How well-maintained is your plumbing system? If it isn’t well-maintained, you could be faced with plumbing leaks, which are frustrating for both building management and your tenants. Thankfully, understanding the top causes of plumbing leaks can help you take preventative measures and avoid the hassle and expense of dealing with a leak. Whether you’re a landlord, property manager, or superintendent, this information can help you protect your building and avoid the headache of dealing with a plumbing leak.
Corrosion is a chemical reaction that occurs when metal pipes are exposed to water and oxygen. Essentially, the metal of the plumbing pipes oxidizes over time, causing the metal to deteriorate. This can result in small pinhole leaks. If the pipes are left to continue to corrode, it can lead to a complete pipe blowout. The bad news is that corrosion is a common cause of plumbing leaks, especially in older buildings where pipes are nearing or have neared the end of their expected useful lives.
Corrosion can be caused by several factors, including hard water and exposure to chemicals and cleaning products. Certain pipe materials also corrode faster than others, like galvanized steel.
Hard water contributes to corrosion because it contains high levels of calcium and magnesium. These minerals can build up inside pipes, creating a barrier that prevents water from flowing freely. As a result, the water sits in the pipe up to the blockage and accelerates the process of corrosion.
Exposure to Chemicals
Exposure to chemicals and cleaning products can also accelerate the rate at which your metal plumbing pipes corrode. This is especially true of certain cleaning products as well as all drain cleaners. If enough of these cleaners travel down the drains in your building or a drain cleaner gets blocked by a clog instead of dissolving the clog and getting rinsed away with water, pipe corrosion can accelerate.
Additionally, pipes that are exposed to hot water corrode faster than pipes that only have cold water flowing through them. The high temperature of the hot water causes the plumbing pipes to repeatedly expand and contract, which accelerates wear and tear. Secondly, hot water increases the rate at which metal pipes corrode because those pipes lose their passive layer. This is because metal pipes, especially those made out of steel, develop a thin layer due to oxidation. You can think of this as the patina that develops on copper and causes it to change from a golden-brown color to green. This thin layer of oxidation, unlike excessive oxidation that can cause the premature breakdown of your plumbing pipes, helps protect the steel and prevents the leeching of the pipe materials in your water. When hot water flows through your pipes it dissolves the protective later, which leads to an acceleration of the breakdown of the pipe.
2. High Water Pressure
While your tenants love high water pressure for their showers, your pipes don’t love it. High water pressure can put excessive stress on your plumbing pipes, causing them to develop cracks or burst due to the excessive stress put on the pipes. High water pressure situations can occur due to the municipal water supply having too high of pressure or the plumbing system in your building being incorrectly designed and installed.
Clogs can cause the pressure to build up inside your pipes, leading to cracks and bursting. Clogs commonly occur due to the buildup of particles, like grease, hair, food scraps, and paper products that aren’t toilet paper. In order to prevent clogs, it’s important to scrape all plates and bowls of excess food particles and place those particles in the trash. Additionally, never put grease, oil, lard, meat trimmings, vegetable rinds, seeds, egg shells or coffee grinds down your plumbing pipes. It’s also important to only flush toilet paper down your toilet. Putting paper towels, facial tissues, pet waste, and wet wipes, even biodegradable ones, can lead to clogs and broken pipes.
4. Poor Pipe Insulation
Chicago is known for its cold, snowy, windy, and icy winters, and if your plumbing pipes aren’t insulated, you could be in for a shock in the form of burst pipes and high repair bills. Not insulating the plumbing pipes located along your exterior walls and in unheated parts of your building can lead to the freezing and thawing of your plumbing pipes, which can cause them to crack or burst. This is because as water freezes, it expands and puts pressure on your pipe walls. If an ice blockage forms, air pressure can build up between the water supply and the blockage, increasing the stress on your pipe, which could lead to a blowout. The bad news is that for as long as the water stays frozen, you may not notice that the pipe has been damaged. However, once that water melts, it can leave the pipe through the cracks that have formed. In the worst-case scenarios, water pours out of the pipe, leading to flooding and water damage.
5. Wear and Tear
On average, you can expect your plumbing pipes to last between 20 and 50 years, depending on the type of material and how they were installed. It’s important to understand that your plumbing pipes experience wear and tear from the day they were put into service. Normal wear and tear include corrosion, rust, exposure to chemicals, constant pressure, and periods of high use. This means that over time, your plumbing pipes simply wear out.
How to Prevent Plumbing Leaks
Preventing plumbing leaks means being aware and mindful of your plumbing system. At the first sign of trouble, you should always consult with a plumbing professional in Chicago who can determine the causes of your plumbing leaks and repair the problems.
Have Your Pipes Regularly Inspected
Have your pipes regularly inspected for damage and signs of wear and tear at least once a year. Additionally, if you notice any issues, contact a licensed plumber to repair or replace the affected pipes.
During a plumbing inspection, a licensed plumber will typically check your entire plumbing system, including your pipes, fixtures, and water-using appliances, like your water heater, dishwasher, and clothes washer. The inspection checks for signs of corrosion or other forms of deterioration and involves assessing the condition of your pipes and fittings. Your plumber will also check for leaks or other issues with your plumbing pipes.
In some cases, your Chicago plumber may use specialized tools, such as a camera or a pressure gauge, to assess the condition of your pipes more thoroughly. This can help identify any areas of concern that may be difficult to detect otherwise.
Install a Pressure Regulator
A pressure regulator is a device that is installed on your main water supply line and helps to control the pressure of the water coming into your Chicago building and can help prevent plumbing pipe damage from excessive water pressure situations.
During the pressure regulator installation process, the plumber will temporarily shut off your water supply and remove a section of your main water supply line. They will then install a pressure regulator, reconnect the supply line and turn the water back on.
Once you have the pressure regulator installed, remember to have it checked regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly. Additionally, be aware of the symptoms of high water pressure, including water hammering or banging sounds in your pipes. These are signs that your water pressure is too high, and your pressure regulator needs to be adjusted.
Practice Good Drain Stewardship
To prevent clogs, you must practice good drain stewardship. This means avoiding pouring grease, oils, and fats down your drains, even if you run hot water with the grease. All the hot water does is push the grease further down the pipe. It still may not reach the city’s water treatment system. Use a drain strainer to catch food scraps so that you can easily remove them and throw them in the trash.
Do not flush anything down the toilet except toilet paper, and ideally, you want septic-safe toilet paper, even if you are connected to the municipal sewer system. Septic-safe toilet paper is any toilet paper that dissolves within 24 hours. If you’re not sure if your toilet paper if safe, you can put a few sheets into a glass of water and let it sit overnight. If it’s mostly dissolved, the toilet paper is fine to use.
Additionally, never use drain cleaners to take care of clogs because they do not know the difference between a slog and the pipe wall, and remember to have your drain pipes and sewer line regularly flushed by a professional plumber.
Have Your Pipes Regularly Repaired
If you notice any problems with your plumbing pipes, always call a plumber right away, even if the problem appears small. This is because small problems can lead to big, expensive problems and the need to repair large sections of pipes and hire a company for water remediation.
Consider Pipelining from NuFlow
If you’re concerned about the state of your plumbing pipes and want to extend their useful lives, consider epoxy pipelining from NuFlow, serving Chicago. Lining your potable water pipes and drain lines, as well as your sewer pipe, can take care of small leaks and cracks and extend the useful life of your plumbing pipes.
To learn more about pipelining and to schedule a building pipe assessment, contact us at 815-790-9000.