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'Water hammer' causes expensive damage to homes

A malfunctioning piece of SAWS equipment caused expensive damage to homes in one part of San Antonio. News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila has learned they were hit by something called a "water hammer."

A malfunctioning piece of SAWS equipment caused expensive damage to homes in one part of San Antonio. News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila has learned they were hit by something called a "water hammer."

He has what you can do if your house was affected.

Many homes in San Antonio have a pressure reducing valve in the front yard. It decreases water pressure so it won’t damage your home.

But a SAWS malfunction caused the pressure to spike so high in this area, it broke these valves, then damaged water heaters and water softeners.

Homeowner Tom Contreras knew something was wrong when he heard a high-pitched screech coming from his water heater. Neighbors in his Panther Creek neighborhood also had problems.

Down the street water started shooting out of Chris Luera's water softener.

“It was just streaming out of my water softener so it flooded the garage," Luera told us.

Soon homeowners were calling plumbers and getting bad news.

Cell phone video shot by one plumber shows the water pressure suddenly spiking from the usual 80 psi, to way up above 160, then back again. The force damaged some pressure reducing valves, and in some cases, a lot more.

“I had to replace the water heater, the regulator, and then it damaged my water softener so I had to get three things done, emergency, totaling $1,800," said Contreras.

“I would say seven hundred to a thousand dollars," said Luera.

Homeowners complained to SAWS and after a few days the water pressure stabilized. But weeks later they still hadn't been told what caused the spike. So they called the News 4 Trouble Shooters, and we called SAWS.

We found out in late October SAWS was actually trying to improve the water pressure to that area, which used to be serviced by the old Bexar Met water system.

The water pressure feeding a big storage tank off Blanco Road near Wilderness Oak had always been too low.

“There were some challenges with what turned out to be a faulty valve there on the tank," said Anne Hayden with SAWS.

Hayden says SAWS started pumping water to the tank from a different area, to increase water pressure.

But the valve that cuts off the flow when the tank is full, started closing too quickly. That caused water to bounce back through the system at high pressure, an effect called "water hammer"

“That's what was happening with the water in the pipe, then it was rebounding over to this closest neighborhood and affecting them there," Hayden said.

Usually water pressure is the homeowner's responsibility. For years we've been telling you how you can monitor it by purchasing an inexpensive pressure gauge. Because in hilly areas around San Antonio water has to be pumped at high pressure to get it to you.

But Contreras and his neighbors want to know if this case is different because the spike was caused by SAWS equipment.

“It's not fun having to pay $1,800 out of my pocket to repair high water pressure issues," Contreras said.

Hayden from SAWS responded to that.

“If someone experienced what they believe was a claim related to this they can relay that to us quickly."

Here’s the link SAWS provided to file a claim: saws.org/claims

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