4  FM quick reads on plumbing

1. Plumbing and Legionella: Setting the Record Straight


It might seem that technology puts more information in the hands of maintenance and engineering managers than ever before. While that might be true, the information might not be accurate. Consider the example of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's Disease.

Since it was identified in 1976, much progress has been made in understanding the disease, its causes, where the bacteria is found, its health risks, and how to protect against it. It has also sparked many myths, from outright falsehoods to unsubstantiated claims that have no evidence to back them up.

Separating fact from fiction can be a challenge. Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) has taken on this challenge as part of an ongoing effort to address the myths surrounding the industry and to promote safe and healthy installation and maintenance practices.

One of the most widespread myths is that Legionella can be seen with the naked eye, and such discussions often include a photo of a calcified showerhead as an example. This is false. The presence of mineral deposits on plumbing fixtures does not mean Legionella is present.

But Legionella can grow in certain types of mold. Slime molds, also known as biofilm, can provide ideal breeding grounds for Legionella. As with any mold growing in buildings, biofilm should be taken seriously and be properly tested, analyzed and removed. Testing for biofilms and Legionella should be done routinely and should span the entire plumbing system, as they can spring up at any place along the network of pipes and fixtures. Maintenance supervisors, facility managers, and health and safety engineers should set up routine checks and tests and send samples to be professionally tested in proper labs for Legionella. This testing will assist in understanding the levels of the bacteria present and can help determine the proper way to remove it from the building.

Removing Legionella can be done in a multitude of ways, from flushes of hot water strong enough to kill the bacteria to chemical baths and hyperchlorination to copper-silver ionization and ultraviolet light purification. Each style features certain benefits and drawbacks, and each requires a working knowledge of the building's system.


2.  How to Find Proper Drain-Cleaning Equipment

To make sure drain-cleaning equipment can handle the most demanding plumbing maintenance tasks in a facility, include answers to these questions in specifications:

  • What is the range of pipe inside diameters to be cleaned?
  • What power source is required? Electric? Pneumatic? Manual?
  • What kinds of fittings are required? Screw-type? Root cutter? Short radius for sharp turns?
  • What length cable? 25 feet? 50 feet? Longer?
  • Are the proper type backflow preventers specified to protect the potable water supply when using flushing hoses?
When using a pressure washer for drain cleaning, the two most important questions to ask before selecting nozzles are: What is the machine's flow in gallons per minute? What is the machine's pressure in pounds per square inch?

Higher flow rates result in faster cleaning of loosened material.

3.  Plumbing Efficiency: Looking for Trouble

New plumbing products and systems have come a long way in terms of performance and water conservation in recent years. Unfortunately, restrooms in many institutional and commercial facilities continue to use outdated and inefficient plumbing fixtures, valves, toilets and faucets that contribute to water waste and drive up utility costs.

By identifying top water wasters in restrooms and fine-tuning inspection, maintenance, and monitoring procedures, maintenance and engineering managers can eliminate or minimize water waste. Beyond that they can use benchmarks to determine whether a plumbing retrofit is the most appropriate course of action.

Vigilance is the best defense against wasted water in restroom plumbing systems. The sooner technicians can identify the source, the quicker they can prevent water waste. Regular, preventive inspections are the surest way to spot and correct problems.

The first and least costly method to eliminate waste is to look for leaks and high flow rates and, where detected, to replace leaking fixtures, faucet aerators, shower heads, and toilet valves with the newer products that use less water. Replacing high-flow restrictors with low-flow restrictors can reduce water consumption at each faucet by 50 percent.

Another waste reducer is submetering, which measures the flows in various areas and can help managers determine which buildings or systems are the biggest users and wasters. One quick way to determine the presence of leaks is to read the meter at two-hour intervals when no water is being used. The difference between the two is water wasted from leaks. With this comparison, managers can focus conservation efforts and resources on projects and produce the largest paybacks.

4.  Plumbing: Keeping Drains Flowing

The first step in ensuring the success of drain cleaning activities is to gain a solid understanding of how and where blockages in plumbing systems are most likely to occur. Then maintenance technicians can open a cleanout close to the actual blockage site. They do this by using a hammer and pin bar to carefully punch a small opening in the cleanout plug at the bottom of a riser. Next, drain it into a container placed under the plug opening. Then, the technician can remove the cleanout plug and insert a short rod flattened on the end into the line to break up the nearby clog.

In this case, the pipe wall up to the blockage is visible with a flashlight, so the technician can inspect it to ensure the blockage is completely clear. The technician also can check the pipe wall at the site to see if the wall has collapsed or deteriorated to the point where it will soon have to be replaced.

If the blockage is farther down the line where the technician cannot see it with a flashlight, one option is to insert a closed circuit television camera into the drain to find the cause and location. The camera enables the technician to see the condition of the pipe walls to determine if a replacement is needed.

Connected to a PC, the camera can record and report situations with integrated graphics transmitted anywhere accessible on a network. It also can store data managers can use later in planning repairs and training new technicians. If the PC also contains graphics of the drain network, a technician can retrieve the stored data to anticipate the location of bends and offsets, as well as where previous clogs occurred, to diagnose new problems.


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