Archive for the ‘Plumbing’ Category.

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Not unlike older homes, older buildings can be charming on the outside but hide outdated plumbing systems on the inside.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.

Odor From Plumbing Fixtures

New Yorkers probably have more experience with odors than the average person. And while identifying those smells can prove difficult at times, it’s important to pinpoint them in certain instances, like in this scenario: There was a bad odor resonating from a kitchen waste-line within an apartment on the eighteenth floor of a residential building in Manhattan. The tenant complained of a bad smell in his kitchen when he awoke. Sometimes rotten garbage that the tenant forgot to remove from his kitchen caused this foul odor, but the actual reason for the odor was fairly typical, and had to do with the plumbing underneath the sink: the seal inside the trap can break and cause the sewage odors to waft out of the waste-lines and into the apartment. If you find you have a similar problem, here’s what you need to ask yourself: why is the water seal inside of the kitchen trap breaking?

A trap, like the one in the photo, is located within a couple feet of each fixture and each drain on a waste-line. The structure of a trap allows water to build up and create a seal within the trap dip (the U shaped part of the trap). The water seal stops the odors from building up inside the waste-lines and seeping into the apartments through the drains. The whole point of installing a trap is to seal the odors inside the waste-lines. If the trap seal were broken, there would be no water in the trap to protect the kitchen from the foul odor of the building’s sewage.

But what causes the water to disappear? Usually the reason for traps not having any water in them is evaporation. But in the case we described, the tenant was home and used his kitchen sink twice a day, so something must have been causing the water inside the trap dip to be pulled from the trap and down the waste-line. As it turns out, there can be another explanation.

In the morning, we typically use a lot of water getting ready for the day. If the vent line for the kitchen sink is clogged, the large amount of water traveling down the main waste stack could cause negative air pressure to form inside the kitchen waste-line. The water inside the trap dip would then be siphoned out, breaking the seal. Maybe you remember learning the laws of fluid dynamics in your bygone days of physics, but basically by the principles of these laws, water is siphoned out of the kitchen waste trap dip where the water seal is located.

When the vent line is clogged, the airflow is restricted and a build-up of pressure inside the waste pipe causes the trap to malfunction. When the water inside the trap is gone, there is nothing to stop the foul odors inside the waste stack from filling the apartment. Only one thing can be done to prevent this from happening: clear the vent line stoppage! Once this happens, the problem will be resolved.

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

Frozen Water Lines

Winter brings with it a lot of extra precautions: shoveling snow, avoiding slippery spots on the roads and sidewalks, and guarding your home against the weather. One common home problem you may encounter is frozen water lines.

This image illustrates what happens when a pipe full of water is left outside in the cold winter months. The picture shows a tear in an outside copper line caused by the expansion of water in freezing temperatures. Obviously, this NYC townhouse owner had to replace the torn pipe when the weather warmed up.

But why do the tears occur in the first place? Here’s the science behind it. Water has hydrogen and oxygen compounds that constantly move around one another. This kinetic energy, or energy created by motion, is caused by the fluctuation between the hydrogen and the polar bonds within the water molecules. When water is frozen, the hydrogen and oxygen compounds in the water stop moving, then spread out and form a simple crystalline structure that we know better as ice.

Water will always enlarge when it becomes ice because as water compounds spread out, expansion also occurs within the molecule. So, there you have it: if you leave a pipe full of water outside in the winter, the expansion caused by the freezing of the water will build up lots of energy until it rips the pipe in half and causes a leak. And while there’s no getting around the science, there is one simple step you can take to avoid your pipes from breaking: drain your outdoor pipes before they freeze.

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

Hidden Waste Lines

It’s always better to have a problem out in the open than hidden. If a problem goes unseen, how can you fix it? The same thing applies to waste lines—wouldn’t it make sense to install the offset of one somewhere where the pipe is visible and easily accessible instead of concealed in the ground? Why risk having hard to find, sour smelling waste leaks when there’s a simpler solution to be had?

Last week we were called to find the source of a waste leak in an elevator pit, which could have come from any number of waste pipes buried underneath the concrete slab of the basement floor in a 20 story building with 120 residential apartments in Midtown Manhattan. Our aim was to figure out where this leak was coming from without chopping through the entire basement floor. You may think this sounds like a needle-in-a-haystack situation, but due to the availability of advanced equipment today, the task was not as difficult as it once was. We traced out the waste lines under the floor by using a specialized snake line with a pulsating sonar tip, which is then tracked by using a locator device. This allowed us to determine the locations of the lines and showed us the general area where the floor needed to be opened so we could repair the leak. Though this hunt took several hours to complete, we only had an estimated location of the leak, not the specific one and the tenant shareholders were really suffering from the odor every time they came near the elevator. But, as you can see, this is not a quick process.

So we made a prediction that the waste in the elevator pit originated from a three-inch kitchen waste line in the floor closest to the pit. But even after tracing the lines and identifying the closest pipe, we still could not pinpoint the exact source of the waste leakage unless all of the waste pipes were exposed. We could have been looking at multiple leaks on multiple pipes in different locations spider webbed under the ground. Only by opening the floor and exposing the pipes could we be certain which pipe, or pipes, were seeping into the pit.

This just goes to show that during construction, developers should consider the practicality of these structures and the costs of maintenance as opposed to just cost savings when they erect the building. All of the hunting, guessing, predicting and assuming could have been avoided if the waste pipes had been exposed and hung from the ceiling in the first place rather than buried underneath concrete. In this case, the adage “out of sight, out of mind” does not apply.

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