Critical Facilities Summit

4  FM quick reads on plumbing

1. Plumbing: Preventing Retrofit Roadblocks


One of the most challenging issues facing maintenance and engineering managers planning restroom upgrades involves building codes. The last few years have seen the development of a range of new plumbing products.

As a result, it is common to find local inspectors and code officials who are not familiar with a product or might feel it is inappropriate to use it in a particular application. Even when the International Plumbing Code and state-adopted plumbing codes permit the use of a particular device, some local jurisdictions might not.

To minimize code-compliance issues — even when drawings already have been approved — managers should meet with code officials in order to detail the steps they are planning to take in the upgrade program, as well as their reasons for taking these steps.

Frequently, managers and code officials can resolve issues with little or no modification to the planned construction. By taking this approach, managers can resolve issues before construction begins, avoiding both acceptance delays and costly modifications.

ADA compliance presents another common challenge facing restroom upgrades. Managers need to review all construction drawings carefully to ensure they comply with ADA requirements. Even then, issues can arise, due to construction conflicts or contractors who do not follow the letter of the design.

Managers can minimize conflicts by selecting a contractor who fully understands ADA requirements, and by closely monitoring the contractor's performance. The sooner managers and contractors identify potential ADA issues, the easier it will be to resolve them.


2.  ADA: Avoiding Restroom Accessibility Woes

Restrooms in institutional and commercial buildings remain common areas for accessibility errors because of the many components related to accessibility, including doors, door hardware and dispensers.

A closer look at tested and proven strategies for successfully renovating and remodeling restrooms can help managers address trouble spots in restrooms and can be invaluable in ensuring compliance with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) access guidelines.

Managers first need to understand the individual accessibility standards that combine to produce an accessible restroom. Misapplying these standards and requirements or installing products incorrectly not only makes a restroom non-accessible for individuals with disabilities. It also will heighten the probability of lawsuits alleging discrimination under the ADA and state codes.

Remodeling and new construction usually trigger the application of new accessibility standards. If a remodeling or new construction project is not compliant, it is hard to defend the reasons for including newly installed features, such as soap dispensers, that are not compliant. The cost to install a soap dispenser incorrectly is usually the same as the cost to install a compliant dispenser.

Good students do their homework, and the same philosophy applies to contractors and maintenance and operations staff when remodeling restrooms. Understanding accessibility requirements will result in doing the job right the first time.

Specifying compliant products and paying careful attention to installation details will result in compliant restrooms that meet the federal accessibility requirement of the ADA accessibility guidelines (ADAAG) and state codes. Compliance with ADA is a minimum standard. If a state standard requires a greater level of accessibility than the ADAAG requirement, the state standard applies.

To maximize access for facility occupants and visitors when planning a restroom remodeling or renovation, managers can focus on these 8 key areas.

3.  Plan Ahead to Control Plumbing Costs

Typically, one main goal of a plumbing retrofit is to replace damaged or dated fixtures with modern, more efficient fixtures that result in a reduction of the amount of water facilities use and, as a result, decrease their overall expenditures on utilities.

But it is important for managers to be aware of problems that could occur during a fixture replacement project.

For example, scope creep can be a significant problem for any project. When assessing a potential plumbing retrofit, it is important to define the project's goals and expectations early in the planning process. When reviewing the financial aspects of the retrofit, it is easy for managers to become carried away with inaccurate savings projections.

Among the essential aspects managers must consider are the number of fixtures to be replaced, the difference in flow volumes between the new and existing fixtures, and the frequency with which occupants and visitors use the fixtures. Managers also must consider the cost of water and of wastewater, as well as the effect these costs will have on the project's overall payback.

For managers who run into problems developing the cost and return on investment values, they can consult many online resources to help determine an estimate for the frequency with which occupants and visitors use a fixture. Examples of such resources include the Energy Star program and the LEED rating system.

Alternatively, managers can seek professional help by requesting the assistance of a plumbing contractor or consultant familiar with the types of systems to be replaced or installed. When going this route, it is important to have the contractor or consultant review the as-built conditions and existing water consumption and compare those factors to the installation requirements and estimated reduction in water use. A good consultant can create a baseline and extrapolate reasonable expectations for future water use and the associated savings and payback.

4.  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.


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