Common Plumbing Issues in Commercial Buildings and How to Prevent Them

Common Plumbing Issues in Commercial Buildings and How to Prevent Them - Lee Company

Do you manage a large organization with dozens of occupants and multiple restrooms? With so many users and systems in a commercial building, it might feel like you’re receiving a new plumbing maintenance request every day! Plumbing issues in commercial buildings can mean disruption to normal business operations, loss of revenue, and even property damage.

And while some plumbing problems definitely require the attention of a professional, there are several proactive measures you can take as a business owner or facility manager to prevent them from happening in the first place.

With nearly 80 years of experience, we’ve seen our fair share of plumbing problems in buildings of all shapes and sizes. This comprehensive guide will help you address common plumbing issues to protect your commercial building’s value and minimize operational hiccups!


Clogged drains

Clogged drains and toilets are probably commercial buildings’ most common plumbing issues. This is especially true in restaurants, cafeterias, stadiums, and other facilities that rely heavily on kitchen and restroom plumbing.

Clogs occur when foreign objects, like food particles and other debris, get stuck in the plumbing pipes.


Since you can’t monitor every flush or every drain usage in an entire building, it’s important to:

  • Educate employees and customers on what should and should not go down the drain. Ensure everyone in the building knows that food scraps, wipes, paper towels, and feminine hygiene products should go in the trash, not the toilet.
  • Use toilet paper that degrades quickly. Single-ply may not be the most luxurious option, but it will break down faster than double-ply and prevent clogs. Here are the best toilet papers to prevent clogging.
  • Install drain strainers to catch debris before it enters the pipes. Drain strainers are a cheap, easy addition to your drains and go a long way in preventing hair, food, and other waste before they can make their way down the drain and cause problems.
  • Use natural drain cleaners when you discover a clog. Chemical drain cleaners use harsh caustic, corrosive chemicals that damage your pipes over time. Instead, use natural cleaners like baking soda and vinegar or enzyme-based cleaners.
  • Schedule regular drain cleaning and maintenance. Regular maintenance by a licensed plumber can help prevent clogs before they happen or catch them before they become major problems that slow productivity.


Leaking faucets and fixtures

Do you hate seeing profits run down the drain? That happens when your commercial building has a leaky faucet or fixture.

The United States Geological Survey’s drip calculator reveals that even a minor leak of one drop per second accumulates an astonishing 2,083 gallons yearly! So ignoring a seemingly insignificant drip could be wasting thousands of gallons of water and thousands of dollars.


To prevent leaking fixtures from eating into profits at your facility:

  • Make sure all faucets, valves, and fixtures are tight and secure.
  • Check all the plumbing components in your building regularly to make sure they’re not loose or worn out.
  • Replace any outdated fixtures with newer models that conserve water. Many modern commercial plumbing fixtures are designed to use less water without sacrificing performance.
  • Schedule regular maintenance to check for leaks in hard-to-reach places. Small or silent leaks (like we’ll discuss below) can go unnoticed until they become major problems, so having a professional inspect and maintain your commercial plumbing system will keep them from escalating.


No Hot Water

In many industries, a lack of hot water is an issue that can lead to serious safety violations and even closures. Hot water is required in many states (including Tennessee) for proper sanitation in restaurants, hospitals, and other facilities that rely on hot water to meet health regulations for food preparation.

Commercial water heaters should be inspected annually to prevent them from breaking down and slowing or stopping production.


To maintain a steady supply of hot water, you should:

  • Check the temperature on a regular basis to make sure it meets health regulations.
  • Make sure the water heater is properly sized for your facility.
  • Perform regular maintenance on the water heater, including flushing out sediment and replacing worn-out parts.


If your facility uses tankless water heaters, keep the tanks clean and free of sediment buildup. While the on-demand hot water they provide is convenient, sediment in the water supply can quickly and easily cause damage to tankless water heaters.

For both conventional and tankless water heaters, consider a water recirculation system. A recirculating pump eliminates wait times for the building’s users and helps you avoid costly energy bills by rapidly moving hot water through the plumbing at all times.


Sewage Smell

No employee or customer wants to work or shop in a facility that smells of sewage. Unfortunately, this issue is more common than you might think.

And while the smell is unpleasant, wastewater contains bacteria and other microbial organisms that can cause life-threatening diseases like:

  • Acanthamoeba
  • Coronavirus
  • E. Coli
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Helicobacter Pylori
  • Hepatitis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Salmonella


It’s a given that direct contact with raw sewage should be avoided due to its numerous pathogens, but airborne contamination can be just as dangerous.


Sewage smells can be caused by a variety of different plumbing issues, including:

  • Cracked sewer pipes that allow sewage to escape underground or into the building.
  • Malfunctioning septic tanks that are overflowing and spilling sewage back into the building.
  • Inadequate ventilation prevents sewage odors from dissipating.
  • Municipal sewer system backups that are forcing sewage into your facility’s plumbing.
  • Sump pump failure that is allowing wastewater to seep into the building.


Because of the serious health risks associated with sewage smells, you should address these issues immediately. Your first step should be to vacate the premises and call a qualified plumber who can locate and fix the source of the smell. If your business might lose profits due to this issue, research some insurance plans or expand your current one so that it covers plumbing emergencies.

For long-term prevention, visually inspect your pipes for cracks or leaks that could allow sewage to enter the building. Have a professional plumber inspect the system periodically too. And lastly, properly maintain your septic tank and make sure it has adequate ventilation.


Silent Leaks

As a business owner or facility manager, it’s easy to overlook silent plumbing leaks. These are generally slow leaks inside walls and behind fixtures, making them difficult to detect until they become major issues.

But these plumbing issues can be some of the most damaging, as they often go unnoticed for months or years, leading to wasted water, skyrocketing utility bills, and even health problems caused by toxic mold.

How can you prevent these silent leaks from causing major operational disruptions and financial setbacks for your business if you don’t know they exist?


There are a few indicators that may help you identify slow leaks:

  • Unexplained high water bills or increased usage of hot water.
  • Stains or discoloration on surfaces (like ceilings, floors, and walls).
  • Sounds of water running (even when no faucets or appliances are being used).
  • A musty smell in the air.
  • Mold or mildew growth on walls and floors.
  • Sinkholes or other visible damage to the ground outside your building.


The best way to avoid silent plumbing leaks is to stay ahead of the potential issues with regular maintenance and inspections. Ensure your facility has an up-to-date inspection plan covering all areas for plumbing, including pipes, fixtures, and appliances.

In addition, consider investing in a smart water monitoring system that can help detect small changes in water pressure, temperature, or flow rates that may indicate an issue with your plumbing. The most advanced commercial leak detection systems are even designed with an automatic shut-off feature to guard against catastrophic flooding.


Toilet Problems

Apart from the clog problems mentioned above, toilets are prone to many other issues that can cause major headaches for business owners. Think about how often they’re used — that’s a lot of moving parts and potential for something to go wrong!


The most common commercial toilet problems include:

  • Running toilets, which waste hundreds of gallons of water each year.
  • Broken handles, flush levers, or flappers prevent the toilet from flushing properly.
  • Leaking supply lines or fill valves slowly drip out water, creating costly damages if not addressed promptly.
  • Leaking wax ring seals, which allow water to seep out of the toilet’s base and cause mold or mildew growth and damage to the subfloor.


An “out of order” bathroom sign is never good for business… Especially in commercial settings where customers expect clean, operational bathrooms when they visit.

To prevent toilet issues from affecting your reputation and bottom line, follow a regular maintenance plan that includes inspecting the toilets, valves, and seals.

An older building may be due for toilet upgrades that are designed to stand up to heavy-duty use. High-efficiency toilets and urinals are durable and use less water than older models — saving your business money on monthly utility bills.

Motion-sensing toilets are also a good investment because they minimize the wear and tear of frequent flushing. They can even help improve traffic flow in public restrooms by automatically flushing when the user leaves. Here are several touchless plumbing options for a commercial setting.


Water Pressure Issues

Any sudden lack of flow can seriously damage productivity when your business requires dependable water pressure for its everyday operations. Low water pressure can make it impossible to perform work-related tasks.

Low water pressure is inconvenient, but there must be adequate pressure so that toilets and handwashing facilities function properly. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must temporarily halt operations until sufficient water pressure has been restored if these requirements aren’t met.

Commercial plumbing systems are far more intricate and expansive than residential ones, with the capacity to serve more people. This means that the issues they experience can be more complicated to pinpoint and resolve.


The most common causes of low water pressure in a commercial building include:

  • Leaking fixtures or pipes that reduce the amount of water available to other sources.
  • Valves that are not fully open restrict the flow of water.
  • Clogged aerators or showerheads.
  • Calcified water heaters that prevent hot water from flowing through the plumbing system.
  • Variations in occupants using the plumbing system at different times of day lead to changing water pressure levels.


If you’re dealing with low water pressure, look for the simple fixes first (such as cleaning the aerator screens in faucets and checking to ensure all the valves are fully open). If the issue persists, something bigger is limiting your water flow.

High water pressure is also an issue in many commercial buildings. This can cause wear and tear on plumbing fixtures over time, leading to costly repairs or replacements. It can also be a safety hazard if it causes pipes to burst from excess pressure.

The water pressure in your building can typically fluctuate between 20-40 psi or 30-50 psi, depending on the setting of your pump’s pressure control switch. You might need to set a higher water pressure for specific equipment use in certain cases, but it should never exceed 80 psi.

Depending on your facility type, your commercial plumbing supply could also serve other businesses. This means the cause of your pressure issue might come from another part of the property.

And if you’re connected to a city’s main water supply line, like many businesses, you may not be able to do much more than wait until the issue is fixed on their end…

But even if you can’t control the source of the problem, there are steps you can take to improve your commercial water pressure:

Start by checking for any clogs or blockages within the local plumbing system that might prevent a steady water flow.

Then inspect all appliances and fixtures to see if any noticeable leaks could lead to water pressure drops.

Suppose you don’t discover anything obvious on your own. In that case, an experienced plumber can do a more in-depth inspection using pressure gauges, leak detection equipment, drain pipe and sewer cameras, and other diagnostic tools to pinpoint the cause of your pressure issues.

Finally, consider investing in a pressure regulator to maintain the water pressure levels throughout your building. This helps reduce stress on your plumbing system and prevent damage from unexpected pressure changes.


How To Handle Plumbing Emergencies in the Workplace

Plumbing emergencies are always possible, no matter what industry you’re in or what commercial property you manage. Be prepared by knowing the location of the main water shut-off valve and how to turn it off in case of a water-related emergency, like a burst pipe or massive leak. This can minimize property damage and help contain the problem.

For buildings connected to a municipal water supply, the main shut-off valve is usually inside, between where the pipes enter from outside and meet the water meter. If you can’t find it inside, check outside because some cities place an outdoor shut-off valve between the street and the building.

Remember that other businesses using the same plumbing supply will also have their access to water cut off if you turn off the main valve. So keep them informed and updated as you fix the plumbing issue.

It’s also important to have a licensed and insured plumber in mind who can provide fast and reliable service if the issue is too large for you or your staff to handle.

Lee Company provides 24-hour plumbing service and customized facility management plans to meet your building’s specific needs. Contact our team for a consultation and take the first step in protecting your commercial property from plumbing emergencies.