Critical Facilities Summit

4  FM quick reads on Plumbing

1. Slow Drains First Sign of Clogged Plumbing


For maintenance workers with drain-cleaning responsibilities, the first sign of a blocked trap below a sink or shower is slow draining. They can easily clear the blockage with liquid drain cleaner. The cleaner should react in the drain for at least 30 minutes before flushing. They might need several tries before the drain flows freely. For more persistent trap buildups, a snake or spinner auger can be the answer.

Quickly clearing multi-fixture blockages requires up-to-date knowledge of the piping systems. In most institutions, several drain lines exit through several laterals connecting at different points to the sewer main, so fully understanding which fixtures drain to which laterals before entering the sewer main is essential.

For instance, if sink A and toilet B drain into a common sewer drain lateral C, and they are backing up, the place to go to correct the blockage is the cleanout in lateral C that serves both drains. Timing generally is important in such situations, because of the disruption and health issues that can result from clogs and backups. Consequently, a good preemptive measure is to locate these drains ahead of time and determine the fixtures that drain into them before an emergency arises.

Another valuable troubleshooting tool is keeping good records of all maintenance work orders involving various piping systems. This tactic will save precious time when an emergency occurs, since workers will not have to waste time tracing the lines to find the right cleanout fitting.

Giving some thought about quick access to these cleanout points is also important. Technicians need to have access to these points without having to open a hole in a wall or remove permanently mounted wall panels.


2.  Drain Cleaning: Looking for Trouble

Drains in institutional and commercial facilities can present tough challenges. By understanding the locations of the most common drain-cleaning trouble spots in facilities' plumbing systems, maintenance and engineering managers will be better able to specify the most appropriate equipment to meet the challenges.

The most common drain trouble spots 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 waste water 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.  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.

4.  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.


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Plumbing , restrooms , drain cleaning

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