NYR: Healthy Year, Healthy Building (Part 4) – Plumbing Assessment
A full assessment for a healthy building would not be complete without a plumbing evaluation. It is often easy to forget about the plumbing in our buildings if there are no complaints of stoppages or lack of hot water. However, our plumbing systems affect the health and performance of our buildings.
The most obvious factor affected by our plumbing systems is our water efficiency. Older plumbing fixtures use far more water than is needed and leaking fixtures contribute to a significant amount of waste over time.
Many people do not make the connection between water consumption and energy use. However, water & energy use have a high correlation that should not be ignored. Hot water heaters and any pumps in our plumbing system require energy to operate. The more water we use in our building, the more energy we use.
Furthermore, our plumbing system also affects our IAQ. Leaks in our plumbing systems or clogged drains can cause a buildup of stagnant water. These conditions could create breeding grounds for mold, mosquitoes or other pollutants that can be detrimental to our IAQ, especially if it is near an air intake vent.
Benchmark Water Consumption
- Look at past water bills to identify trends or spikes in water usage.
- Compare water consumption to buildings of similar size and use.
- Look at the flow rate and flush rate of your current fixtures (this can be collected during the building walkthrough). If your fixtures were installed before 1995, most likely they are high-consumption.
Leaks or stoppages. Check all the fixtures to make sure they are not dripping, leaking, or stopped up.
Proper temperature and pressure. Check to make sure all sinks and showers are getting both hot and cold water. Check to make sure they have proper pressure. Inconsistencies found with temperature and pressure can help guide the rest of the plumbing assessment. Changing aerators can be a quick and easy way to lower the flow, while keeping the pressure high enough for tenant approval.
Age and flow/flush rate. Take note of the age of each fixture. Also, take note of the flow rate of faucets and showers and the flush rates of water closets. This information will be useful when evaluating possible upgrades.
Hot Water Circulating System.
Hot Water Heater. Check to make sure the hot water heater is operating properly. Check for leaks and flush the tank to remove all sediment. Sediment buildup causes the hot water heater to use more energy because the heat has to pass through all of the buildup to reach the water. Check the thermostat to make sure it is calibrated and set properly. Check the safeties to make sure they are working properly. If it is an electric water heater, check the wire connections and check and record the voltage and amperage. If it is a gas water heater, check the burner assembly and the flue and check for gas leaks. If it is an oil water heater, check the burner assembly, the flue, and the oil filter and check for oil leaks.
Circulating Pump. Check the motor to make sure it is working properly. Check all of the electrical connections to make sure they are tight. If present, make sure that the aquastat is calibrated and set correctly so that the pump works when and how it should.
Mixing Valves. Check the mixing valves to make sure they are operating properly. Remember, 5 to 6 seconds in 140o water can cause third degree burns. In addition, make sure there is no crossover of the hot and cold water through the mixing valves. Such a crossover could cause intermittent temperature changes in either or both the hot and cold water systems throughout the building.
Motor. Check to make sure the motor is working properly and that all of the connections are tight. Also, record the age and type of motor. Take note of its maintenance and repair history. This information can help you better understand the possible life expectancy of the motor and its efficiency.
Discharge pressure. Be sure to check the discharge pressure. Just because the motor is running that doesn’t mean that the pump is providing enough pressure to efficiently do its job. A pressure that is too high or too low for the building could cause the fixtures to be less efficient as well.
Sewage Ejector Pumps and Sump Pumps.
Motor. As with booster pumps, be sure that the motor is working properly and has tight connections. Collect information about the motors, including age, type, and maintenance and repair history.
Pits. Check and clean the pits. A dirty pit can cause the pump to work harder, thus using more energy. A dirty pit also has the potential to cause blockages which can stop up the system. Record how often the pits are cleaned and evaluate the timing based on records of maintenance and problems.
Backflow Preventers. Check records to see when the last time the backflow was tested, certified, and rebuilt. A backflow preventer should be tested and certified every year and rebuilt or replaced every five years. Backflow preventers are essential for the safety and health of the occupants in our buildings.
Grease Interceptors. Check and clean the grease interceptor. Take note of how frequently it is cleaned and compare it to maintenance records or complaints of smells from it. Be sure that the seal on the lid is intact and secure, which can help protect against odors.
Rooftop. Check to make sure that sewage vents and drains on the roof are clear. Blocked sewage vents can cause the release of sewage gas in the building, which can damage its IAQ. Clogged drains can cause a backup in the system as well as stagnant water on the roof, which could also be breeding grounds for bad IAQ.
Now that we have collected the data and have a better understanding of where we stand in terms of IAQ, energy efficiency, and water efficiency as it relates to our HVAC and Plumbing systems, we can start to determine how to achieve a healthier building. Join us next week to create a plan to reach your resolution this year of a Healthy Year and a Healthy Building.