Residential property renters have certain expectations of the living spaces they rent—one of them being that their plumbing will work without issue. Plumbing problems can be exceptionally annoying and expensive to deal with at the best of times. Chronic plumbing issues in a single or multifamily residential property can be cause for renters to move out—and can make it hard to fill the resulting vacancy.
What are some of the biggest plumbing problems that residential property managers need to look out for? Better yet, how can you deal with these plumbing issues quickly and efficiently so they don’t inconvenience your renters?
To help you out, here’s a short list of some common plumbing problems and a few plumbing tips for dealing with them:
Plumbing Problem #1: Leaky Faucets and Pipes
Here’s a bit of “house plumbing 101” knowledge: While not the most obviously catastrophic plumbing issue that you’ll have to deal with as a residential property manager, leaky faucets and pipes are a problem—and can be deceptively costly if left unchecked. For example, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “a leaky faucet dripping at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year” and “the average household’s leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year.”
If you’re a property manager with a dozen or more single-family properties or a couple of large multifamily properties, the costs of leaky pipes can quickly skyrocket.
How can you tell whether one of your properties has leaky pipes/faucets? One of the early warning signs would be the utility bill for the property. If one or more properties have a significantly higher rate of water consumption than other, similarly-sized and occupied residential units, odds are good that there is a leaky pipe (or two) in the property.
The best fix is to find a professional plumber who can inspect the property’s pipes to find any leaks and apply appropriate fixes. For some leaks, this might be as simple as replacing a rubber seal. For other leaks, entire pipes may need to be replaced.
Plumbing Problem #2: Backed-up Toilets
One of the most common toilet problems that renters complain about is a backed-up toilet. This can result in toilets overflowing with wastewater—which can harm the property or renters by:
- Discoloring floors;
- Encouraging mold and bacteria growth;
- Weakening floors and building supports (if left unchecked); and
- Creating health hazards to renters.
The most common causes of these drainage issues are, according to a study of New York City clogs cited by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH): “non-flushable paper and garbage like disposable hand towels (34%), baby wipes (38%), cosmetic and surface wipes (19%), and feminine products (7%).” These objects are not water-soluble like toilet paper, remaining solid and forming the core of blockages. Cooking oil and grease, when poured into drains, may attach to these paper products and enlarge them, making the drainage issue worse.
The flushing of non-flushable objects can cause severe blockages and should be prevented. It can help to put together a toilet care guide to remind renters that they shouldn’t try to flush certain objects or pour cooking oil down their pipes. It can also help to spell out plumbing system care guidelines in the rental agreement and specify who is responsible for plumbing repair costs if it is discovered that the renter’s negligence caused the blockage. (As always, consult with a property management attorney to verify the enforceability of such clauses in your area.)
Plumbing Problem #3: Lack of Hot Water
Renters take having hot water on demand as a given. However, especially in multifamily properties, hot water shortages can be fairly common. There are many reasons why a property might be experiencing a hot water shortage, including:
- Water Heater Capacity Being Too Small. Most water heaters work by storing a set amount of hot water in a tank and heating it using gas or electric heating methods. When the heating tank is too small, a renter’s water use habits may drain the tank faster than the heater can warm it up—resulting in cold water. This is especially common in multifamily units, where a single water heater is split amongst multiple users. For example, if every renter decides to take a long, hot shower at the same time while simultaneously doing their laundry, even a high-capacity water heater will swiftly run out.
- Sediment in the Water Heater. Sometimes, the water heater has plentiful capacity when it is first installed, but seems to run out of hot water faster as it ages. This is often because of sediment collecting in the tank and using up a portion of the tank’s available capacity.
- Heating Element Malfunctions. Another reason a residential property might run short on hot water is that the water heater’s heating element may not be functioning correctly. For example, an electric heater’s heating coils may not be getting power or a gas heater’s pilot light might go out. In the case of a gas heater, it’s important to shut off the gas flow and give the room ample time to air out before attempting to relight it—otherwise, there is a risk of an explosion.
This can be a major inconvenience for renters, who rely on having hot water for showers, washing dishes, and doing laundry (among other daily tasks). If this plumbing problem becomes chronic, it can be cause for the renter to move out as soon as they can.
The best fix is to regularly inspect the water heater and have it serviced by a professional at least once a year. During this servicing, a maintenance tech can flush the tank of sediment, check the state of the heating element, and make basic repairs to prevent the water heater from malfunctioning. If the heater simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the demand for hot water in the structure, then the tech may be able to recommend a suitable replacement.
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