Published onMay 16th, 2022
Plumbing Issues in Condos and Co-ops: Unique Challenges in Repairs and Upgrades
We talk quite a bit in our blog posts about plumbing problems in New York City’s apartment buildings. But what about condos and cooperatives? It’s been our experience at Sanitary Plumbing that these residences have their own unique challenges when it comes to repairs and upgrades. Here’s what you need to consider about plumbing issues in condos and co-ops, whether you’re a property owner or management company.
Why Plumbing Improvements Shouldn’t Wait Too Long
Multiple unpleasant consequences
The temptation is often to do nothing when it comes to plumbing improvements in co-os and condos. No one wants to “poke the sleeping bear,” where you could uncover problems far worse than you imagined by probing inside the walls and looking at old pipes. But this strategy is nearly always destined to backfire.
Even though arranging plumbing updates in these buildings can be more complicated (see below), it’s imperative to stay on top of the situation, lest you run into even worse difficulties, such as:
- Owners being unable to sell or rent their units due to perceived high likelihood of imminent plumbing catastrophes or inspection failures
- Risk of tenant or neighbor lawsuits for negligence
- Violation of city building codes or laws protecting tenants (“warranty of habitability”)
- Rising insurance premiums
- Increased calls to maintenance staff to temporarily fix plumbing issues
- Cost of upgrades escalating as old plumbing components degrade, potentially causing worse problems
- Water damage, mold, and other consequences that result in unit loss of use
How to Tell When Your Condo or Co-op Plumbing Is Ready for an Update
Common warning signs you shouldn’t ignore
At Sanitary Plumbing, we work on a large number of pre-war buildings in New York, and we tend to see the same warning signs popping up again and again, indicating a property’s plumbing system is ready for an overhaul:
- Low water pressure, especially in upper stories
- Rusty, brown, or discolored water
- Water that tastes or smells unpleasant
- Heavy accumulation of mineral scale or sediment on plumbing components
- Appliances such as dishwashers or clothes washers not functioning properly
- Noisy pipes or water heaters
- Inadequate or inconsistent hot water or steam radiator heat
- Frequent clogs or backups
- Smell of mold or mildew
- Water stains on walls, floors, and ceilings
- Leaks, particularly from one unit into another
- Burst pipes or history of frozen pipes
- Increasingly high water bills not commensurate with utility price increases
- Difficulty making in-unit upgrades due to plumbing infrastructure
Our plumbers often hear that maintenance is getting more calls about plumbing problems with each passing month, often overwhelming the staff. Service calls tend to get more frequent and more expensive as well.
How to Get the Plumbing Upgrade Process Started
Identifying problems and creating a plan
A key starting point is to consult with a licensed master plumber, like Sanitary Plumbing, that has experience dealing with these kinds of upgrades. We can perform a detailed evaluation of the building, so you have a better idea of the cost, timeframe, and amount of disruption involved.
To help us get a better handle on what needs to be addressed, we speak with building maintenance and property management staff, asking about typical calls, recent repairs, history of plumbing problems, and the like. It’s a good idea to also survey occupants, asking about water or plumbing problems, such as lack of pressure or rusty water.
Some of the considerations we examine include:
- Do galvanized or other undesirable pipes need to be replaced with copper?
- What other plumbing components are too old, worn, or encrusted to be useful anymore and must be replaced?
- Would the building benefit from a water filtration system?
- What is the status of the mains, risers (pipes that carry water vertically to upper floors), and branch lines (pipes going to individual units)?
- Is there space in the chase (wall space) to simply run new pipes alongside the old ones without removing them, which is more efficient and protective of branch lines, which are usually replaced last?
- Is there any asbestos that might be disturbed and will need to be removed?
- Are new distributor or pressure booster pumps needed?
- Are there water heaters that need replacing, or does the boiler provide hot water?
- How much architectural detailing, like baseboards, needs to be removed to get the job done?
- What is the expected timeframe for public spaces and for each unit?
- How long and when will the water need to be shut off during work?
- Which pipes require insulation?
- Do tenants want to take advantage of the plumber’s presence to upgrade their own fixtures?
- Is a backflow prevention device in place and working correctly (required by the city)?
We generally recommend doing all the work at once as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption to everyone, but sometimes this isn’t financially feasible. In that case, we work with clients to break the project into logical segments to be completed over time. Typically, plumbing in public spaces is tended to first, so mains and risers are fixed or replaced before branch lines or anything in occupant units.
Executing a major plumbing upgrade in a condo or co-op building can seem daunting at first, but the more you plan in advance and get everyone on the same page, the smoother it goes. We’re happy to come out and look at your property to help you start the process, so you can budget and schedule more easily. To set up an appointment or reach out with more questions, call Sanitary Plumbing at 212-734-5000 or use our easy online form to contact us.