Although commercial buildings vary in size, shape and construction, the nitty-gritty of their plumbing systems are similar. That’s good news for small business owners and property managers who prefer to DIY their own plumbing.
“Knowing your system, being prepared, and routine maintenance are the best ways property owners can take care of their plumbing,” says Kenny Carter, a systems technician for Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services in Portland, Oregon. “Whether you’re a restaurant owner or apartment building manager, it comes down to basics.”
Inspect and assess your plumbing
Getting familiar with your plumbing system and its components is an essential first step. Here’s what you need to know:
• Make sure every sink, toilet and water-using appliance has its own shut-off valve. Ball-type quarter-turn valves operate smoothly and reliably.
• Know your pipes. Each type—cast-iron, steel, copper, PEX and ABS—has unique requirements for installation and repair. Galvanized iron and steel are especially susceptible to corrosion.
• If laundry and mechanical rooms don’t have floor drains, install water containment pans under water heaters, boilers and water-using appliances.
• Identify any specialized fixtures, such as pressure-flushing urinals, and make sure you have maintenance and repair manuals for all.
Not sure what you’re looking at? Call in a licensed plumber to help you catalog your system. Consider the $100-to-$200 consultation fee a long-term investment.
Preparing for an emergency
Preventing catastrophic leaks is a property owner’s primary responsibility. A burst pipe or clogged sewer line can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, interrupt business operations and even result in a liability claim from tenants and other property owners.
• Know where your water main shut-off valve is located. If it’s in a closed and locked area, make sure you have an access key or code. Your first duty in an emergency is to stop the flow of water before too much damage occurs.
• Make sure employees and tenants know whom to call in an emergency. If it’s you, provide your contact number and be ready to spring into action, day or night. Add a backup number of a reliable emergency service for when you’re not available.
• Keep plumbing tools on site—you don’t want to go fumbling around your home workshop if there’s an emergency. Store wrenches, drain snakes and the repair supplies for various types of pipes in a locked room or closet at each of your properties.
Regularly scheduled maintenance
Routine maintenance checks are the heart and soul of a trouble-free plumbing system, and an “ounce of prevention” mentality will help protect your bottom line.
According to EPA’s WaterSense program, a single leaky faucet can send up to 3,000 gallons of wasted water down the drain every year. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection adds that even a small leak in a toilet can waste 30 gallons of water per day, and a large leak can waste up to 4,000 gallons—or more than $40 per day.
Keep an eye out for signs of moisture, such as obvious damp spots and stains on floors or ceilings, and tell your employees to do the same. Chronically refilling toilet tanks and sounds of continually running water can signal a hidden leak that needs repair. Other essentials include:
• Test water supply valves annually to make sure they’re working, and lubricate valves to prevent corrosion. Occupancy changeover is a good time to check and replace valves.
• Drain and flush sediment from water heaters once each year. Check temperature and pressure (T&P) safety relief valves by opening the valve for about 5 seconds. When shut, the valve should stop water flow completely.
• Watch your water bill. An increasing amount of water usage, or an unexplained spike, could mean a hidden leak somewhere.
• Use a calendar app, such as Schedule Planner for Mac OS or Pocket Informant for Android, to send reminders to your smartphone or tablet so you don’t skip maintenance tasks.
Know when to fold ‘em
Online articles and instructional videos on YouTube can be godsends when it comes to plumbing repairs and maintenance. But knowing your limitations is invaluable, too.
“The best thing you can do is make sure you’re not making a problem worse,” says Larry Rothman, director of plumbing services for Roto-Rooter. “Sometimes new property owners think they can do more than they’re really capable of. They might not have the expertise, or they might not have the right tools. You don’t want to be penny-wise and pound foolish, thinking you’re going to save a couple hundred bucks by not calling in a professional plumber. Experts can minimize time, cost and extent of the damage because they know what they’re doing.”
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