According to an article published in 2013 in the academic publication Journal of Burn Care and Research “Burns from tap water result in an estimated 1500 hospital admissions and approximately 100 deaths per year.”  J Burn Care Res. 2013 Mar-Apr; 34(2): 281–287

Think about that.  About 100 deaths a year are caused by tap water being too hot.

Tap water that’s too hot is a common problem that I see during home inspections.  The following chart shows the approximate time to injury based on the water temperature.  But keep in mind that this is for a healthy adult.  Young children and older adults, with more delicate skin, will burn faster.

In order to help reduce scald injuries the Consumer Products Safety Commission recommends that hot water be set at no more than 120 °F.  And in 1988 water heater manufacturers voluntarily agreed to deliver their products to be pre-set at 120 °F.

In a single family home it’s easy to control your water temperature by adjusting the valve at your water heater.  But it’s not so easy in a multi-family building with a central water heater.  Most multi-family buildings that I inspect have the water temperature set too high, often much higher than 120 °F.  I suspect it’s because they don’t want to run out of hot water, which becomes less of a concern if the water temperature is turned way up.  Or the long run of pipe from the water heater to your shower head might allow the water to cool down so that your shower is uncomfortable.

Another reason that someone might want to set the water heater temperature at or above 140 °F is to kill any dangerous germs such as Legionella – the cause of Legionnaires’ disease.  You’ll have to make that trade-off decision on your own.  Except that there is a solution if you want or feel you need to set your water temperature too high, and that’s to install a mixing valve.  So the water coming out of the water heater is mixed with a little bit of cold water so that the water temperature that’s delivered to your faucets is a safe 120 °F.  The valve is adjustable depending on how hot the water in the tank is, how cold your incoming water is, and what temperature you want delivered to your faucets.  The setup looks like this:

If you live in a multi-unit building and your water is too hot I urge you to relentlessly badger and hector your condo board (or whoever makes this kind of decision) to get them to install this kind of mixing valve.  If they won’t, you can install a valve like this either at each faucet/sink/tub or possibly where the hot and cold water pipes come into your condominium unit.

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