Problems with a building’s pipework can be the root cause of bacterial growth, as well as an indirect cause of more complex issues with domestic plumbing. As the winter weather sets in and heating systems are cranked up, it’s never been more important to make sure that the pipes in your rental property are in good order.
Regardless of the age of your building, the installation of pipework needs to be properly planned and executed or you could be storing up trouble. New builds done by reputable tradesmen are likely to be constructed to a high standard and shouldn’t cause any problems, but sometimes something unexpected happens to put a spanner in the works. Just recently a customer asked us to investigate why new copper piping in a building was developing leaks. After a detailed investigation we discovered that a fire protection chemical coating on the inside of the lagging used on the pipework was reacting with condensation to create an acidic film which eroded the pipe from the outside in, quickly causing pinholes to appear in the pipes. The condensation was due to inadequately tapped joints, giving a cold bridge to the pipework.
Whenever you’re planning new pipework or additions to your plumbing, think carefully about the materials you use. Wherever possible minimise dead legs, blind ends and long runs of pipe too, as all of these can create water stagnation, leading to an increased risk of Legionella growth.
Only ever use a qualified and experienced plumber to do any installations. A bodged job will be vulnerable to leaks, contamination and other hazards which could cost you dear.
Over time, pipes can develop problems with sediment, biofilm, limescale and other contaminants which collect in nooks and crannies or flourish in little-used reaches of the plumbing system. Unfortunately, such unwanted guests are bad news for water hygiene as they allow bacteria to flourish, providing such microorganisms with a source of nourishment and, in the case of biofilm, a safe place to live.
If your property is in a hard water area make sure that you descale regularly, paying particular attention to showerheads and taps. Check water tanks for sediment and scale too, cleaning them if necessary. If the property is left unoccupied for more than a week, or if there are little-used outlets, the system needs to be flushed through by running taps and showers for two minutes once a week. More advice on how to do this safely can be found here.
Just occasionally a change of water supply can also have an impact on the safety and efficacy of your pipework. You may have heard about the problems in Flint, a town in Michigan in the US, where there was a major outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014/15 which infected more than 90 people, killing 12. Not only that, but countless people have suffered from lead poisoning, thought to be as a result of the local authority choosing to draw water from the Flint River in order to save money. Pollutants in the river water reacted with the lead pipework in the city and in residents’ homes and contaminated the drinking water. The new supply route is also thought to have introduced Legionella bacteria into the system, with deadly consequences. Several officials are now on trial in a criminal court and the whole town continues to drink bottled water as a precaution.
The situation in Flint demonstrates how there can be a serious domino effect when the wrong decision is made, and that trying to save money can have expensive repercussions. When managing the domestic plumbing system in your rental property, it’s your responsibility to ensure that it is safe and healthy. From the water source (whether mains or fed from a spring or borehole), to the storage and circulation of water once it’s in the property, the law is clear on the measures you must take to reduce the risk of Legionella.
If you have concerns about the state of the pipework in your rental property, contact us for advice. The worst thing you can do is ignore it and allow the problem to get worse!