4  FM quick reads on plumbing

1. 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.


2.  Easy Cleaning Key to Restroom Savings

One essential measure of efficiency for managers seeking savings in restrooms is ease of cleaning. The less time spent cleaning a restroom, the better. To minimize cleaning times, managers should give careful thought to restroom materials and fixture selection.

Tile is a tried-and-true restroom material that has a long life span, but managers should not view tile as low-maintenance material because cleaning grout lines between tiles can be laborious. Managers specifying tile for floors or walls should consider installing large-format tiles to minimize the amount of grout requiring periodic maintenance.

Vinyl floors and wall coverings also deserve a second look. The lack of seams in sheet vinyl makes it easier to maintain than other options, and it is easier to replace. Manufacturers produce vinyl in many attractive styles, and the cost of vinyl flooring makes it one of the cheapest options available.

Managers should be aware that the production of vinyl comes with an environmental cost: It is manufactured using chlorine gas and phthalate plasticizers.

For large expanses of walls, moisture-resistant gypsum board and paint suitable for the wet, humid conditions of a restroom might be the simplest solutions. Housekeepers can wipe painted walls, and repainting these surfaces generally is fast and cheap.

Managers also should consider installing a backsplash behind sinks, and tiles might be suitable when used in small amounts. Alternative materials to consider include glass, mirror, marble, and waterproof wall panels. These materials can come in large panels and, unlike tiles, have few joints, which can lead to leaks.

To ensure more efficient and effective restroom cleaning, managers should consider specifying wall-hung fixtures instead of floor- or surface-mounted fixtures. Also, replacing a floor-mounted water closet in a restroom retrofit can be an expensive and, therefore, impractical undertaking because it will involve rerouting drain lines.

Managers also can replace counter-mounted lavatory faucets by relocating water pipes to the wall. This eliminates faucets on the counter, which are obstructions to efficient counter cleaning.

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 Systems: Setting Retrofit Goals

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, setting plumbing upgrade goals.

When maintenance and engineering managers make the decision to upgrade restrooms in institutional and commercial facilities, they typically are motivated by one or more common goals.

They might want to reduce water use in restrooms in an effort to curtail utility costs. They might want to implement a design that reduces maintenance costs by making it easier to keep the restrooms clean. In some cases, user complaints might motivate them to seek a new restroom with improved hygiene. Or they simply might want to bring the image of the restroom projects in line with the rest of the facility.

How well managers achieve their desired goals depends on the care with which they approach the process of planning upgrades. Managers should start the restroom upgrade process by clearly identifying the goals of the project. Forget cookie-cutter approaches. Most likely, they are the cause of the restroom's current problems. Instead, managers should approach every decision with a clear understanding of the way it will affect the desired goals of the upgrade.

For example, if one of the primary goals is to reduce cleaning costs, managers will need to evaluate the impact of every element in the new restroom design — including ceilings, floors, fixtures, surfaces and finishes — in terms of its relative cost to maintain its cleanliness.

Perhaps the most common error managers make when planning restroom upgrades is focusing on first costs. Over the life of a restroom, first costs in most applications are small, relative to operating and maintenance costs.

Focusing too heavily on an upgrade project's first costs also can result in a restroom design that does not allow managers to achieve long-term savings and hygiene goals. In many cases, even slight increases in first costs can result in very significant decreases in long-term operating and maintenance costs.


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