Top 7 Plumbing Maintenance Tips For Multi-Family Housing Owners
When you live in a single unit home and you clog your sink, you kind of know how it was caused. However, when you’re an owner or building manager of a multi-family housing unit, such as an apartment, and one tenant abuses the plumbing system, it can cause problems for other residents as well.
Depending on your building lease contract, you as owner or unit supervisor are held responsible. Because your landlord reputation is on the line, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve to keep all your residents comfortable and happy.
Plumbing Maintenance Is Cheaper Than Disaster Repairs
While we often take for granted our plumbing when everything is working well, you better believe you’ll pay attention when things go wrong. Even though it may be one resident that’s the cause of the problem, central piping lines can affect everyone. The cost for regular plumbing maintenance is much less than paying for calamity later.
Multi-family housing has (3) three sanitary drainage system components:
- Vertical Stacks (Called Waste Stacks, Soil Stacks, or Vent Stacks depending their plumbing purpose). These pipes typically run up and down—extending from horizontal building drain under unit slab or basement—up through to roof. Stacks can sometimes run horizontal within upper floors to distribute water properly.
Waste Stacks are used for clean water fixtures only; sinks, showers, and bathtubs and do not receive waste from urinals or water closets. If they’re ever connected into a waste stack, it’s considered a Soil Stack.
Soil Stacks receive discharge from urinals and water closets. Clean water fixtures such as sinks and showers may also tie into soil stacks.
Vent Stacks provide airflow through drainage system so when water flows through pipes, back pressure will not occur. The top part of a Vertical Stack that’s above the highest fixture becomes a Vent Stack.
- Branch Lines are similar to branches of a tree. Branch lines connect dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, showers, and toilets to their corresponding Vertical Stack. They carry waste to underground or basement drains.
- Horizontal Underground Lines are up to 6-8” in diameter and run underneath building slab. Often called your “building sewer drain”, they’re pitched to carry waste away from unit’s Waste or Soil Stacks to your city sewer.
Did You Know? Just a few generations ago, water and sewage systems were quite primitive. In the 1890s, wealthy city residents may have had septic systems to handle waste, but most homes were still using outhouses. Around that time, the fresh water supply was brought into the residences through wooden and copper piping. —Cooperator.com
Common Types Of Building Pipes
Cast Iron Pipes: Fire resist material for sanitary drainage because it offers low noise durability, supporting 4,877 lbs. per linear foot—ideal for apartments or multi-family buildings. While expensive and a short lifespan of 25-35 years, it’s most practical for multi-story units and will not burn in the event of a fire.
Vitrified Clay Pipes: Found in historic homes and buildings, dating back to ancient times. Clay pipes have industrial-strength and are chemical resistant, making them durable for sanitary drainage. However, clay is porous and susceptible to tree root intrusion.
PVC Piping: Installed in mass quantities since 1970 as a cost effective alternative to cast iron. PVC studies indicate over a 100 year lifespan, however, exact longevity is not yet determined. PVC is not fire-resistant and carcinogenic (potential cancer causing) fumes are known to occur with excessive heat. Because of noisy water transportation, PVC is not a great use of material in multi-family buildings. While stronger than wooden block pipes from years past, PVC is not as industrial as cast iron piping.
Diagram illustration: Pipelining Technologies, Inc.
7 Plumbing Maintenance Tips That Will Keep Your Multi-Family Housing In Top Shape
1. Video Scope For Pipe Cracks or Channeling
Sewer repair or pipe replacement is a major undertaking for multi-family buildings, so it’s wise to get your plumbing system inspected on a regular basis. Video scoping well in advance will allow you to provide a temporary fix to any early leaks that may cause major problems down the road. Most notable, if there’s a possibility that you’ll need to replace pipelines sooner than later because of these “small leaks”, you’ll buy time to pre-plan and provide early notification to your residents.
2. Check For Sewer Leaks
If you notice unusual smells or unexplained standing water, inspect your plumbing for sewage trouble that can drive up your costs and have potential to put your resident’s health at risk. Often hidden, sewer leaks are difficult to notice until a sobering event occurs, such as sewage backup in your shared unit. Another indication of a sewer problem is a sudden, unexplained increase in your water bill.
3. Regular Plumbing Maintenance
If your kitchen sink can get clogged in a residential building and a multi-family unit. The difference is that now the plumbing problem may not affect just one resident. A clog sink on one floor could affect multiple units in an apartment or multi-family building because of standard intertwined piping, causing bigger problems for the entire building and you as the building owner or supervisor.
Thus, ‘jiggling the handle until it goes away’ may not be enough when it comes to a multi-family unit. And, often times, a mere “snaking” out is not enough. When you have a multi-family unit, quick fixes may not cut it, nor paint the entire picture.
Contacting a professional plumbing team in your area for regular plumbing maintenance will be a wise investment. Your trusted plumbing team will not allow you to go at this alone. You need a commercial plumbing plan in place.
4. Check For Dirty Water
Dirty water is common in older multi-family units, especially if the building is older and its floor structure has various pipe stacks. Ancient water and sewer lines can break down and corrode over time. Inspect the quality of the water on a regular basis.
5. Install Drain Screens
Drain screens can be a proactive—yet low cost—maintenance item, preventing unnecessary debris from ending up in your unit’s system.
6. Remove All Unit Garbage Disposals
A good idea is to eliminate garbage disposals. While garbage disposals are a modern day convenience, residents are not always careful and these disposals can get backed up daily. It may be one residents fault, but it can reflect poorly on the building manager if the whole unit experiences problems and you can’t be there fast enough to fix the problem right away.
7. Budget For Plumbing
You’ll need to budget for replacement and/or repair, particularly if your multi-family unit was built prior to 1985 with cast iron piping, which is quite common. Your piping replacement is not a matter of “if”, but “when” you’ll have to do it.
Because of life expectancy of cast iron piping and how all your pipes are interconnected within a multi-family building, you get the idea of how much is involved in planning this maintenance undertaking. In most cases, replacing pipes will require trenching out slabs, floors, and walls, as well as relocating tenants. And, conventional pipe replacement is an expensive project. Plan your finances now and save more costly headaches later.
Qualified, licensed master plumbers will carve out time to meet with you as the multi-family building owner or manager. Together, you can develop a sound plumbing strategy and timeline—one that’s easily communicated to your tenants.
Keep Up With Plumbing Maintenance For Your
Knowing your building’s history and plumbing structure will help you identify your unique plumbing strategy. Clarifying multi-family unit contracts (prior to any plumbing trouble) and discussing options with your residents will also assist you in maintaining your building.
Need a dependable plumber in the Metro Detroit area to assess your multi-family building? Consider WaterWork Plumbing for ALL your plumbing needs. Call us today: 248-542-8022 to schedule an appointment. We’d like to discuss your commercial plumbing strategy options.