Critical Facilities Summit

4  FM quick reads on drain cleaning

1. Educational Programs Help Minimize the Need for Drain Cleaning


Education — both for building occupants and of technicians — is essential for minimizing the need for drain cleaning in institutional and commercial facilities.

In health care, the process involves ensuring a sterile environment by strict adherence to proper waste isolation and disposal procedures to avoid transmission of diseases. Point-of-use signs that show proper disposal of solid waste and points out well-maintained and clean waste disposal receptacles is a constant reminder for occupants to help prevent drains problems.

Education programs for maintenance technicians encompass safe and effective methods for using equipment, such as snakes, powered drain cleaners, high-pressure water-jet cleaners, and video cameras. The process also involves information on proper personal protective equipment, including gloves, glasses with side shields or goggles, hard hats, and respirators.

The education process also should address proper use of cleaning chemicals. Using correct, measured amounts and types of chemical cleaners, along with effective methods, ensures health and safety while minimizing product use. Experts warn against using acid-based cleaners because, in addition to eating away iron pipes, they dissolve the grease but simply move it farther into the drain, where it re-solidifies and can cause a worse clog. Bleach cleaners turn grease into carbon dioxide and water, and are much safer.

Inventorying cleaning chemicals can help housekeepers discover safety risks. If a housekeeper's closet has hydrochloric acid cleaner and another has sodium hypochlorite cleaner, and janitors use them in different parts of the same drain, they combine to form chlorine gas. If this combination backs up in a sink due to a clog, it can produce chlorine gas, which can be deadly.

Discussing drain cleaners with several vendors helps managers get the right combination for their drains, as well as advice on application training. Education courses offered by vendors ensure that supervisors know problems to watch for and that custodians know proper amounts for dilution rates to achieve the desired strength, and application methods.


2.  Plumbing: Keeping Drains Clear and Flowing

The most common drain trouble spots with plumbing systems that require the attention of technicians with drain-cleaning equipment are those areas where solids build up — sink, shower, and toilet drains.

Kitchen-sink drains dispose of grease and garbage, which can build up in traps. Shower drain traps can get clogged with soap residue and hair. Toilet bowls can get blocked with waste, paper products, and foreign objects. These solids might partially dissolve, but they are known to accumulate in piping over time and cause complete blockages, backups and overflows.

Blockages often occur in the lower end of a vertical riser that collects wastewater from several fixtures. The place to access the problems is at the cleanout where the drains collect. Opening the horizontal and vertical cleanouts and attacking the clog at that point generally solves the problem.

More complicated blockages occur when the common sewer drain that collects sink, shower and toilet waste becomes blocked. The tipoff to trouble is backups occurring at several points at the same time.

For example, if the common sewer drain is blocked, a backup can occur at a toilet and a sink drain at the same time. When the toilet is flushed, it backs up into the sink drain. The cause of the problem can be buildup on pipe walls, a solid object lodged in the drain, a tree root growing into the drain, or a combination of these problems. In addition to the inconvenience, this type of blockage is a serious potential health problem, and workers must deal with it right away.

Floor drains can present unique challenges, depending on the facility type and location. Garage drains are quite different from drains in basements or restrooms, and each requires specialized cleaning equipment.

3.  Minimizing the Need for Drain Cleaning

I'm Steve Schuster, associate editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic discusses drain cleaning.

Drain cleaning in institutional and commercial facilities presents maintenance and engineering managers with challenges that are especially tough in health care and education. The challenges in health care facilities include the need for preventive maintenance to head off clogged drains, as well as ensuring a sterile environment for patient health and safety.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in education facilities is the need to stay one step ahead of students who create major headaches for departments' efforts to keep sinks, urinals and toilets clog-free and operational.

By understanding the most pressing drain-cleaning challenges related to both equipment and processes, managers and front-line technicians can develop solutions to prevent and detect these problems.

Using correct, measured amounts and types of chemical cleaners, along with effective methods, ensures health and safety while minimizing product use. Experts warn against using acid-based cleaners because, in addition to eating away iron pipes, they dissolve the grease but simply move it farther into the drain, where it re-solidifies and can cause a worse clog. Bleach cleaners turn grease into carbon dioxide and water, and are much safer.

Discussing drain cleaners with several vendors helps managers get the right combination for their drains, as well as advice on application training. Education courses offered by vendors ensure that supervisors know problems to watch for and that custodians know proper amounts for dilution rates to achieve the desired strength, and application methods.

4.  Plumbing: Drain-Cleaning Strategies

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, drain-cleaning strategies.

Keeping plumbing systems flowing is essential for safe, smooth operations in institutional and commercial facilities. Essential for success in achieving this goal are drain-cleaning strategies that involve the right equipment for the job.

For light drain cleaning, such as sinks clogged with hair, a technician can aim a flashlight down the drain to see if inserting a wire hook will remove the hair. But for sinks, toilets, and small floor drains with traps blocked by solid objects, mechanical cleaning is the first line of defense.

The technician's first step is to check if the trap is in good condition. If not, the technician should place a bucket under the trap, disassemble it, and replace it with a new trap, taking care not to damage the tailpipe from the sink to the trap or the drainpipe extension in the lateral. If the trap is in good condition but blocked, the most appropriate tools are manual plungers, snakes, and air rams.

Managers also can specify a range of power drain cleaners sized for three categories of drains: sink lines, floor and secondary drains, and laterals and mains. Considerable overlap exists among pipe diameters, so depending on the range of diameters in a drain system, one tool might cover everything.

The options for drain-cleaning equipment include sectional machines — with separate coils of 10- or 15-foot cables — and drum machines with longer cables for long lines. Augers, cutters, and chain-knocker accessories attach to the end of cable, which is fed into the drain first. Depending on configuration, technicians can use these attachments for initial clearing, exploratory inspection, and removing heavy blockages. Technicians also can use the same cable sequentially to do all three tasks on the same job.

Besides drain-cleaning equipment, managers can specify video cameras with monitors and recorders, as well as 325 feet of cable to inspect 2- to 12-inch drain lines and locate blockages.


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drain cleaning , plumbing , restrooms

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