Common Commercial Plumbing Problems: How to Solve Them
Not all plumbing is created equal (that’s pretty obvious), However, when comparing commercial and residential plumbing, commercial plumbing is far more complex. Dealing with common problems that crop up in commercial facilities poses a host of challenges. They’re very different from more straightforward, residential plumbing issues. Imagine a family home, and then imagine a 20-story office tower — or even more intricate — a 20-story apartment building.
It’s not difficult to see how different these two entities are. Some of the common plumbing problems that arise on a commercial job may seem similar to what happens in private homes. However, because of the scope of the plumbing needed, commercial concerns can be magnified, causing headaches for property managers and tenants alike.
- Hot Water Issues:
Hot water problems are an issue for homes, commercial property owners, and tenants. For some commercial enterprises (think hairdressers and spas), lack of hot water can prove devastating. If you own an apartment building, seniors’ residence, or care facility — the local building code likely requires that hot water gauges and controls be in place to prevent burns. That said, according to the Landlord/Tenant act, hot water is considered a vital service and any issues with vital services must be dealt with promptly.
Hot water systems in large, commercial properties are far more elaborate than the average residential system, and tracing the cause of an issue can be time-consuming.
The hot water heater is almost always the culprit; replacing the thermostat or insulating the tank and pipes might help. Lack of temperature regulation can also be a very big deal for commercial properties, so calling a plumbing professional is the smart solution.
- Clogged Toilets:
A backed-up toilet is a major inconvenience in one’s home, but the impact on restaurants, hotels, and other venues can be extreme. The hospitality industry is greatly impacted by this problem. Few things are more off-putting to a customer than a clogged toilet at a restaurant.
Controlling what goes in to toilets in commercial locations (including apartment and office buildings) is next to impossible. Signs indicating what can or cannot be flushed down the toilet will only have so much influence. In large, complex systems, blockages can have cascading effects. An overflow (for example) can lead to serious water damage.
Most small clogs can be remedied with a plunger. Yet, for chronic or multi-fixture issues, a plumber is qualified to look for more serious causes — like pump problems.
- Sewer Odour:
Sewer smell is a mixture of inorganic gases that contain compounds like hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Inhaling this combination of gases directly from the sewer could lead to serious injury to the respiratory system.
Fortunately, the unappealing smells that occasionally occur (both in residential and commercial properties) are mostly annoying, rather than harmful. While sewer smells in your home may be inconvenient, the effect of sewer smells for a business can have a massive financial impact.
Ways that sewer gases can get inside a building:
Dry trap: This is the common cause of sewer gas odours. When damp, a trap is simple yet effective. Made from a u-shaped pipe or tubing, it connects one end to the drain (such as a floor drain or a bathroom fixture); the other connects to a sewer line.
The u-shaped drain effectively holds a small amount of water — it’s this liquid that prevents sewage gases from coming into the interior of the building. If the trap is dry, there’s nothing to stop odours from escaping.
A blocked vent: Vents are used to equalize pressure caused by wastewater running through the system. They allows sewer odours to escape. If the venting is blocked, smells can’t be released outside and (instead) build up inside a facility.
Damaged drain line: Although a rare occurrence, drain lines can develop a crack or break — sometimes with age or after an earthquake. This causes sewage to be released under the facility instead of being carried away.
If sewage gases are detected, there are remedies you can try, but keep your plumbing professional on speed dial. The first thing to do is pour two cups of pure tap water down every drain in the facility. If the odours dissipate after a couple of days, then a dry trap was the culprit.
If that’s not the problem, try to identify the problem drain. Remove the grating and disinfect the drain. If sewer gas smell persists, call a plumber immediately.
- Clogged Drains: In commercial buildings (especially apartment and office buildings) clogged drains are one of the most common problems. Like with toilets, it’s difficult to monitor what people are putting down sinks or tubs. If you can’t access individual units or dictate housekeeping rules to tenants, you’ll most likely have to deal with drain blockages at some point.
The first thing is to know what to listen or look for — or smell. Stopping clogs before they become a serious problem is paramount to preventing larger issues.
Gauge if this is happening in your building:
- Water drains slowly or pools around a drain
- Water backs up
- Gurgling sounds coming from a drain
- Water puddles near a sink or tub
- Nasty smells coming from the drains
- Smell of rotting food coming from a garbage disposal
If these problems are reported to you in a timely manner, you can take steps to nip any expensive, time-consuming issues in the bud.
- Check for the obvious culprits: (e.g. hair and soap scum). Remove any debris and clean the sink stopper and wire screen.
- Try plunging with a half-full sink or tub of water.
- Don’t immediately use chemical drain cleaners; these can corrode pipes.
- Know the location of the main water valve ( in case you have to turn it off).
Prevention is key.
For larger apartment and office buildings, post signs in the elevators of buildings (or send memos to tenants) with the following tips:
- Do not put cooking grease or coffee grounds down the sink.
- Use a screen cover in the shower drain to catch hair and soap scum; clean out debris at least once a week.
- In commercial restaurants, a grease trap must be installed.
- Clean your bathroom drain/screen once a week.
- If you have a garbage disposal, clean it monthly by grinding ice and salt and then flush it with cold water. Add a half lemon to reduce odours.
If you still have clogs after all these steps, call a plumber to investigate. They can determine if a backup or other issue might cause permanent damage to your building — and fix it immediately.
- Leaks: Fixture and pipe leaks are a huge waste of water. They are also preventable. Most fixture leaks are caused by damaged seals, washers, or O-rings, and are easily replaced. Pipe leaks are a different story and require the attention of a professional plumber to avoid a plumbing emergency.
It’s easy to tell when fixtures are leaking — faucets will drip, or you’ll see water around the base of taps. Pipe leaks require some more expert examination. First, note your meter reading then turn off the main water valve. Check your meter reading in two hours. If the number has increased, you have a leak.
Commercial plumbing problems can affect hundreds of people in a building. They are usually complex, time-consuming, and costly. For commercial plumbing solutions in Newmarket, Bolton, King City, and the Greater Toronto Area, call Plumbing Authority. We’ll keep your business’ customers or tenants happy with immediate repairs for your plumbing woes. We offer free on-site estimates and 24-hour emergency services. Give us a call today at (647) 992-PIPE (7473).