Archive for February 2014

An Ounce of Prevention…

When it comes to your building’s HVAC System, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A well-maintained alarm system that monitors water temperature can save your building from disastrous repairs!

Here is an example of the importance of this sometimes overlooked safeguard. At 11 PM on Sunday December 29, 2013, we received a call from the super of a West Side condominium. He reported multiple leaks in the building’s HVAC hot water heating system.

We sent our on-call mechanic right away and found water leaking in several apartments. Individual risers could not be isolated, so there was little choice but to shut down the entire system.

Of course this meant no heat for the entire building. Compounding the problem, the HVAC system was now vulnerable to the dropping temperatures. If the pipes and components were to freeze, there would be severe implications and more leaks.

We dispatched a five-man crew and went to work. Walls were opened in the apartments with reported leaks. As leaks were located and fixed, individual risers were turned back on. As each riser was repaired, the heat for that section of the Leslie Control Valvebuilding was restored while work continued on the remaining risers. It was a painstaking process that had to be done quickly to prevent any further issues with the freezing temperatures.

After the work was completed we discovered the culprit. One of the Leslie High Pressure Steam Control Valves, which regulate steam, malfunctioned. It was letting steam through when it was supposed to be holding it back. Temperatures rose and super heated water circulated through the system causing excess expansion resulting in leaks. The result was leaks on the risers, inside the walls, and at the radiators in the apartments.

Could this have been prevented?

System Alarm PanelYes, with a simple, yet effective alarm system. When the Leslie Control Valve began to malfunction and allow excess steam through, an alarm system would have alerted the super to the rising temperatures. One call to us and a mechanic would replace the faulty valve before any damage was done. It would be a simple and inexpensive repair. No leaks, no shutting down the heat and hot water, no risk of HVAC system freezing.

By Spencer Kraus – Account Manager – Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Co.

Updating Plumbing Valves in Old Buildings for Easy Repairs

Not unlike older homes, older buildings can be charming on the outside but hide outdated plumbing systems on the inside. Over the years, crud and corrosion build up in galvanized piping and valves, causing parts to malfunction. Depending on the nature of the problem, it can be difficult to make repairs.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at a 1928 residential cooperative building with 43 apartments on 12 floors located in Midtown Manhattan – New York City. The water supply is pumped from the street to the domestic rooftop tank. A gravity-fed plumbing system provides the water down a 3-inch mainline through the basement overhead distribution and up to each of five risers that feed the 43 apartments.

Old Gate Value to Be Replaced – AEighty-five years is a long time for crud to build up. In this case, the iron gate valve is so corroded it cannot be completely closed, and individual risers do not shut and drain properly (see photo, right). This cripples the building when something goes wrong. Even in the case of simple repairs, the whole building must be shut down and drained. The rooftop tank valve must be closed and the entire building, including the five cold water risers, drained. Only then can repairs be made and the risers filled back up.

It is a painstaking process with many inconveniences for tenants:

  • All apartments are without water during the entire shutdown.
  • A tremendous amount of water is wasted every time the system is drained.
  • A flood in one apartment necessitates shutting down the entire building.
  • When there is a flood, affected apartments suffer additional damage during the time it takes to shut down the entire system.

New Ball Valve With Blow DownThe only real solution is to bite the bullet and upgrade the system all at once. Old, corroded gate valves are replaced with new riser control ball valves with new ¾-inch blow downs (see photo, right). Now individual risers can be isolated and drained to make repairs without crippling shutdowns.

It is difficult having the building down for an entire day, but well worth it for the freedom to make isolated repairs in the future. Work can be done without holding tenants hostage for every simple fix. And your charming building on the outside is no longer hiding an old, out-dated plumbing system on the inside.

By Spencer Kraus – Account Manager – Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Co.

Weekly Fire Pump Inspections & Tests: Prepare for Disaster, Comply with the Law

Having a fire in your building would be bad enough – but imagine having a fire and the sprinkler system didn’t work, or there was no water in the fire hoses?

That’s one reason why fire pumps in NYC residential high-rise buildings must be inspected and tested weekly in accordance with the NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. The NYC Fire Code adopts the NFPA 25 Standard which seeks to cover wear-and-tear issues of fire protection systems that are in place.

The purpose of the weekly fire pump inspection is to check whether the pump assembly is in operating condition and is free from physical damage. The weekly fire pump test is intended to ensure the system is ready to operate automatically or manually upon demand, and will provide continuous delivery of required system output. While the weekly inspection is a visual observation (and can be performed at the same time as the weekly test to prevent a separate visit), the weekly test is a physical test that exercises the pumps without flowing water. The NYC Fire Code requires that records of the weekly inspections and tests of fire pumps be maintained on the building premises for a minimum of three years, and made available for inspection by a Fire Department representative.

Individuals qualified to perform weekly fire pump inspections must earn a Certificate of Fitness (S-12) for City Wide Sprinkler Systems and/or a Certificate of Fitness (S-13) for City Wide Standpipe Systems from the NYC Fire Department. Many on-site property managers and/or superintendents hold the S-12 and/or S-13 Certificates of Fitness and perform the weekly inspections themselves. However, weekly fire pump tests must be performed by contractors who hold a Master Fire Suppression Piping Contractor License, Master Plumber License, or Engineer License with a S-12 and S-13 Certificates of Fitness.

By Spencer Kraus – Account Manager – Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Co.

Steam Banging

A knocking sound in your apartment is probably irritating all on its own, but being unable to identify its source makes things even more frustrating. I went to a pre-war building on the Upper East Side to determine the cause of such knocking inside two different apartments. The knocking sounded much like the bangs of a radiator when it’s initially turned on, so I decided to check out the radiators first. But the knocking noise seemed to resonate from within the apartment walls rather than the radiators themselves, and the noise only occurred in the morning around the same time the building’s steam system was turned on. Taking this fact into consideration, the problem became obvious to me: inside the wall was an exhausted expansion joint. The old joint would clank when the system’s pipes expanded and needed to be replaced.

Here’s what happens: expansion joints are built to allow the force of a hot, expanding pipe to exert its energy. Expansion joints defuse the natural tension brought on by the expanding pipe. If expansion joints are not installed and/or maintained, the force of the expanding pipe can exert its energy in different ways and cause damage to the heating system. If you hear knocking in your apartment and you can’t figure out its source, it could be due to an exhausted expansion joint.

By Spencer Kraus – Account Manager – Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Co.