Building Water Piping and Boilers

Interior of independent modern gas boiler room with manometers valves pumps and thermo-insulation on pipelines
Interior of independent modern gas boiler room with manometers valves pumps and thermo-insulation on pipelines

While it may seem that hot and cold running water has been with us forever, you only need to ask my 102-year old Grandfather about his days of running to the privy in the back yard to realize it is a relatively modern convenience. When it comes to living in a strata, it is often easy to forget how this hot and cold water gets to you but there are systems present, and when they break down, it can be very expensive to repair.

Central Hot Water

Cold water is simple enough as this is what is delivered by the municipal water supply and is directed through building piping to your faucet or shower. Hot water can be more complex. The two most common methods of getting hot water in a strata unit are:

  1. Central Hot Water - Cold municipal water is heated in a central boiler room (or rooms) using anything from a 100-year old cast iron boiler to the latest high-tech on demand boilers.
  2. In-Unit Water Heater - Similar to most houses, each unit has its own hot water heater just for the use of each unit.

In either case, your home inspector (when access is available) will review this equipment and try to give an estimate if any near term costs can be expected with the water heating equipment.

Recirculating Hot Water Piping

When there is central hot water, getting this hot water to each suite, while still hot, requires recirculating piping in the building. Essentially, pumps in the boiler room will keep a flow of hot water in a loop around the building so hot water is never more than a few feet away from each unit.

This works fantastically well until the minerals in the water, combined with heat and motion, erode the walls of the piping and leaks begin. When these leaks begin, it can often mean ‘re-piping’ the entire building. Depending on the design of the piping in the building, this can be a very disruptive process and very expensive process which makes it one of the 5-biggest potential strata expenses.

What Do Home Inspectors Look For?

Unfortunately, like most piping in homes, this recirculating piping is hidden in walls and the performance of the system can typically only be observed when it fails, and it can fail unexpectedly.

Inspectors may see signs of past repairs or signs of newer materials than the age of the building which would suggest piping has been re-done, however, inspectors cannot determine this in all inspections.

Piping has historically lasted about 15-25 years. Clients should specifically ask stratas and sellers if the building has been re-piped for buildings in these age ranges and be alert for reports of leaks in pipes in recent strata minutes as this may indicate future major costs for repairs.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.