Your Building’s Plumbing Plumbing the Depths

Of all the modern conveniences we take for granted, perhaps none is as profoundly basic—and indispensable—as indoor plumbing. Carrying fresh water into our homes and taking waste water away, the pipes in our buildings are the fine line that separates us from our not-too-distant (also very aromatic, and very unsanitary) urban past. When plumbing fails, it doesn't take long to realize just how much we depend on it.

According to an essay on “Water and Urban Life” from the Encyclopedia of Chicago (http://www.encyclopedia., water began pumping into Chicago homes from municipal systems in the 1850s—less than 200 years ago. As water and sewer access expanded, so did costs; by 1885, Chicago residents had spent $2.5 million on indoor plumbing. While at first indoor plumbing was a luxury reserved for the wealthy, modern plumbing fixtures became affordable to the working class in the early 20th century. By 1930, any housing sans indoor plumbing was identified as substandard by the federal government.

Pipe Dreams

Although copper piping is the current norm, and is currently the predominant material used for water piping in new installations, many older buildings are still equipped with galvanized piping. “The issues with galvanized are two-fold,” says David Wiley, general manager with Nu Flow Midwest of Crystal Lake. “They deteriorate at the fittings where the protective coating has been removed as a part of the thread-cutting operation, and they have a proclivity to rust shut over time. The second issue is the root cause of most of the inquiries that we field: the home/unit owner will view this rusted condition as a loss of pressure that potentially results in a long wait-time for hot water. As buildings age, the diameter issue caused by galvanized pipes will tend to affect the hot water side of the domestic water system first.”

Hugh Hodur, owner of VanDerBosch Plumbing in Edgewater, concurs. “Most of the issues in high-rises and other buildings that are older – and we're talking 50-100 years—is with galvanized piping that's really nearing the end of its useful life, inspiring a lot of hot/cold water riser replacements.”

The Daily Grind

Indoor plumbing has come a long way from the days of carrying buckets of well water, but bringing water to the residents of a multifamily building is much different compared to a single family home, and comes with its own set of challenges.


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  • Several tiers in our building have experienced significant water damage over the last 2 to 3 years from blockages in the vertical kitchen stack lines that ultimately backed up into higher units flooding those units and all the units below, the exact issue addressed under the heading "Won't You Be My Neighbor?". This particular article was very enlightening and I really wanted to share it with other unit owners in our building. However, after several readings, it was not obvious just who bears responsibility for the routing of the shared vertical kitchen stacks. Our condo docs stipulate they are a common element whose maintenance is borne by the association. Could the author of this article please address this and clarify the responsibility? I don't see how one unit owner's annual routing will do the job. Thank you.
  • Was there ever an answer to Doug Dixon's comment? I had sewage damage in my condo and the association says they are not responsible.