Plumbing is a minor miracle: clean water, on demand, and at the temperature one chooses in his or her apartment. What would have been the height of luxury just a couple of generations ago is now considered a bare necessity. Miraculous as it is, however, the system of pipes via which H2O travels from its origin to the taps in a condo or co-op unit is not without flaw. Leaks can and do happen, and a resident unprepared to identify and deal with that situation risks more than their own cabinets, walls or furniture. In communal living, untreated leaks can quickly spread and cause serious damage to the entire property. As such, it’s imperative that everyone involved knows how to identify and react when their unit may be taking on unwanted water. A professional plumber can certainly help with the situation, but the more promptly the problem is noticed and acted upon, the more efficient their response will be.
While leaks can present themselves at any time, they’re most likely to happen in early spring, right after the winter thaws.
“After severe winter weather, you should definitely check all of your piping,” advises Philip Kraus, President and CEO of Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company in New York City. “If you’re an apartment owner, you should go through your space a few times each week to ensure that your faucets are working. It’s important, because you can have a problem of which you’re unaware, so at least make sure your plumbing fixtures are working and operable. And you can inspect further as well. If there’s water on the floor, where’s that coming from? Is the ceiling damp? What’s the source? And these aren’t things that you should examine only after a severe winter. You should check plumbing fixtures year-round. Look for discoloration in wallpaper — anything unusual. Damage under a sink. Discolored tile. Mildew. Odors. Don’t just tell yourself, ‘That’s the way it is,’ as it may not be the way it should be. It may well be a problem — so look into it.”
The potential for — and symptoms of — leaks in a condo unit are location-dependent. “If you’re considering unit-to-unit leaks, folks who live in ground-level garden apartments are most susceptible, not only from trickle-down, but from water infiltration stemming from outdoors,” warns Fred Webster Jr., Owner of Milltown Plumbing in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. “And the most common time of year to find a leak is usually the spring, or after a thaw, for a couple of reasons. For starters, people get ice damage, but also in ground-level units. If the downspouts aren’t sending water away from the building, either due to snow, [or] if there were extensions that were knocked off during the winter, those folks usually get water infiltration first. We get a lot of calls in the spring from people who think they have plumbing issues, when it’s really just downspout or water runoff issues from heavy rain. Or maybe there’s a failed sump pump in the building that is greatly affecting these folks.”
“If pipes are exposed, they could thaw in the spring. But if they’re installed correctly in a condo building, they shouldn’t be exposed to freezing,” adds John Mannerino, Senior Service Manager with R. Carrozza Plumbing Company in Franklin Park, Illinois. “You should look at hose bibs — check to see that the hose has been disconnected from the bib because if it’s not, it will freeze and break. But if it’s maintained properly, you shouldn’t have any issues regardless of the season.”