Plumbing Basics for Landlords: Landscaping and Repairs

Before making any decisions regarding the replacement or repair of your plumbing, or, before undertaking any major project that might disturb or affect the plumbing on your property, make sure you have a fundamental understanding of plumbing ownership as well as the different types of materials used in piping. Once you’ve got the basics, it’s time to start considering other aspects that impact your plans. For example, the very trees, shrubs, and other flora that make up your property and the landscaping around it can have a huge impact on your plumbing. Let’s take a dive into the different challenges of which you should be aware. 

Foliage or Foe? How Landscaping Affects Your Pipes 

Theoretically, landscaping professionals plan beautiful shrubbery in full consideration of your plumbing infrastructure so that, as they grow, plants don’t wreak havoc on your pipes. Unfortunately, that’s just in theory. Tree roots mess with pipes all the time. This is especially true for pipes made of materials like clay and Orangeburg, which are brittle or are joined with male and female fittings that are vulnerable to roots. Certain plants are not ideal to have on your property if you’re trying to plan for long-term pipe health. Maple trees, birch trees and ivy are all excellent examples. Trees like birch and maple grow quickly, have deep, expansive roots and are difficult to kill, which makes them a nightmare for property owners who need to make substantial upgrades on a property’s piping. Fully removing a tree is difficult and can cost upward of several thousand dollars. So, if you’re a landlord on the market for new properties to rent out or if you’re a property manager looking at new locations to develop and manage, be sure to add details about an existing property’s (and nearby properties’) plants and the landscaping to your checklist. Also, if you’re considering improvements to the land, be sure to consult a landscaping professional about which shrubbery will advance your property’s aesthetic allure without threatening your plumbing down the line.  

Typical Problems with Pipes 

Pipes can warp, corrode, crack, or collapse. This happens because the pipes are treated inappropriately, inclement weather damages them, or simply because time and use wear them out. Here are some common problems you may encounter with your pipes: 

Cracking and Leaking. If your piping has substantial cracks anywhere, your pipes may be leaking wastewater into your walls or into the ground, which can cause water damage to the property and invite toxic growth from mold. It can also be bad for the ground itself and potentially infect the groundwater. Cracks can also lead to collapses in your pipes, which would cause a total shutdown of your plumbing and stick you with a major repair project.  

Bowing. Some piping material like cast iron can bow or warp over time, which means that fluid builds up in the extended part of the pipe before making its way to the water treatment plant. If you decide that the best thing to do for your property and your wallet is to reinforce the materials you already have in your system, problems like bowing make the repair work more time-consuming and expensive. Plumbers have to repair those types of imperfections before installing the necessary supports.  

Clogs. Blocks in your pipes from collapsed portions of pipe, an infestation of roots, or a buildup of debris or of items residents flush down their drains cause clogs. Unmanaged clogs can cause backup of wastewater into your home, which is damaging for the same reason as cracks and leaks — it can damage your floors, carpets, walls, furniture and so on and invite toxins into the air, floors, and walls.  

Build Up. Ever debated about whether it’s OK to pour grease down the drain? Allow us to clear up that mystery — you shouldn’t. At some point down the pipes, the grease will cool and harden, causing a buildup that slows your plumbing or a clog that backs up your plumbing (not unlike cholesterol clogging arteries).  

Collapse. The full implosion of even just a small part of your piping effectively shuts down your plumbing until you can make major repairs or perform a total overhaul. Pipes can collapse because of inappropriate treatment of them, because of episodes of extreme weather or simply because time has caused them to degrade. If you aren’t sure about the status of your property’s plumbing, it may be worth bringing in a plumber to help you find out the condition of your pipes. 

Options for Repairs and Renewals 

For a full list of options and opportunities, contact a local plumber and bring them in for a quote. Pricing is based on where your properties are, the length of pipe that needs replacing or repair, the type of repair services you purchase, the cost of materials brought in to perform the repairs and so on. A plumber can outline all your options and help you pick the best solution for your plumbing and your budget. These are common repair services: 

Standard Drain De-Clog. Depending on the problem in question, you may be due for a simple de-clogging from the plumber. To do this, the plumber will use a drain auger (sometimes called a drain snake) to locate and break up whatever is blocking wastewater from moving through your pipes.  

Camera Inspection. If you don’t know what type of piping you have, what condition your pipes are in or you have a chronic problem that a simple DIY or professional de-clogging has failed to fix, you can hire a plumber to come and run a video camera through your pipes to see what is going on inside them. The camera picks up everything from cracks to sources of clogging to other signs of damage from bowing or corrosion, and it shows you and the plumber where the problem is along the line. This is particularly helpful if you are looking to determine if problems are the result of your piping or the county’s and who, therefore, is responsible for financing the upgrades. 

Patching. You may qualify to have a plumber come in and patch troubled areas of your piping as an intermediate measure that buys you time to prepare for a full dig-up or lining installation. Consult a plumber to determine if this is a good strategy for you. Numerous trouble spots may be too much for patchwork. A plumber can evaluate your pipes’ weak spots and whether there are still few enough of them that patching will suffice as a legitimate stop gap to forestall more intensive repairs. 

DigUp. The only way to fix a collapse is to dig up your pipes and replace them. Other conditions that may necessitate a dig-up include the discovery of Orangeburg piping or pipes that are on the brink of a kind of failure (like collapsing) that reinforcement methods can’t prevent. As always, a disclaimer: if you find Orangeburg materials, it’s time to replace immediately. 

Lining Installation. Again, lots of common piping material is prone to corrosion. Lining installation can reinforce older material like cast iron or clay with a lining that can add another several decades to the life of your pipes. If you are working with a tricky setup on your property between utilities lines and inconveniently placed trees and other shrubbery, a lining installation may be the most efficient way to go about doing the necessary upgrade work on your property without incurring other major costs from plant removals or the mess of working around utilities. 

Hydro Jetting. If you’ve got slow draining not as a result of debris blockage but because of buildup from insoluble substances like grease, hydro-jetting will blast it open. Plumbers often perform hydro jetting as a preparatory measure before implementing other treatments or upgrades.  

Water Restoration 

If you’ve had problems with your pipes in the form of repeated clogs and backups, you may well have water damage on your property. A truly extensive clean in the form of professional water restoration can add substantially to your total costs, especially if you don’t have property insurance or your insurance provider determines that this has been a chronic issue and therefore classifies as a preexisting condition. Water restoration is about more than fixing the things water has damaged (the flooring, walls, insulation, furniture and so on) — it’s also about eradicating whatever toxins that water damage can bring into your property in the form of mold, bacteria and viruses. You may be able to perform the necessary repairs yourself, but toxicity can be difficult to wipe out, and you don’t want to put any of your tenants in an unsafe situation. 

Don’t wait until you have a serious plumbing problem at one of your properties. Plan for semi-regular inspections from a certified plumber so you can limit the likelihood of needing to shell out for those services.  

There is a lot to learn about plumbing as a key piece of your property’s infrastructure, but having even a general overview of the sorts of issues and projects you may encounter over the lifetime of your business as a property manager or landlord can help you prepare yourself and your pipes, implement a strong maintenance program to offset costs, and prevent unnecessary damage to your units.  

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