Plumbing System Efficiency: Repair or Replace?

By Winston Huff  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Plumbing and Restrooms - Dual-flush fixturesPt. 3: Plumbing and Restrooms - Replacement ConsiderationsPt. 4: Product Focus: Plumbing and Restrooms

The push for water conservation in restrooms in institutional and commercial facilities is creating pressure to address problems related to plumbing components and systems. One key decision maintenance and engineering managers face is whether to repair existing plumbing fixtures in an attempt to address water-conservation demands or to replace plumbing systems to achieve this goal.

By understanding the organization's goals and reviewing issues related to the specification of key plumbing-system components, managers will be better able to identify the key decision points in determining whether repair or replacement is the most appropriate option.

Understanding Goals

To determine whether repairing or retrofitting a plumbing system is the most appropriate decision, managers first will have to determine the organization's sustainability goals. Some building owners only want code-minimum facilities, while others set a goal of earning certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. And some take an aggressive approach and want as many water-efficient fixtures as possible in their facilities.

By understanding the key characteristics of specific plumbing and restroom fixtures, managers can deliver restroom facilities and plumbing systems that help the organization strike a balance between maintainability and sustainability.

Water closets. With new construction and major renovation projects, the standard fixture is a 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) water closet, an improvement to older fixtures installed before 1991, which often used 3-5 gpf. To earn LEED credits, managers should specify even higher-efficiency fixtures that use 1.28 gpf or less.

A variety of high-efficiency water closets on the market use 1.28 gpf. Most models from major manufacturers work well but, as with any product, exceptions exist that give the technology a bad name. When possible, specify fixtures that have earned the WaterSense label from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which ensures the fixtures are third-party tested and comply with both the required effective flush volume and solid-waste removal.

Mangers also must pay attention to the product's drain line carry, which refers to the distance solids will flow downstream of a water closet after flushing in a drain pipe. This issue can be a concern if a fixture uses less than 1.6 gpf and has been installed at the end of a long, horizontal waste pipe.

Some fixtures might not be able to move the solids far enough down the pipe, which could cause blockages. This problem does not seem to occur where an installation features multiple fixtures or where it does not use long runs of horizontal piping.

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  posted on 12/8/2011   Article Use Policy

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