Detecting Plumbing Problems Preventing Backups Saves Money—and Pipes

 Of all the modern conveniences we take for granted, perhaps none is as essential  as indoor plumbing. By carrying fresh water into our homes and taking waste  water away, the pipes in our buildings are a little-noticed and well-engineered  system that almost magically distances us from our not-too-distant urban past.  But when plumbing fails, we almost immediately notice how much we depend upon  it.  

 Savvy city-dwellers know something about their environment—including the building systems upon which they depend. When it comes to  plumbing, a co-op or condo resident’s knowledge should go at least a little bit beyond “jiggle the handle until it stops.” Telltale signs of plumbing problems in a building often appear weeks or months  before full-on disaster strikes, ending in a very messy cleanup of a burst  pipe, for example. Knowing how to detect those potential problems with the  building’s plumbing system could mean less money and aggravation expended by all the  structure’s residents.  

 Muddy History

 The history of plumbing in New York City is nothing like the tidy,  immaculately-tiled bathrooms of some of today’s luxury properties in Manhattan. Just a few generations ago, the city’s water and sewage systems were extremely primitive. In the 1890s, wealthy  Manhattan residents may have had septic systems to handle waste, but most homes  were still using outhouses. Around that time, the fresh water supply was  brought into the residences through wooden and copper piping.  

 According to Bob Bellini, president of Long Island-based Varsity Plumbing, at  the turn of the last century, New York City’s sanitary engineers wanted to eliminate the scourge of cholera, which is  largely spread through contact with waste-contaminated water. To accomplish  this, they found a way to separate and convey human waste from the city’s water system.  

 Some of the iron and copper sewer pipes used for those earliest city systems are  still in use today, says Stuart Liben, owner of New York City-based Metro  Waterworks Inc. “We’ve found sewer pipes that are more than 100 years old. They’re made of extra-heavy cast iron,” he says. “And some old sewer pipes are made of wood.”  

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3 Comments

  • No need for concern! It is what is cmnmooly called water hammer. You could try and turn the valve off, that is right above your water heater. Once it is off, open all the hot faucets in the house, and leave open, until no water comes out. now close all the faucets, and turn the valve above the water heater, back on. There should be some pipes in your system, called air chambers. These pipes trap air in them, and allow a cushion of air, which allows the water room to expand. When these pipes fill up with water, you will experience pipes moving, or knocking, in the walls. There are some mechanical devices, that can be purchased, and installed, which also eliminate this problem. I hope this helps! Have a good day!
  • I live in Michigan in a 72 unit condo building and when you report a water problem the management company sends the handyman to fix the problem, but he is not a plumber. Help! How do I get a professional to take a look at the problem
  • NO BODY WINS EXCEPT BUILDING OWNER AND INSURANCE CO.