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Plumbing and HVAC Problems That Put Empty Commercial Units At Risk

In a perfect world, your commercial building would never have empty commercial units. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and many commercial units in NYC stand empty. If you are a commercial property owner who is experiencing a vacancy in one or more of your buildings, be aware that serious problems can arise if the building is empty too long. Particularly, problems with vital systems such as plumbing and HVAC can put empty commercial units at risk.

Empty Commercial Units

Plumbing System Issues

Drinking fountains, sinks, toilets, and sprinkler systems all rely on a steady supply of water to keep them operating. When a building is occupied, small problems with the plumbing are easily identified and addressed. However, if a building is vacant, it may be days, weeks, or even months before someone notices a problem. That delay can cause serious problems with the plumbing system and individual components.

Common Plumbing Problems

  • Cracked Water Lines – When water pressure is applied to a water line that has been out of commission for a while, it can cause the lines to crack and fail.
  • Broken Sewer Lines – Over time, tree roots make their way into sewer lines which can break the line and cause serious backups if the system is put back into use.
  • Reduced System Life – While most commercial plumbing systems have a life expectancy of at least 20 years, one that has not been used may fail much sooner.

Protecting the Plumbing System

The best way to protect the plumbing within your vacant commercial building is to keep the water on and periodically inspect it for problems. However, this is not always practical and in some instances, turning the water off is the best remedy. Here are some ways to ensure your system stays in good working order.

  • Shut off the water to the building and drain the main lines. (Skip this step if the building has a fire protection sprinkler system.)
  • Turn off the gas to the water heater. (If you’re leaving the water on, set it to the lowest setting.)
  • Turn off and unplug any appliances and other systems that use water.
  • Cut off the water supply to individual fixtures such as sinks, toilets, etc.
  • Wrap pipes with insulation in colder climates to prevent the pipes from freezing and breaking.
  • Install an electronic leak detection system to monitor the building.

HVAC System Issues

Similar to the plumbing system, HVAC components such as the furnace and air conditioning units in vacant commercial buildings can develop problems. If the HVAC system is left running and no one is around to monitor it, issues may arise that cause the system to malfunction or fail. If it is turned off, the building and system are both vulnerable to other issues that may not present immediately. In either case, repairs can cost thousands of dollars and permanent damage is possible.

Common HVAC Problems

  • Dirty or Clogged Filters – Air conditioning units and furnaces have to work harder when the filters are dirty. Over time, that strains the system and increases the likelihood of a system failure.
  • Refrigerant Leaks – Leaks in the refrigerant lines of an air conditioner do not allow the system to properly cool the air and makes the condenser work over time. This leads to expensive repairs.
  • Malfunctioning Thermostat – When the thermostats in a vacant buildings malfunction, the temperature fluctuates and the humidity is not controlled.

Protecting the HVAC System

As with the plumbing system, the best way to ensure that your building’s HVAC system stays in good condition is to keep it running. This ensures that the building remains free of mold and other issues caused by high heat and humidity and protects pipes from freezing in the cold months. If you cannot leave the system running,

  • Set the Temperature – In most cases, setting the air conditioning to 80 keeps the humidity down. When heat is necessary, keep the temperature set to 60 to protect against the cold.
  • Check-In and Adjust – If you decide to turn off the HVAC system during a vacancy, be sure to check in on the building and system. A disused HVAC system can develop expensive, catastrophic issues.
  • Remain Vigilant – An empty building is no excuse for lack of maintenance. Continue with periodic inspections, maintenance, and HVAC system repairs while the building is empty.

You cannot always guarantee that you will have a tenant occupying your commercial building. If your building is empty, it’s not only prone to the problems mentioned above, but it’s also vulnerable to theft. Copper pipes and other components are a target for thieves. However, you can protect your investment by paying close attention to the plumbing and HVAC systems. If you are facing any of these problems and would like some help, contact Aladdin Plumbing and we will be happy to offer our professional advice and assistance.