Change The Way You Look At A Plumbing Leak In 4 Easy Steps | SageWater

Four Key Things You Need to Know to Manage Pipes in Your Community

Change The Way You Look at A Plumbing Leak In 4 Easy Steps


Let’s face it, as the General Manager of a condo community, you have a VERY busy job. Unit 1203 already called twice this morning due to a funny smell in the hallway, the painting contractor has parked illegally blocking a resident trying to leave, and someone forgot to clean up after their pet again just outside the front door to the lobby. All that, and it’s not even 8:15 AM yet! Where’s the coffee?

To successfully run a building, there are literally a thousand things to keep track of, especially if you want to keep your building looking and performing its best. From paint and spalling to balconies and elevators, to lobbies and pool decks, to parking garages and landscaping, to windows and roofs, the list goes on and on. With so much to do and see on any given day, it’s easy to forget about the things you can’t see — the ones hidden behind your walls, like your pipes.

Eventually though, those pipes that are out of sight demand attention—and one day, they’ll need to be replaced entirely. Since leak repair and the inevitable community-wide pipe replacement are costly, we’ve listed four key things you need to know to better manage the pipes in your community.

1. Know Your Piping Systems

When there’s a leak in your building, you need to start with what system it’s coming from. Therefore, you should know how many plumbing systems you have in your building and what each one does.

For example, there can be as many as four major water-oriented piping systems in your community. (In this article, we’re excluding minor systems like for a pool or landscaping and gas lines). These four systems are:

  • Supply Piping (sometimes called domestic water) that brings hot and cold water to the units in your building. Think faucets and showers.
  • Drain, Waste, and Vent Piping, which carries wastewater out of your community. Think p-traps and drain lines under your sinks, toilets, and bathtubs, and rain leaders from your roof.
  • Hydronic Piping, which uses heated or cooled water passed through a fan coil to provide temperature controls (heat and air conditioning) in your building.
  • Sprinkler Piping, which is a key component of your fire suppression system.

In addition to knowing which systems you have, you should do your best to learn how long ago they were installed and with what material. Each piping system and material carries an estimated useful life that indicates how long it “should” last, though certain environmental factors can impact these estimates.

Generally speaking, 30-50 years is all you can expect to get from your pipes before age catches up with them and you start to have recurring and progressively more severe leaks.

2. Start a Leak Log

When pipes leak, document the details in a leak log. (SageWater provides one you can download for free.) The data you collect over time can help you prepare annual maintenance and operations budgets for plumbing services and repairs. You’re also more likely to detect when system failures have begun. Of course, tracking leaks in a leak log will also help inform reserve studies, which means your community is more likely to have adequate funds when it’s time to replace a piping system.

What information about each leak should you record in a leak log? Some examples are:

  • Which system was leaking?
  • Where was the leak located? If it was in a homeowner unit, where exactly? Was it near a recirculating pump on a hot water heater? Was it at a particular fixture or bend?
  • How bad was the leak? How many units were affected? Were common areas impacted? Did you need to close homeowner access to amenities, and for how long?
  • What did the leak cost? What were the service and repairs costs? Did you need to pay out a personal property damage claim? Did you pay it from an operations budget or did you file a claim with your insurer?

Source: SageWater
Save pieces of pipe removed during repairs.

3. Save All The Pieces Of Pipe

When your plumber or maintenance staff has to cut out sections of failing or damaged pipe and fittings to replace them, be sure they keep the extracted pieces. Tagging and bagging them and tying them to the leak log can help you better detect and diagnose a repetitive problem or a construction defect. For example, if the same fitting breaks at the same spot in every unit in a stack, it’s usually not coincidence. Saving the extracted pieces also allows you to send them out for testing in the future. A metallurgist or plastics engineer can inspect the sections of pipe to help determine why they failed and give you an accurate estimate of the remaining usable life of your system based on actual wear.

4. When a Wall Is Open, Take Pictures Of Your Pipes

Photographing the circumstances of a leak can also be extremely helpful, especially in older buildings that don’t have blueprints. When your plumber or maintenance staff cuts away wall to reach a pipe, take several pictures of the surrounding area and tie them to the leak log. When other leaks occur, it’s very helpful to “see” the actual conditions of previous incidents and the wall construction. Even if you have blueprints for your property, take pictures. Clear, accurate photo documentation can help to confirm or update what the blueprints show.

Follow these four key steps to better manage your community piping systems and avoid unexpected and costly plumbing failures. Knowing what is leaking, and using a leak log to properly document where, when, and how often is critical. First, because you’ll be prepared with data when your Board asks:  How many leaks did we have last quarter? Wasn’t that a roof leak? Which piping system leaks the most? Was there insulation in the wall where that repair was made?

Also, you can more readily determine whether you are dealing with an age-related piping problem or a construction defect. Finally, you’ll have essential information for determining when it’s time to help your Board prepare for a community-wide pipe replacement rather than continuing to repair leaks one at a time.

Start tracking your community leaks today.

Download the SageWater Leak Log

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