September 22, 2019

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Not unlike older homes, older buildings can be charming on the outside but hide outdated plumbing systems on the inside.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

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