Keep the Water Flowing – Plumbing in Multifamily Buildings

Installation. It’s one of those things we should all be grateful for, but which we seldom worry about – at least not until water leaks under the bathroom door. Fortunately, there are plenty of professionals out there who will fix the problem if something goes wrong. Even better, in most of our cooperative and condominium buildings, dedicated staff are working on the maintenance and repair of our plumbing systems to prevent problems before they even start.

A look back

Plumbing refers to the system of pipes, tanks, and other structures required to provide water, heat, and plumbing to a building or apartment. And it’s been a problem for humans for millennia. The earliest known evidence of drains and primitive toilet technology was found in the 5,000 to 8,000 year old Neolithic settlements at Skara Brae on the coast of the Orkney Islands, Scotland.

Aquifer pipes and cesspools also existed thousands of years ago in the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon in the Middle East. Halfway around the world in Mesoamerica, ancient Mayan plumbing included underground aqueducts, flush toilets, and household limestone water filters.

The Romans had a knack for plumbing and even received recognition for the origin of the word, which is derived from plumbum, the Latin word for lead. From public bathhouses to massive underground sewer systems, the Romans were no doubt involved in their plumbing systems. Of course, not that they were perfect at it. Case in point; While many households had private indoor toilets, only a few were connected to the main sewer system for fear of house invasions by rats and occasional flames from underground gas accumulations.

After the fall of Rome, most Europeans became lazy and collected rubbish again in chamber pots that were simply thrown out of the windows onto the street. Not only did this lead to a really disgusting situation for pedestrians, it also resulted in regular outbreaks of typhus and cholera that killed thousands. Things (arguably) started to get better when Europeans started using small rivers and waterways to divert rubbish-laden water away from city centers. That naturally made these rivers and waterways into smelly, heavily polluted sewers … but at least there was less feces on the streets.

In the United States, the first public sewer systems were built in Chicago and Brooklyn in the late 1850s. The first American patent for a fixed water closet was granted in 1857, but the toilet style we think of today didn’t hit the market until the late 1890s.

Running water remained an elusive target for much longer. By the end of the Civil War, it was only about five percent of the US population. Most cities would have it in the 1930s, but many rural areas had to wait until the mid-1940s before they could turn on a faucet and let fresh water flow into their homes.

Fast forward

In short, for us modern Americans, life is pretty good when it comes to plumbing. Whether in a single-family house or in an apartment building – the concepts remain the same when it comes to introducing fresh water and removing waste. “When comparing high-rise buildings with single-family homes, there are mostly similarities,” said Harris Clark, vice president of Sanitary Plumbing and Heating Corp. based in the Bronx. “Water still comes into the building from a single source – either from the community or maybe from a well. Waste still remains in a single source – either a municipal sewer or a septic system. “

The main difference is that “the scale is obviously amplified in a high-rise,” says Clark. “The pipelines have to be bigger. The number of pipes is increased to serve multiple lines of apartments or individual bathroom lines. “

“Another difference,” says Clark, “is that you share the room with others.” You can influence your habits. For example, if a trash pipe on the second floor is clogged, other tenants on that floor as well as tenants on the floors above can find water in their homes. “

The height of a building can make a difference for some residents, too, continues Clark. “In buildings with more than six floors, the hot water is usually distributed from the roof from a roof tank. This can be problematic for tenants in some penthouses or other upstairs apartments where the laws of gravity do not create adequate water pressure, ”he says.

Problems add up – drop by drop

As with any system within a cooperative or condominium building, installation issues can arise. According to Philip Kraus, President of the Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company. In Manhattan, the most common problems are “leaks, broken pipes and valves, clogged drains, defects in hot water heating devices and controls, limescale deposits and corrosion on pipes and tanks, defective pressure reducing valves and defective fittings and fittings”.

“Depending on the age of the building and how well the piping has been installed, the problems can vary. Says Stuart Liben of NYC Plumbing & Heating Inc. in Brooklyn. “I think a major reason some buildings perform better than others is because of regular maintenance. A competent person who takes care of problems that arise makes all the difference. ”

He adds: “Faucets and shower controls clog and leak or cartridges wear out. Toilets run or leak. The mechanisms break down or the seals break. Clog pipes. Drains loosen. All of these things need attention when they occur. “

Always be one step ahead of the game

One of the best ways to avoid major installation problems in a cooperative or condominium building – regardless of size or size – is through regular maintenance. “Regular flushing and emptying of the main line to remove corrosion products that come from the street,” says Kraus. “Corrosion products and sediments coming from the street can contaminate pipes, controls and fittings. [Building staff] should also observe all system pressures, manometers and thermometers daily. “

Clark also recommends active evaluations and long-term preparation for the building’s piping system. He recommends maintaining a visual checklist of all exposed building lines so that they can be replaced proactively. “Also, if a unit is being refurbished, be sure to do a visual inspection to replace any plumbing that may show signs.”

Building staff should carefully create and track a comprehensive maintenance plan. “If backups are prevalent, regular drain maintenance is recommended,” says Clark. Personnel should also ensure that “the water riser valves for each line are working properly. If a leak does occur, this can help limit the problem to just the affected line rather than unnecessarily shutting down the entire building. “

Regular inspections are also required for plumbing and condominium installation systems. The New York Department of Buildings (DOB) requires an annual boiler inspection, while the New York Fire Department (FDNY) regulates the testing and inspection of sprinkler and standpipe systems, giving boards, employees and residents more opportunities to avoid problems through proactive planning.

When people hear stories of flooding in a building due to an installation problem, sometimes the conversation turns into a backflow valve. “Backflow preventer are used as safety devices,” says Kraus. “They are used to ensure that once water gets into a specific area, it can’t” go back “and become harmful to a larger area.”

Kraus shares an example. “Water goes into a boiler where it is used to generate heat,” he says. “Occasionally the boiler is treated with a chemical to make the boiler work efficiently. At the same time, the FDNY opens a hydrant directly in front of the building. Because FDNY requires such a large amount of water to put out a fire, the water can be sucked out of the building and the boiler can be sucked out of the inside of the building. Without a backflow preventer, the chemically mixed water can now enter the building’s water supply and possibly the entire block’s water supply. The backflow preventer acts as a barrier. When such a suction effect occurs, the water is instead drained into the building drain through a drain opening in the design of the backflow. “

Reflux devices can be complex beasts and should not be installed by amateurs. “They should be installed and maintained regularly to comply with the regulations of the Ministry of Buildings and the Ministry of Environmental Protection,” says Liben.

While the backflow preventer can prevent potentially serious water quality and safety issues, they can also be extremely expensive and affect other systems in the building, says Kraus. “They have to be tested annually by a certified person. Preventing backflow results in a reduction in operating pressure of up to 20 pounds. A pressure reduction can lead to performance problems in plumbing fixtures. ”

To be helpful

Nobody wants an installation problem, especially in their own unit. Fortunately, residents can take a number of steps to relieve pressure on their building’s plumbing system. “Be careful when you turn the handles. Don’t leave anything other than water and rubbish down the sewer and call for help or ask questions when you see something that doesn’t seem right, ”says Liben. “Do not let excess water spill onto the floor from showers or sinks.”

Clark urges the shareholders to “always check that the valves are 100 percent closed when not in use. Always make sure the toilets are not running. Report any signs of leaks to the building staff as soon as possible. “

Who should I call?

When problems with installation raise the mismatched head, it can be difficult to decide who exactly should address the problem. If it’s in a unit, should the resident pull out the toolbox and start the YouTube videos with instructions? Or should the building do the job great? When should a professional plumber be brought in to handle the situation?

In an apartment building in general, “repairs to fixtures could be carried out by building staff,” says Kraus. “Most other repairs must be submitted to the Department of Buildings by a licensed plumber.”

Clark agrees that general repairs to fittings such as faucets, toilets and showers can be performed by construction personnel, adding, “Any type of pipeline replacement requires the services of a licensed plumbing company.”

Liben says, “Simple repairs such as minor blockages, loose drains, leaky faucets, or hair clogged in drains can be done internally. Some buildings have more capabilities than others. “

When it comes to installation, it takes foresight, planning, and commitment from the entire building to ensure that all systems are performing at their best. With fresh water from our faucets and whisper washes that remove all waste, it’s more than worth the effort.

Liz Lent is a freelance writer and reporter and is a regular contributor to The Cooperator.

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