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Plumbing the Depths

From clogged drains to leaky faucets, plumbing issues can disrupt facilities’ operations.

By Regina Ludes

No matter how many locations you manage, plumbing mishaps can happen at any time. From clogged drains and leaking toilets to low water volume and overheated water, plumbing issues can create an unfavorable experience for customers and employees. At worst, they can disrupt your business operations.

Ray Salzer, Ideal Services NW
Ray Salzer, Ideal Services NW

Drains are the most common concern because tanks hold less water than they used to, explained Ray Salzer, Senior Director at Ideal Services NW in Tacoma, Washington. “Tanks used to contain three and a half gallons of water, but now it’s reduced to one gallon, or less. The slope from the pipes to the street is the same as it was 50 years ago, but with less water pushing the debris, clogs form,” he said. If a clogged drain requires more than a plunger to resolve the issue, then it’s time to contact a professional.

When clogs occur frequently, it’s usually related to a waste line problem. “It may be caused by the fixtures being used, the water pressure or the way the supplier handled the problem,” Salzer said. “Sometimes a supplier will run a snake down the pipe and through the debris, forming a hole like a ‘donut hole’ to allow water to drain out. This can give the impression that the line is cleared, but the clog returns hours or days later. It’s best to camera a line if a clog reoccurs.”

Know the Basics  

While facilities managers don’t need to be expert plumbers or perform repairs themselves, they should understand several basic concepts about why plumbing problems occur and how they can be fixed.

Water will find the path of least resistance. If clogs happen often, look at the piping and the plumbing lines. If there’s resistance in the water line, bubbling will occur in the toilet. That’s where the path of least resistance will be. “Ideally, you want the path of least resistance to lead directly out toward the street,” Salzer said. 

Make sure the correct replacement part is being used. Facilities managers need to do their own due diligence to make sure the supplier is using the correct replacement part. Salzer recalled an incident when a Sloane valve on a toilet was replaced with a valve that produced less water, resulting in frequent clogs. “It turned out the part was for a urinal, not a toilet,” he said. “If the right part isn’t being used or they’re offering only short-term solutions, you’ll end up replacing or repairing the item eventually.”

Make sure replacement pipes are made of the same material as existing ones. Trying to fit pipes of two different and incompatible materials can cause serious problems. Don’t fit any pipes just because they’re readily available or convenient, Salzer suggested.

“When copper pipes are fitted with galvanized material, it can cause an electrolysis within the copper pipe, which can begin to dissolve from the inside out. The inner lining of the pipe thins out and can’t hold the water contained within it, which can cause pin holes to form, resulting in possible catastrophic failure,” Salzer explained.

Install mixing valves to prevent water from getting overheated. Mixing valves allows some mix of hot and cold water to prevent it from heating to more than 105 degrees. “You want hot water to do what you need it to, but you don’t want to harm anyone,” Salzer said.

What’s New in Plumbing?

Salzer said several new products on the market can provide cost savings and allow water to be used more efficiently. Many public facilities have installed motion-sensing fixtures that allow toilets to flush automatically and sinks to turn on and off when needed.

Insta-hot water heaters work on demand, heating only the water needed to perform certain tasks instead of the entire tank, thus using less water and saving energy. Some suppliers offer automated systems that flush pipes every day to clear out any debris, preventing potential clogs.

Pressure-assist toilets have a sealed pressure tank inside the main tank, which traps air and water. When flushed, the compressed air forces the water out into the toilet bowl, clearing it out faster and more efficiently.

Automated drain-jetting systems automatically force the waste line out, preventing debris from forming into clogs. This is an alternative to digging up waste lines, which can disrupt business.

Final Tips

When hiring a plumber, get referrals and check credentials. Make sure the supplier has the training and experience to perform the type of repair you need and that they’re using the right tools and parts for your project.

Most importantly, be aware of small issues around your facilities before they turn into larger headaches. Arming yourself with these plumbing basics can keep those problems at bay.

Check out the plumbing DEMO Lab at the ConnexFM2024 National Conference! Visit the event education page for future schedule details.

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