“Many – perhaps even most – older commercial buildings are equipped with piping that is very often no longer sound,” says Andrew Golkin, President Paul Davis of Suburban Virginia. “Perhaps the system was state-of-the-art at the time of installation – yet that piping type is now recognized as problematic. Or, it was meant for planned replacement because builders knew the technology wasn’t permanent. Plumbing doesn’t last forever.“

Few commercial property owners think about a building’s piping system. It’s hidden and if it hasn’t leaked yet, at least obviously, it’s forgotten. But, Golkin cautions, be warned: it will spring a leak one day, whether it’s a discrete damp spot in one corner or an indoor burst that drenches building materials and displaces tenants. Further, water on upper floors inevitably damages lower floors. Even worse, undetected and hidden leaks prompt mold growth.

Older types of suspect piping fall into several categories. Cost-effective and easy to install, polybutylene piping outfitted millions of buildings from the 1970s to the 1990s. The material was a bust, however, because water treatment chemicals like chlorine make it brittle and prone to breakage. Even if piping remains intact, water quality suffers as chemicals leach into the water. Polybutylene pipes must always be replaced. 

Cast iron or galvanized metal piping suffers from erosion, corrosion or a combination of the two. “Erosion occurs in every metal piping system,” Golkin explains. “Water flowing within a pipe creates friction and wears it away.” Corrosion, however, in which metal chemically reacts with water, is a bigger challenge for metal piping. Galvanized iron piping, for example – steel coated with zinc – outfitted many structures built before 1960. Over time, zinc erodes and corrodes pipe, reducing or blocking the flow of water, increasing the risk for leaks and affecting water quality.

Newer commercial structures may be outfitted with stainless steel and copper if construction budgets are lavish. Plastic plumbing types – PEX, PVC, CPVC – may appear in newer installations. Though durable and flexible, they have their own difficulties: vulnerability to freezing conditions or UV degradation. And, as Golkin emphasizes, no piping lasts forever.

Whatever its type or age, piping presents a challenge for commercial property owners and managers. It’s concealed behind walls or beneath slabs and ignored until failure occurs. The best defence? First, retain qualified plumbing contractors to inspect the system for wear and deterioration. These professionals deploy state-of-the-art camera technology to capture video and images from inside the pipe as well as utilizing sophisticated water quality testing that flags developing problems. Second, budget for and implement timely repairs, maintenance and, inevitably, replacement when the system has outlived its useful life.

Alas, should you ever experience water damage due to pipe failure, Paul Davis promises to respond within four hours of a call for help. Calling this number puts you in touch with highly qualified experts at Paul Davis. 1- 844 215 7898