Condo Plumbing: What Do I Need to Know?

Condo buildings are brimming with pipes.  We don’t often give them much thought, but just beneath our walls are networks of these conduits.  They carry the water we use to drink and bathe in, wastewater, and hot water that feeds our radiators and keeps us warm at night.  It may not be sexy, but plumbing is what makes our condos liveable and comfortable.


Sooner or later, however, plumbing problems come for everyone.  They will plague us all at some point – it will likely be unexpected and perhaps a little messy.  But whether it’s a big problem or a little one, it’s best to be prepared.


So, what do we need to know about the plumbing in our buildings, and what can we do to make our next encounter with a plumber a little less expensive?


6 Things to Know About Plumbing in Your Condo


1)  The gurgle in the sink.  


A gurgling sound coming from your kitchen sink is one of the most telling signs of an impending plumbing problem.  The sound most likely indicates water backing up in your sink’s drain.  Generally speaking, kitchen sinks above and below your unit feed into the same drainage pipe, referred to as a stack.  As people cook in their kitchens and wash pots and pans in the sink, a little cooking grease is often washed down the drain, where it cools, congeals, and solidifies.


Over time food waste sticks and builds up on the inner surface of a pipe, reducing its drainage capacity as it effectively narrows on the inside.   This results in a more constricted flow that moves much slower and produces a tell-tale gurgling sound.  Eventually, water will back up into your sink if the gurgling gets bad enough and there’s too much debris in the pipes.


Catalyst doesn’t encounter this problem often, as most condo buildings regularly clean out their stacks.  However, if left unchecked, water backing up in kitchens from unmaintained stacks typically leads to significant flood damage. Newer buildings with larger and cleaner pipes may not have this issue earlier on, but as the age stack or sewer cleaning is a strongly recommended preventative maintenance task.


2)  Rushing water in the pipes.  


Condo owners often hear the sounds of water rushing through pipes and wonder if the sound is a harbinger of plumbing problems to come.  However, this sound is normal and does not indicate an arising issue.


People most commonly hear this noise coming from their radiators, and it typically means the heat has recently been activated in your unit.  As temperatures in Calgary go up and down throughout the winter, your building’s heating system will turn on and off as the heating requirements of the building change.


The sound of rushing water coming from your radiator is the sound of cold water being flushed from the pipes as fresh hot water from the boiler replaces it – it merely means that the heat has been turned on!


3)  Springing a leak.    


Dripping or spraying water in your condo typically means you’ve sprung a leak that needs to be tended to immediately.  There are many different ways you can spring a leak, but many arise due to regular use of faucets or simply by being accidentally bumped.  Toilet supply lines entering your bathroom, for example, can easily be disturbed during routine cleaning.   Over time, fittings are usually the first component of a plumbing system to fail – they may have begun to rust and deteriorate, or perhaps a simple bump loosened their seal, causing water to escape.


Whether you have a drip or a fountain, leaks like these are urgent and need to be tended to immediately prevent damage to your unit, other units, and the common property.


4)  Better safe than sorry – call a plumber right away.  


Plumbing issues you encounter inside your unit are almost always your responsibility.  So, any time you find a leak in your condo, you should call a plumber right away.  However, if you discover a small drip at 2 AM and you can temporarily manage the situation with a bucket and some towels, waiting until morning to call a plumber is reasonable.  This way, you won’t incur any overtime fees from calling in the middle of the night.


If your leak is outputting water faster than you can manage it, it’s your responsibility to call a plumber immediately, whether it’s the middle of the night or not.  If you choose not to call a plumber right away, be aware that there may be insurance implications.  In this case, insurance companies will likely decide that damage resulting from the leak was due to your negligence in failing to call a plumber rather than simply resulting from an accidental flood.


When in doubt, Catalyst always recommends paying a plumber a couple of hundred dollars to come and check your leak.  You’ll feel reassured and might even save yourself tens of thousands of dollars in damages down the road.


5)  Notify Catalyst.  


While leaks from inside your unit are entirely your responsibility, leaks found in common areas are the exclusive domain of your condo corporation.  If you notice water leaking from behind a machine room door, for instance, contact Catalyst on their 24-Hour line to report what you’ve seen, and they’ll take care of the problem for you.


Don’t worry about notifying someone on your Condo Board if you have plumbing problems – notify Catalyst instead.  They can assist you and update your condo corporation with any relevant information they may need.


Condo buildings typically have maintenance contracts with plumbing companies who know the plumbing system in your building better than anyone else.  Hiring these plumbers to work on problems inside your unit can have advantages.  For example, the shutoff valve that stops all water from flowing into your condo is often located inside your unit itself.  However, sometimes these valves are centrally located in another part of the building.  Hiring the plumbing company contracted for your building ensures that you’re hiring someone who already knows everything about your building’s plumbing and, for instance, exactly where to find your shutoff valve or how to replace it when the building’s water needs to be shut down.


6)  Prevention is the best medicine.  


Catalyst recommends having your plumbing inspected once a year.  Naturally, you can hire anyone you like to do this work, but hiring the company that has a contract with your building has its benefits.  These plumbers work in your building regularly and are far better equipped to assess the state of your pipes and fittings.  Simply call Catalyst to find out what company services your building.


If you’re a DIY kind of person, inspect your plumbing regularly by looking for signs of corrosion, moisture damage, staining, and watermarks.  These signs can indicate a looming problem on the horizon that can be fixed before any real damage is done.


While plumbing problems may be inevitable, we can do plenty of things to manage these minor crises.  With a bit of knowledge about preventing plumbing problems from arising, some help from Catalyst, and knowing what to do in an emergency, we can all rest a little easier knowing we’re ready whenever we may spring a leak.

We hope this addressed all the questions you have about plumbing in your building but if you have more, be sure to reach out to us at Catalyst Condo Management Ltd!