If you are looking at buying a condo for your first home and are considering apartment-style condos, where you have multiple units on multiple floors, take the plumbing into consideration. Not only might you have to put up with water shut-offs throughout the building if one unit needs work, but you're likely to encounter something known as a shared drain. These make sense architecturally but can be a major nuisance if a clog appears in one of the shared sections. Here's what having a shared drain means for you.
How They Work
When you have an apartment-style building, be they actual rental units or individually owned condos, the plumbing has to be rather compact. You have individual drains running down from each sink, tub, and toilet toward the ground, and it would be too crowded to have each individual pipe run from each unit to the main city sewer. Instead, what these buildings normally have are common drain pipes that connect to the individual pipes. So your pipes might run from your drains to a particular wall of the building, where they join up with the drain pipes from the floor above you. The pipes from the floor below yours join up with the common pipe down there. Then, the common pipe exits the building and joins up with the city sewer system.
How They Clog
You know that if one of your drains clogs up, water backs up into the nearest fixture. So if you have a clog in your bathroom sink's drain pipe, water will back up into the sink when you turn on the faucet.
If the clog appears in the common part of the drain pipe, though, water will back up into all of the available drains and fixtures. Say you have drain pipes that exit two units and combine on the floor below into one pipe. A clog appears in that one pipe, and someone in one of the units turns on the faucet. The water will run down the drain for that fixture and into the common pipe, where it hits the clog and starts to back up. The water will back up into that fixture, of course, but it can also travel into any other open pipe, such as the drain pipe leading back up to the other unit. That leads to water filling the fixture (and possibly overflowing and flooding the room) even though the faucet in that unit might not be on.
What That Means for You
If you suddenly see water coming up out of a drain even though the faucet isn't on, you've got a clog in a common pipe, and someone is using enough water so that it's hitting the clog and filling up any open spaces, including your drain. That renders your fixture temporarily unavailable, of course, but it can also lead to water damage on your floor (and your counters, if it's a sink that's backing up). Many times the water stops quickly as the person who's running the water figures out something's wrong. But if someone's just taken a bath, for example, and is now letting the tub drain while that person's left the bathroom, you're going to have scummy bath water filling your tub for a long time.
How That Affects Housing Purchases
When looking at buying an apartment-style unit, you have to ensure that you have flood insurance as many homeowner's insurance policies won't cover water damage from flooding -- even from clogged drains. You also have to find out how the condo association deals with such common problems -- is this something you'll have to fix yourself, even if you didn't cause the clog? Is this something the condo management has to fix?
Finally, you have to look at who's living near you because common-drain clogs can happen over and over again if people aren't careful. While these are normally easy to fix -- the drain is snaked and that's it -- if the clogs keep happening, that could make living in the unit tiresome and expensive if you have to constantly replace damaged flooring, for example.
If you've decided to buy a unit in a building that has shared drains anyway, contact a plumbing company to ensure that the drains are clear. If you notice any slowing or strange sounds coming from your drains, have the drains cleared immediately so that you, at least, aren't responsible for any common-drain clogs. And keep the number of a good emergency plumber handy just in case.Share
12 February 2016
Hi everyone, my name is Bonita Ploursa. After living in my first home for several years, I decided the kitchen needed a drastic change. I spent the bulk of my time baking cakes, making candy and canning jam in my kitchen. However, cleanup was a nightmare due to the lack of a dishwasher. Furthermore, my sink area could only fit one small pot, which made it impossible to wash out my cookware. I hired a plumber to help route lines for a dishwasher and replace the sink. I also had my plumber install a nice garbage disposal in the sink. The process took very little time and no effort on my part. I would like to discuss this upgrade, and others like it, on my website. I will explore the various ways plumbers move pipes and install appliances throughout the kitchen.