When you hear the term regulation it might cause you to cringe. I have always interpreted regulation as a type of restriction that serves to curb my free choice of something. But in the context of the many systems that operate within our homes, these restrictions are welcome, necessary, and often lifesaving. Many of you might not be aware of these important devices, what they do, or in some cases, how to adjust them. Let’s look at some common home regulators and discuss their purpose.
Probably the one regulator of sorts that everyone is aware of is the electrical circuit breaker. The sole purpose of this device is to “regulate” or limit the amount of current that flows through a particular circuit. All circuit breakers are manufactured with an amperage rating which is the maximum amount of current that they will allow to pass before “breaking” the circuit or tripping. Once reset, the circuit breaker will allow electricity to flow again until that designed limit is reached again. So, a 15 amp breaker (identifiable in your panel with a 15 stamped on it – usually the lever), will allow a maximum of 15 amps of current to the wiring in the circuit before it trips. If you plug a 20 amp electric heater into an outlet on this circuit you will soon find that breaker doing its job. As with the other regulators that will be covered in this article it is important not to override or arbitrarily circumvent the regulation that a circuit breaker provides. Changing out a breaker for a larger capacity one without also changing the wiring, devices, and circumstances of that line is extremely dangerous. Those of us who have been around for a while might remember glass fuses and fuse boxes and the warnings not to replace a blown fuse with a penny so the electricity can continue to flow. Messing around with circuit breakers is no different.
Water Pressure Reducer
This oddly shaped device can usually be found adjacent to your water meter at the point that the water service enters your home. It usually has a screw or nut on the top of the device that allows you to adjust the pressure of the water before it takes the journey throughout your home. Wondering why we need this device? Don’t you always want to most water pressure you can get? The answer really depends on where you live and how your house was built. Water gets delivered to your home at a certain pressure (measured in PSI or Pounds per Square Inch); the higher the PSI, the greater the water pressure. In general, the closer you live to a water facility or pumping station, the higher the water pressure will be as it enters your home. Those who live in more remote locations will have lower water pressure since the water has to travel a greater distance to get to them. Most water departments have a target and minimum pressure that they will deliver. There is however, usually no guarantee that the pressure won’t be too great and that is where the pressure reducer comes in. Homes can have a variety of different types of piping in them. From brass to galvanized, copper to PVC and PEX. They will also have different sizes, ½” and ¾” being the most common in single family homes. When pressure is high and the pipe size is small, additional wear and tear will slowly take its course on your plumbing. Highly pressurized water will take a toll on every connection and fitting of your plumbing system and at some point, the weakest link in that system could fail. A good water pressure for a home is about 40-45 PSI and anything over 60 PSI is not advisable. If you want to know what kind of water pressure you have in your home, you can buy a simple test gauge for about $10 in any home center that can screw onto a hose connection and provide a reading.
Gas Pressure Regulators
Similar to water pressure reducers in concept, gas regulators make sure that the natural gas (or propane) that flows throughout your home to your stove, cook top and dryer is at a safe level. More so than water, gas travels across the country at very high pressures. Although naturally reduced by the time it gets to your house, it can still be very high. The pancake-like device that you might have adjacent to your gas meter is meant to not only reduce the pressure at which the gas enters your home but also to regulate it. Remember in the old days of plumbing when you could surprise (or scold) a person taking a shower by flushing the toilet? Possible before anti-scold devices were added to shower bodies, a rapid increase in the demand for cold water by flushing the toilet would significantly reduce its supply
to the shower leaving substantially more hot water flowing through the shower head than cold. A similar situation occurs with gas as it flows down your street into all the homes serviced by the same line. As one home demands gas, the pressure in the entire line drops slightly until that pressure is equalized. The gas regulator absorbs these fluctuations and allows a steady, safe flow of gas to pass through. Although you may not have a gas pressure regulator at the entry point to your home most if not all devices that run on gas will have a small regulator built-in to the device itself. Next time you change the propane tank on your barbecue grill, notice the small pancake-like device incorporated into the supply hose. This is a mini regulator.
I hope this article provided some insight as to the importance of regulators. Handy Andy is always happy to evaluate you individual home situation or answer any questions you might have.