. Almost instantly, scalding hot water coming from the faucet ran all over the baby’s body, causing him to suffer 1st and 2nd degree burns from his stomach down onto his legs.

Expert Analysis: An inspection of the 2nd floor bathroom included measuring the temperature of the water coming out of the bathroom faucet as well as measuring the hot water flow rate. It was found that the water measured 157 ºF with a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute.

The second part of the expert evaluation involved research into building code requirements, manufacturer’s specifications and standard practices. Caution labels affixed to the hot water tank warned that the hot water tank water temperature should not exceed 125 ºF. The manufacturer’s Operating Manual indicated that the hot water tank’s thermostat be set at 140 ºF. Research also showed that building codes endorsed a maximum hot water setting of 140 ºF. The subject hot water tank thermostat was set to 140 ºF.

It was concluded that the hot water supplied to the 2nd floor bathroom sink failed to meet building code requirements, manufacturer’s specifications and industry standards. In addition, the owner of the building did not properly maintain the hot water tank by allowing excessively hot water to run to the 2nd floor bathroom sink. Finally, the hot water tank itself was also found to be defective. According to the manufacturer’s operating manual, the hot water tank’s thermostat setting should result in 140ºF water. Hot water cools as it travels from the basement hot water tank to the 2nd floor bathroom. Hot water temperatures of 157 ºF at the 2nd floor bathroom sink showed that the hot water tank was heating water to temperatures well above 157 ºF even though the tank thermostat is set to 140 ºF.

The improperly maintained and defective hot water tank created a hazardous condition for people using the building’s 2nd floor bathroom sink and was responsible for causing harm to Mr. Stefan’s son.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual with this case

Timothy Sass, MSCE, P.E., Consulting and Design Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.

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