Module 21: Water supply & sanitaryware

Module 21: Water supply & sanitaryware

Module Objectives:

By the end of this session, participants will understand:

  1. Building regulations concerning water supply and water drainage systems.
  2. How clean water is supplied to a building: Water supply pipes and fittings – what the building inspector needs to know and check for.
  3. Inspection guidelines for water supply systems
  4. Inspection guidelines for sanitaryware

The Module at a glance:

Topic You will learn about
SANS 10252
  • How South Africa has updated its water supply and drainage regulations in order to ensure that modern plastic pipe installations are “fit for purpose”
Clean water supply to a property
  • How to recognize different kinds of pipe
  • Strengths & weaknesses of different pipe installations. 
  • What the inspector must know.
Inspecting water supply 
  • Inspection guidelines for water supply systems
  • Solutions to common plumbing problems
Inspecting sanitaryware
  • Understanding sanitaryware

Credits for source material for this SAHITA Module: 

This module used the following sources for information and some of the illustrations:

  • SANS 10252-1: 2018: Water supply and drainage for buildings Part 1: Water supply installations for buildings. SA Bureau of Standards
  • SANS 10252-2: 1993. Water supply and drainage for buildings Part 2: Drainage installations for buildings. SA Bureau of Standards
  • Sans 10254: 2017:  The installation, maintenance, replacement and repair of fixed electric storage water heating systems. SA Bureau of Standards

The section number of the relevant standard, or regulations, may be noted in the text of this module. Direct quotations from the above sources are in italics.

Overview

The primary function of the water supply plumbing systems within a building is to bring an adequate and “potable” (drinkable)  supply of hot and cold water to the users of the building. 

It is, therefore, very important that the building inspector must familiarize himself/herself fully with all elements of these systems so that the inspector may recognize inadequacies of the structure’s plumbing and also any violations of the regulations. 

Water reticulation regulations

SANS 10252: Part 1: last updated in 2016 is the South African national standard for water supply and drainage to and from buildings.  

Plumbers and building inspectors must rely on SANS 10252 because the National Building Regulations (NBR) does not contain any provisions dealing with water supply installations in buildings. The only exception is Part W of the NBR and SANS 10400-W, which provides water supply regulations for fire installations.

SANS 10252: Part 1 is largely technical and has relevance mainly to plumbers, trather than building inspectors.

SANS 10400-P and SANS 10252: Part 2 are the main national standards dealing with drains (see SAHITA Module 22).  

SANS 10254:2017 covers electrical hot water systems; SANS 10106 solar heated systems; and SANS 1352 heat pump installations.   For hot water systems the SAHITA student is referred to SAHITA Module 23 – Hot Water Heaters).

Certification of plumbing and drains

Building inspectors are, by definition “generalists”, not “specialists” and are regarded as “all-rounders”, who have an overall knowledge of all aspects of the South African home building envelope.  Building and home inspectors are not licensed plumbers and therefore do not perform technical tests, nor carry out any form of invasive inspection of a plumbing installation. Likewise local government building control officers and their inspectors do not certify the compliance or serviceability of the plumbing components.  

The home inspector may observe possible plumbing defects during an inspection of an existing building.  Such defects could have different causes which are undetectable by mere observation. In cases like this it would be advisable for the inspector to recommend to the client that a specialist should be consulted for additional diagnosis and recommendations.

Within the Cape Town metro property can no longer be sold and transferred without a certificate issued by a licensed plumber certifying that:

  • There are no leaks in the plumbing system
  • No rain water is going into the municipal sewers
  • The plumbing installation complies with city bylaws and the National Building Regulations.

In the light of the growing water shortages in South Africa it can be expected that other South African municipalities will follow the Cape Town example.

For new building work across South Africa, municipal building control officers may not issue  a Certificate of Occupation to the property owner, if the plumbing and drain systems has not been certified by a registered plumber.

Certificate of compliance for the hot water heater

The main change to SANS 10254:2016  is that a certificate of compliance (CoC) must now be issued to the property owner for  all new electric geyser installations, together with any maintenance or replacement of components on existing geysers.  This CoC can only be issued a plumber registered with the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB). Plumbers are also required to issue a written notice of any non-compliance discovered by the plumber.

The issuing of a PIRB CoC has been a requirement of SANS 10106 for solar geysers since 2014 and for heat pumps since 2012 (SANS 1352). The inclusion of the COC requirement to SANS 10254 ensures that all hot water cylinder installations requirements are aligned to promote and uplift the quality of installation work and protect the well-being of the consumer and the environment.  

Important water supply & plumbing terminology

  • Angle Stop or Angle Valve:  Also known as a “ball valve”. Angle stops are at a 90 degree angle to the pipe and are used as shut-off valves for the water intake of plumbing fixtures or appliances. Angle valves usually have a flat handle.  The handle may be removable when vandalism or theft is an issue. These valves are not meant to be used in high pressure situations.
  • Adaptor: A fitting that joins two different types of pipes together. Or a fitting that joins threaded with non-threaded pipe (as in: “female adaptor” or “male adaptor”).  A brass thread reducer is shown here: “Male” thread on the left and “female” thread on the right.
  • Basin:  An open, shallow, usually round, washbowl or sink.
  • Bidet: Shown (left):  This is a sanitaryware fixture similar in design to a toilet. A bidet is straddled by a user and is used for personal cleansing. Some toilets have built-in bidets. These usually consist of vertical and horizontal sprays and they complement the styles and colours of matching toilets.

  • Brass: A yellow alloy of copper and zinc. Most taps are made from brass due to its durability and resistance to corrosion.   
  • Cap:  Cover used to close off the end of a pipe.

 

  • Cistern:  A tank containing water, most commonly encountered as a “toilet cistern”.

 

  • Copper Pipe: Rigid metal pipe made of copper and supplied in different lengths. 
  • Copper Tubing:  Soft (bendable) pipe made from copper supplied in pipe lengths & rolls.
  • Coupling: Joins any two pipes, or any two fittings.
  • Dynamic Pressure: The pressure in pipes when the water is flowing.

  • Emergency stop valves (left): Also referred to as a straight, or in-line stop valve.  Such valves are usually installed in the water supply line to buildings and to toilets and taps and hot water geysers. The purpose of these valves is to shut off the water flow in case of an emergency to allow repairs to be carried out.  These valves are generally not designed for daily on and off usage. 
  • Faucets: American usage for “tap” – see below.
  • Filter: A device which removes suspended particles from water by circulating the water through a porous substance (the filter medium or element).  In South African homes most commonly found in swimming pool filters. The three types of filters used in pools and spas are sand, cartridge and D.E. (diatomaceous earth).
  • Fitting: Broad based term usually referring to taps, mixers, shower valves, and tub fillers. May also refer to various piping parts such as “tees” and “elbows”.
  • Flange: Extended rim or edge at one end of a pipe shaft that gives support or a finished appearance.
  • Float Ball (right): Floating ball connected to the ball cock inside a tank, which rises or falls with changing water levels in the tank and actuates or shuts off the flow of water. Commonly found within toilet cisterns.
  • Flush Valves: The valve located on the toilet cistern (flush tank), which opens when the trip lever is actuated and closes when the tank has drained to the desired level. 
  • kPa: The pascal (Pa) or kilopascal (kPa) is a unit of pressure measurement widely used throughout the world and has largely replaced the pounds per square inch (psi) unit.
  • Mixer: Water outlet valves which contains a slotted metal or plastic ball which aligns with the hot and cold water inlets when rotated by the handle. This device allows the water to flow and the hot and cold water to mix.  

Modern mixers usually contain a replaceable ceramic cartridge, which is used to mix the hot and cold water.   Note: Cartridge mixers only work properly when the pressure of the hot and cold water supplies are balanced.

  • Pump: A mechanical device, usually powered by an electric motor, which causes water flow and creates pressure for the purpose of transferring, filtering and circulating water.
  • Potable Water:  Drinkable water which contains no harmful impurities  and which conforms to public health standards for drinking water. 
  • Sink:  A water basin fixed to a wall, counter or floor and having a drainpipe (waste pipe) and generally a piped supply of water.
  • Sweat Soldering: Method of connecting copper tubing with solder and a propane torch. Also referred to as a sweated connection.
  • Stop-cock:  A valve to shut-off the flow of water to a building.  Stop cocks are usually located close to the boundary of the erf (plot).
  • Tap: (the American term for a “tap” is “faucet”). A tap is a valve at the end of the supply pipe which controls the release of the water.   A tap differs from a “mixer” in that a tap does not mix cold and hot water when opened. 
  • Valves:  A device that controls the flow of liquid through or from a pipe. 
  • Water Hammer:  The loud thump of water in a pipe when a valve or tap is suddenly closed.  Pounding or knocking sound in water pipes, due to a sudden change in the pressure when a tap is shut off.  Water supply pipes which are not securely anchored also cause “hammer”.
  • Water Supply System:  The water supply system consists of the water service pipe (the “water mains”), the water-distributing pipes, the necessary connecting pipes, fittings, control valves, and all the accessories in or adjacent to the building.
  • Water meter:  The water meter is a device used to measure the amount of water used in the building. The meter is usually the property of the local authority and is normally installed in front of the building to allow easy access by local authority meter readers.

Typical South African water meter installed by the local authority to measure water supplied to a property.   This meter reads 8122 kilolitres + 165.6 litres. The four dials at the bottom are read clockwise. When these four dials reach 999.9 litres then the digital meter at the top will move from 8122 to 8123 kilolitres.  One kilolitre is 1000 litres, or one cubic meter.

Scope of the building inspector’s work

Even though the inspector only undertakes a non-invasive, visual, inspection of the plumbing and drain installations (and reports on observed defects), it is still very necessary for the  building inspector to have a basic knowledge of water supply and drainage pipes and to understand how these systems function. This knowledge will enable the inspector to identify obvious problems and potential problems and advise the client accordingly.

The information in this SAHITA module is designed to give the building inspector a basic understanding of South African plumbing and also to equip the inspector to report to the client on observable defects.

The building inspector: Regulations on the use of plastic pipes

  • An important function of SANS 10252-1 is that it regulates the use of plastic pipes for water reticulation and supply in South Africa. Here are the main areas where the use of plastic pipe is regulated by SANS 20252-1:
  • All SANS standards for plastic polymer piping system for hot and cold water supplies are approved only for inside and underground use.
  • All plastic pipes used in hot and cold water installations near external doorways and windows, must be protected from sunlight. This is because of the UV rays of the sun damage plastic pipe.
  • Restrictions on the areas where plastic pipe may be used: SANS 10252 prohibits the use of plastics pipes and fittings:
  •                 1.  Above ground
  •                 2. In fire installations
  •                 3. As the main connection between solar collectors and storage tanks. 
  • Plastic pipe and hot water systems: Some municipalities in South Africa also restrict the use of plastic pipes for direct connection into hot water heaters. Some modern plastic pipe is now able to withstand high temperatures and is approved for carrying hot water.  However, because it is often difficult or impossible for the building inspector, by visual observation only, to correctly identify the type of plastic pipe used in system, the building inspector is advised to always be cautious. The inspector should always report on the use of plastic pipe in any hot water systems.  In such cases, the building inspector should recommend further investigation by a specialist.
  • Fittings and tools for plastic pipes: SANS 10252-1 views fittings and tools used to install plastic pipe as an integral part of the complete pipe system.  Therefore, only fittings and tools tested and approved by SABS for a specific type of plastic pipe may be used to install that type of pipe system.

Non-compliant plumbing components

The widespread use in new South African building work of non-SABS tested and approved plumbing pipe and fittings is a major problem – resulting in system failure and massive leaks and wastage of South Africa’s precious water resources.  

The problem is probably most widespread in low-cost housing where cash-strapped homeowners and tenants can least afford to waste money on excessive water usage and the cost of replacing defective plumbing systems.  

The problem is that builders and developers are tempted to use cheaper, unapproved imports in place of more expensive, but SABS-approved systems.  The use of approved systems, which may be either imported, or locally manufactured, ensures satisfactory quality and less system failure and water leaks.

A study by the Department of Civil Engineering Science, University of Johannesburg showed that non-compliant plumbing components are widely used in South Africa; compliant installations were found to be only about 50 percent. 

This study also showed that the level of non-compliance was especially severe in low-cost housing developments. Recently completed housing in ten different low-cost housing developments in Tshwane and Johannesburg was studied to gauge the level of compliance of plumbing components installed in South African low-cost housing. 

The average age of these houses inspected was 1.5 years, and a total of 26 plumbing components were inspected. It was found that:

  • 80% of the houses did not have an angle or shut-off valve installed for the toilet.
  • 40% of the houses had no tap inside the house.
  • 92% of the plumbing components inspected were non-compliant.
  • 61% of the non-compliant components were broken or leaking.
  • 50% of the toilets were leaking.

The data from this limited scope study indicate that the plumbing components installed in low-cost housing are notably inferior.  

The study says low levels of compliance are driven by a lack of enforcement at local government level and by cheaper, non-compliant imports.  Legislation does not prohibit the import and sale of non-compliant components. There is also a clear price incentive to use non-compliant imports.  The study found that SABS compliant components were approximately 50 per cent more expensive than non-SABS compliant components.

The building inspector and the use of non-compliant plumbing systems

In general, when inspecting existing plumbing installations it is not feasible for the building inspector to be expected to identify non-compliant systems.  Building inspectors should include a disclaimer to this effect in their inspection reports.

 

Water supply

Clear potable (safe to drink) water to buildings will normally be supplied by the local authorities. This water may be sourced from dams, reservoirs, boreholes, wells, desalinated  sea water, or treated (purified). Property owners sometimes supplement the main water supply from several sources as a cost and water saving measure. Water from boreholes, wells, well points, rainwater collection tanks or grey water collection systems are normally used for this purpose.  Grey water is not always fit for human consumption and is usually only used for irrigation or non domestic use.  

Local authority main water supply

Cold clean water is supplied to a building via an underground main supply pipe.  The municipality’s role ends at the water meter, which should include a stop-cock and which is usually located close to the boundary of the erf (plot).

The above schematic shows how clean water is piped to a house and how sewerage and other waste is removed from the house and treated

Borehole, water wells and wellpoint water

Boreholes, wells and well points are methods of reaching and extracting underground water in regions where the groundwater saturation zone can be reached by drilling or digging. By having an underground water source for irrigation purposes homeowners not only save money but contribute to saving water.

Well points are shallow “boreholes” (water extraction shafts) drilled or dug to a depth not exceeding 10 metres. Well points are mostly used for small to medium-sized gardens. Boreholes on the other hand, are much deeper shafts which are more suitable for the irrigation of larger areas.  Boreholes can, if the water quality is suitable, also be used for domestic purposes and for the filling of swimming pools. 

In most domestic applications, immersible pumps with electric motors are used to pump water from the shaft and to provide pressure to either distribute water to storage tanks or to feed into irrigations systems. 

Shut-off valves are usually fitted to regulate the flow of water. By law, an electrical isolator switch must be installed within close proximity of the electrical pump. 

The pump and components should be protected / covered to prevent weather damage and in the event of moving parts to prevent injury. 

Water wells are excavations in the ground created by digging, driving, boring, or drilling to access groundwater stored in, and which moves slowly through, moderately to highly permeable rocks called aquifers. The water is drawn out of the well by a pump, or by using containers, such as buckets, that are raised mechanically, or by hand. Placing a lining in the well shaft helps create stability and prevents the sidewalls from collapsing when the well was excavated in soft sandy soils. 

Well water typically contains more minerals in solution than surface water and may require treatment before being potable. Soil salivation (increased salt content of the soil) can occur as the water table falls and the surrounding soil begins to dry out. Another environmental problem is the potential for methane to seep into the water.

The building inspector should check that well point openings are covered or protected in such a manner that access is either controlled or restricted. 

Greywater collection systems

“Grey water” refers to all household wastewater, except wastewater from toilets, bidets and urinals – this is referred to as “black water”.  Reusable grey water will normally be collected from bathrooms, kitchens and washing machines and is primarily used to irrigate the garden.  

A grey water system usually consists of a small tank, a filter (to filter out large particles which could block the irrigation) and a submersible pump.  It is not designed to store water but rather to contain surges when, for instance the bath is emptied. 

Rain collection systems

This will normally, depending on the requirements, consist of any size rainwater collection tank or reservoir situated in close proximity or next to a building. The roof gutter downpipes will be diverted into these containers which will allow rainwater from the roof to be collected and stored. 

The water is extracted from the storage tank, either by gravity feed or by a pump to create pressure. Bird droppings, dust and other debris from the roof can also enter the rainwater storage tank.  This means that rainwater, unless treated, should not be used as drinking water.  

Water main and shut-off valve

Most buildings (but not all) are equipped with a stop-cock (shut-off valve) between the water meter and the house.  

The water meter has two elements:

  1. A stop-cock to shut off the municipal water supply in the event of an emergency –  or sometimes as a punitive measure if the property owner neglects to pay for the water consumed.
  2. A gauge to measure the volume of water consumed so that the property owner can be billed accordingly.

Water meter – what to inspect

  • It is important for the inspector to try and locate the mains shut-off valve so that the property owner knows exactly where to go when plumbing work needs to be done at the house.
  • To avoid disputes with sellers/buyers/or tenants, the client may require the building inspector to photograph the meter reading at the time of the inspection.

Water supply pipes

There are various types of pipe used to supply water to South African homes:

Different types of water supply pipes building inspectors will see in different South African homes: From top: Composite PEX-Al-PEX  pipe; PVC plastic pipe; PEX pipe; galvanized steel pipe; rigid copper pipe; flexible copper pipe.

For the building inspector it is important to identify as accurately as possible the type of pipe which has been installed.   There are three broad categories of pipe – metal (galvanised steel and copper); plastic (polymer); and also composite pipes (combining plastic and aluminum in different configurations).

As regards the correct use of different types of water supply pipes in plumbing installations, the building inspector should be aware of the following factors:

  • Rigid galvanised metal pipes interior have the tendency to eventually corrode and cause leaks. Metal pipes should therefore not be used underground. 
  • Copper pipes on the other hand are extremely durable and can be used chased into walls  or for surface installations. Copper pipes should not be used underground because it is easily crushed.    Because of the value of the metal, copper pipe installations in South Africa are sometimes stripped and stolen by thieves. 
  • Plastic pipes should be buried or at least not be exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays which cause the plastic to deteriorate and become brittle. 
  • Some older polycop pipes are also not suitable for hot water supply pipes. 

Metal supply pipes

Depending on the age of the property, the South African building inspector is likely to come across two different metal water pipes: 

  • Galvanised steel pipe in old installations 
  • Copper pipe.   

Metal pipes are easy for the building inspector to recognize and to inspect in accordance with the information provided in this module.

Plastic supply pipes

There are various types of plastic water pipes used in South African plumbing installations. Correctly identifying the type of plastic pipe is often fairly challenging for the building inspector.  Plastic pipes which the building inspector may encounter include:

  • Polycop – reddish brown plastic, which looks a bit like copper pipe – hence the name. Fairly flexible.  Joined with brass compression fittings.
  • PVC – normally white plastic pipe.  Rigid. Joined with glued-on PVC fittings.
  • PEX – reddish brown plastic.  Flexible. Joined with crimped-on fittings.
  • HDPE – black (sometimes white).  Flexible. Joined with glued-on or push-in fittings.

Composite supply pipes

Composite water supply pipes are constructed of five layers: Two layers of cross-linked polyethylene, surrounding a central layer of aluminum, bonded together by two adhesive layers. The result is a strong, lightweight pipe, which is flexible, sturdy, economical and easy to install. Composite pipe is completely corrosion and scale resistant, both internally and externally. 

Composite pipes can be used for both cold and hot water installations and provide a good degree of thermal insulation.   Because of the metal component, metal detectors can be used to locate the piping – inside walls.

  • Composite (PEX-AL-PEX).  Flexible. Joined with crimped-on fittings.

Building Regulations for new pipe types

Each new testing procedure under SANS 10252 deals with pipe systems based on the various types of polymer materials:

    • SANS 15874 – Polypropylene
    • SANS 15875 – Cross Linked Polyethylene 
    • SANS 15876 – Polybutylene
    • SANS 21003 – Multilayer pipe systems
    • SANS 22391 – Polyethylene with Raised Temperature Resistance

Regulations regarding pipe fittings

It is important for the building inspector to be aware of is that SABS ratings now test and match, each pipe type together with its approved fittings as regards water temperature, water pressure and the environment to which the pipe must be exposed – sunlight, corrosion and loads.

Reporting on plastic pipe installations

There are a wide variety of different polymer (plastic) pipes installed in South African buildings and it is sometimes beyond the scope of a building inspector to Identify the type of polymer (plastic). In addition only surface pipe can be observed by the building inspector – not piping which has been chased into walls or buried underground or beneath slabs.

As always, transparency is the key for a good building inspection report.  If the pipe can be identified – then state this in the report. If the inspector is uncertain, or just doesn’t know, then state this also.

If the building inspector suspects that an incorrect or unapproved piping system has been installed, then the inspector should voice his/her concerns and recommend further specialist evaluation of the system..

Galvanised steel pipes:  

Galvanized steel water pipes are seldom, if ever, used in modern South African building. However, galvanized pipes are still often found in many underground water supplies to older homes and sometimes also in older internal house plumbing.   

Galvanised pipes are prone to eventually narrowing as a result of the build-up inside the pipes of limescale and mineral deposits.  Rust and resultant leaks are also common problems with this piping as it ages.  

Galvanized pipes – what to inspect

 

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of galvanised installation pipes.  Clients should be informed that old galvanized pipes are prone to clogging with limescale and rust and to leaks – with resultant drop in water pressure.
  • Report on any observed leaks and visible corrosion.
  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.
  • Check that all pipes are secure.  Loose pipes (sometimes secured in the roof cavity by bent nails) can combine with water hammer to weaken joints and cause leaks.
  • Buyers of older homes, who want a decent hot shower, often want to replace the low pressure hot water geyser with a modern high-pressure geyser.  Inspectors should caution clients to first consult an expert plumber in order to determine whether any old galvanized supply pipes are capable of handling high water pressure, or whether the pipes should also be replaced.

Copper pipe

Copper piping is still the most widely used water pipe for interior plumbing in South Africa. Plumbers use Conex compression connectors or soldered joints to connect copper piping.  Copper pipe is durable and stable but is relatively costly, prone to pipe theft by copper thieves and sometimes develops pinhole leaks.

Although copper pipe is expensive (therefore attractive to thieves), its main advantage is its almost total resistance to corrosion. Copper pipe can be chased into a wall and, so long as the joints are sound, will probably outlast the wall!

                                

 Sweat soldering a copper pipe joint            Joining pipes with compression fittings

                                                                                “Olive”- this ring provides the water seal

                                                        

     Elbow coupler                                                            Tee coupler              

 

Copper pipes – what to inspect

Report on any observed leaks and visible corrosion. Leaks are mostly found at joints, but the copper piping itself may, given the chemistry of the water, develop tiny perforations (“pinhole” leaks) as a result of pitting corrosion on the inside of the pipe. The mineral content of the water can influence the formation of corrosion and pinhole leaks.

 

Pitting corrosion developing inside a copper pipe

A pinhole leak is a final breakthrough event of the progressive attack of pitting corrosion inside copper water plumbing. A copper water plumbing system can already be significantly damaged by pitting corrosion, before pinhole leaks develop. While building inspectors need to be aware of this phenomenon, it is obviously beyond the scope of any inspector to try to discover pitting corrosion before pinhole leaks develop – particularly impossible if the pipe has been chased into a bathroom wall, for instance.

  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes – as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.
  • Check that all pipes are securely fastened with proper saddles.  Loose pipes (sometimes secured to roof timbers by bent nails) can, combined with water hammer, chafe the piping and also weaken joints  – so causing leaks
  • Copper pipes are also prone to freezing and should be lagged if it is exposed.
  • Copper pipes should not be used underground.   This is because copper pipes are too easily crushed; tougher PVC, polycop or HDPE plastic pipe should be used underground.
  • Copper pipes should not be used as tap standpipes, unless securely fixed to a wall.   

Polycop pipe

Reddish-brown polypropylene pipes, known as “polycop” (poly-copper) are the cheapest plastic pipes and has been widely used in South African homes for over 20 years as a cheaper substitute for copper pipe.   Polycop pipes accommodate high water pressure but not high water temperatures.

Although plumbers try to save money by using polycop pipes for hot water installations, the building inspector should know that SANS 1315, the original standard under which poly

cop was approved, was only ever a cold water standard for polypropylene pipe. SANS 1315 never covered polycop’s use as a hot water pipe, despite some manufacturer’s claims to the opposite. 

Typically, Polycop is widely used in low cost applications, and very often in RDP housing schemes in South Africa.  Here polycop has often been incorrectly used for hot water supply. 

SANS 1315 has now been revoked.  ALL Polycop type pipes must now comply with SANS ISO 15874, which is the same standard which deals with the new PPR piping systems, and requires resistance to elevated temperatures and pressures when combined with approved fittings.

SABS has now updated South African standards to an international level. International (ISO) standards were adopted for all the different polymer materials currently available as piping systems for hot and cold water. These ISO standards require a pipe material to be tested with a fitting to offer an approved piping system.  In other words, the combination system of pipe and fittings must be SABS approved.

PEX Pipe 

PEX piping is a plastic pipe – cross-linked polyethylene.  The most common form of this plastic is also found in plastic grocery bags. When this type of plastic is used in plumbing, the pipes are very durable and can withstand extreme temperatures. 

  • PEX pipe can be used for both hot and cold water supply. Cross linking enables appropriate PEX piping to carry hot water – up to  120–150 °C.
  • Typically PEX pipe for hot water is red and PEX pipe for cold water is coloured blue.
  • PEX pipe has tough impact and tensile strength.
  • PEX piping is able to expand and contract much more easily than copper pipes can. Pex pipes are less likely to freeze and burst during the change of seasons. 
  • Pex plastic is chemically inert. This means that the plastic won’t add any chemicals to your water before it gets to your tap. It won’t react with anything already in the water, like minerals and acids. 
  • PEX piping is super flexible which allows for an easy installation. There are no fittings or welding to do, because the pipe is so flexible it can bend in any direction your house takes it.
  • However, PEX piping is very sensitive to the ultra violet rays from the sun, and therefore cannot be used outdoors. 

PEX pipes – what to inspect

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of PEX pipes.  
  • Report on any observed leaks and visible damage.
  • Report on any PEX pipe installations which are exposed to UV rays from the sun.
  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.

Composite pipe

Composite pipe is a white or red multi-layer relatively flexible pipe which is made from two layers of either high density polyurethane or cross-linked polyethylene with a middle layer of welded aluminum. 

Cheaper than copper and not susceptible to pinhole leaks and theft, multi-layer piping, which can be used for hot and cold water supply.  Composite pipe is probably the water piping which will become most widely used in the future.  

  • Composite pipes are rated for 1000 kPa pressure, but with high water temperature, the rating drops to 300 – 400 kPa.  
  • Composite pipe are also called CPVC  or Pex-Al-Pex (depending on the plastic used).
  • Composite pipe has very good insulation properties.  There is very little heat loss of hot water from the geyser to the taps and little danger of water freezing in severe winter conditions. 
  • Composite pipe is joined with crimp-on fittings. Easy to work with and the fittings seal very well.

Composite pipes – what to inspect

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of composite pipes.  
  • Report on any observed leaks.
  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.

PVC pipes

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is the most widely used material for manufacturing plastic piping. PVC pipe is more rigid and stronger than the majority of other thermoplastics. Thermoplastic is a polymer that becomes moldable after reaching a certain temperature and then returns to a perfectly solid state once it cools. PVC can be implemented in various applications including drainage, water supply and electrical conduit.

White 110mm PVC pipes, which are often used as drain vent pipes, will normally be encountered by the building Inspector.  Grey/brown 110mm PVC pipes are not resistant to the sun’s UV rays and are designed to be used for underground drain lines.

Some people say PVC is not the best option for underground piping because it can’t be located as easily as metal pipes. However, a new underground electrical locator called the AML PVC Pipe Detector from SSI Locators is revolutionizing the way people locate buried PVC pipe

Some PVC pipes is not permitted for inside water supply lines because toxic chemicals can leach out from the PVC into the water supply. PVC is often used for waste lines in homes.

PVC pipes – what to inspect

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of PVC pipes.  
  • Report on any observed leaks and visible damage.
  • Report on any PVC pipe installations which are exposed to UV rays from the sun.
  • Report on any PVC installations which supply potable (drinking) water. This is unsafe because of possible chemical leaching and is not allowed.
  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.

PPR pipe

Polypropylene random copolymer (PPR) pipe is a thermoplastic pipe manufactured by Atlas which has been approved by SABS for both cold and hot water supply to homes and other buildings. PPR pipe can be:

  • Can be used for both hot and cold water supply – rated 0-95°C.
  • Does not corrode – poor conductor of electricity.
  • Does not absorb heat from the hot water it carries – resulting in more efficient use of hot water
  • Has an ultra-smooth internal surface – resulting in fast and quiet water flow through the pipe.
  • Is joined with hot-melt technology (fusion welding).  This provides high reliability and eliminates joint leaks – provided that the joins are pressure tested prior to use.

PPR pipes – what to inspect

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of PPR pipes.  
  • Report on any observed leaks and visible damage.
  • Report on any PPR pipe installations which are exposed to UV rays from the sun.
  • Turn on the taps at all outlets (kitchen sink, basins, baths and showers) and check for water pressure and for any “ water hammer”.  Water hammer is a loud ‘BANG’ or hammer-like sound heard after quickly turning on or off a tap. This sound results from sudden changes in the water pressure inside the pipes as a result of taps being suddenly opened or closed.   Air in the pipes, or loose pipes, can worsen the hammer.

HDPE pipe

High density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic pipe has been used extensively around the world for over 60 years for both pressure and non-pressure piping. The properties of HDPE pipe – resistance to impact and abrasion – have offered an alternative to traditional material like steel and copper and also in non-pressure drain applications where clay and fibre cement pipes were used .

HDPE pipe made from polyethylene (PE) is a tough and cost effective solution for a broad range of piping applications – above ground, surface and buried. HDPE pipe can carry potable (drinking) water and wastewater in residential buildings. HDPE pipe is also widely used for mining, industrial, agricultural and marine applications. 

HDPE pipe is often used for slip-lining old, cracked cast-iron, ceramic or pitch-fibre drain lines. This technique involves drawing the HDPE pipe through the old drain using specialised equipment.  The result is a new, smooth, seamless drain pipe – with little excavation involved.

HDPE pipes – what to inspect

  • Building inspectors need to report on the existence and condition of HDPE pipes. It may not be possible of feasible for the inspector to distinguish an    
  • Report on any observed leaks and visible damage.

Common plumbing problems

Here are some common plumbing problems encountered in South African homes:

Water leaks

It is estimated that between 30-40 percent of water pumped from the Vaal River never gets to the users’ taps in Gauteng.  This water gets “lost” on the way. This is due to the poor state of the water reticulation/distribution systems in Gauteng and elsewhere in South Africa. 

The City of Cape Town has addressed problem of water wastage by passing a bylaw (effective from 18 February 2011) in terms of which a Cape Town property can no longer be transferred without a certificate from a licensed plumber certifying that:

  • There are no leaks in the plumbing system
  • No rain water is going into the municipal sewers
  • The plumbing installation complies with city bylaws and the National Building Regulations.

Remember that while a building inspector is not a specialist; the inspector should be able to provide general advice to property owners regarding plumbing issues and problems.  It is always prudent for the inspector to point out that he/she is not a plumbing specialist and to advise the client to seek specialist advice.

In the light of the growing water shortages in South Africa it can be expected that other South African municipalities will follow the Cape Town example.

Rusted galvanised pipes, buried underground or located inside house walls, are the main cause of leaks. Galvanised pipes eventually rust (sometimes only after 50-100 years). 

Water pipes also sometimes rust from the inside, but the prime source of leaks is most often external. Steel pipes build up a scale layer inside that offers a degree of rust protection. The exception to this is on cut threads that are not protected. 

How to detect a water leak

Some leaks are very difficult to detect.  In one case a townhouse complex was charged a large amount above their normal water bill. It was eventually discovered that the water leak ran directly into the sewer so there was no evidence of the leak on the surface. 

First, stop all the consumption of water in the house. Even switch off the toilet cistern stop cock if necessary. Make sure the dishwasher and washing machine are switched off. Go outside and watch the water meter for five minutes. The meter should stay dead still during this time.  If it moves, there is a leak. 

While you are looking at the meter make a note of the reading. Compare this reading with the last water and lights account reading. Does it make sense? You can then work out your daily consumption. Does this tie in with previous month’s daily consumption?

If the meter moves when everything is switched off then there is a leak.  It is a significant leak if you can see the meter moving. If you can barely see it move over three minutes then there is a slight leak which will get worse over time.

Pipe leaks can prove to be extremely expensive for the property owner. The municipalities are very rigid as regards leaks on private property.  If it is the owner’s pipe that is leaking (after the meter) then the owner will be responsible for the account.

The next step is to try and establish where the leak has occurred.  Follow the probable line of the pipe to the house and look for obvious signs of damp, mud, moss on walls etc.  If you don’t see any of these signs then there may be a bigger problem – the leak may be under the house or some other structure. This could be a very big problem because leaks under structures threaten the integrity of the structure itself. 

There are a variety of methods plumbers use to detect leaks. The most popular methods are sound or gas: 

  • Sound (Acoustic) detection can be very simple or pretty sophisticated. The plumber uses one or many ground microphone/s to locate the leak. 
  • Gas (a mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen) is pumped into the pipe and the plumber uses a very sensitive detector to pick up the highest concentration of hydrogen. 
  • Infra-red detection using an infrared camera

Water pressure issues

Most suburban homes in South Africa are connected to a water main feeder pipe supplied by their municipality. The most common connection from the municipal main is a 22mm pipe that links into the mains supply. 

The pressure in the main feeder pipe is at a certain pressure. This pressure is variable – but fairly constant for houses near each other on the same feeder pipe.   This pressure depends on where the house is located on the municipal supply line and also on the water pressure available to authority supplying the water. Water pressure also depends on how many others are using the pipe and to a large degree the time of day. 

Some areas experience good average water pressure, while others have very poor pressure – especially early in the mornings when many people are showering.  In the “dead” period at night (12am to 4am) the water pressure in the system is at its highest. This is when leaks usually start or when leaks are the strongest.

“Good pressure” for household use could be defined at anything over 300 kPa of static pressure. 200 to 300 kPa of static pressure is reasonable and below 200 kPa is poor. Less than 100 kPa is a problem. 

What does this mean for the property owner? The pressure at the main supply may be fine, but pressure may be really poor inside the building. 

The first thing to check is the diameter of the feed pipe to the structure. Some plumbers previously used 15mm pipes for a supply feed to a house. This is a problem which can only be solved by replacing the feed with a 22mm pipe.

Boosting water pressure

There are essentially only three things which can be done to boost water pressure:

  • Increase the diameter of the feeder pipe (or add another);
  • Replace any old galvanised piping which has become scaled and damaged and partially kinked copper pipe;
  • Or install a pressure booster pump. Pressure boosters of adequate flow rates do a great job. They “suck” the water out of the main feeder and really do a good job at maintaining really good pressure (400 kPa and more) in the house. But pressure booster pumps use a lot of electricity. Typically these are 750-1000 Watt units and they may switch on every time a tap is opened.

Poor hot water pressure

There must be a good cold water pressure to enable a good hot water pressure.  If the cold water pressure is fine but the hot water trickles then there are a number of possible reasons:

  • The geyser cold inlet and/or hot outlet piping is partially blocked. 
  • A hot water piping is damaged in some way. Copper piping can easily be accidentally flattened. 
  • Excessive leak in a hot water pipe.
  • The hot water tap/s or mixers are faulty. 
  • There may be an old hot water geyser with header tank or low pressure (100 kPa) Lacto type system. Normally the hot water pressure, gravity feed from the header tank, will be lower than the cold water pressure, municipal feed. Old geysers eventually lose efficiency through the build-up of scale in piping and will cause hot water flow to be restricted or lowered.
  • Low hot water and good cold water pressure was synonymous with old low pressure hot water systems. These systems are sometimes upgraded by replacing the low pressure geyser with a high pressure geyser. To prevent the existing piping which was never under a high pressure from leaking, a pressure control valve matching the previous pressure rating will be installed. Due to this type of installation there will always be a difference in the cold and hot water pressure.   
  • The diameter of the hot water piping less than the cold water piping. 
  • The valve controlling the cold water supply into the geyser may not be fully open.

Converting to a high pressure hot water supply

Converting the hot water systems from a low pressure (100 kPa) to high pressure 400 or 600 kPa geysers is problematic unless the pipes supplying hot water to the bathrooms, toilets, kitchen and laundry are replaced at the same time that a high pressure geyser is installed.

If the old piping is not to be ripped out then the system must be pressure tested so that problems with the existing hot water pipes can be exposed. The old pipe system, which has previously carried 100 kPa of pressure, may be too weak to carry high pressure of say 600 kPa. The pressure testing should at least go up to the working pressure of the new system.

Sanitaryware

The term “sanitaryware” is used in South Africa to describe any item in a building which is plumbed-in, whether that be a shower, sink, bidet or toilet.  “Plumbed-in” means that the item is linked to a clean water-supply and to a waste water drainage system.

  • The building inspector requires a basic working knowledge of the different items of sanitaryware to be found in a South African building.  This knowledge should include:
  • The names of the components of each item of sanitaryware.
  • How the item works – how the components function together.
  • Common defects to look out for.

Toilets 

A toilet is a plumbing fixture primarily intended for the disposal of human excreta.

Various styles of toilets will be encountered in South African homes and other buildings.  The differences mainly relate to the positioning of the cistern (which holds the water for flushing the toilet) and the flush mechanism.  Most modern toilets are “close-coupled” – that is the cistern and the toilet bowl are manufactured as one piece.

All toilets discharge via a trap (water seal) into the drain/sewer system. A wax ring is used by plumbers to seal the joint between the cistern and the collar of the toilet waste pipe.  As the seal deteriorates it is common for the home inspector to find leaks at this joint.

Toilets are usually ceramic (fired pottery).  This is called vitreous china and has a very hard surface. It is resistant to fading, staining, burning, scratching, and acid attack. 

South African toilets usually have plastic, or wooden seats of widely varying quality.

Older homes have wall mounted cisterns with a pipe linking the cistern and the toilet bowl. In very old houses, a cast-iron (or plastic) elevated wall-mounted cistern with a pull chain attached to the lever of the discharge valve, may still be encountered.   

Then there are toilets with concealed cisterns (built into the wall behind the toilet) and flush-master toilets (also known as a “flushometer”). In this system, each toilet in a home or building complex is linked is linked directly to the main water pressure system. or to a water reservoir in the ceiling.  This allows for repeated flushing without have to wait for the cistern to refill.

The flushing mechanisms of most South African household toilets rely on gravity to pull the water with sufficient force from the cistern, into the bowl, when the release valve (or flapper valve) is opened.  This strong flow of water is designed to wash the waste through the trap and down the drain. Once the cistern has emptied, the valve drops back into place and the weight of the water in the refilling cistern presses down on the release valve and keeps it watertight – until the next flush.

Cisterns are either lever or push button operated. Cisterns operated by a push button are available in single (6L) or dual flush (3L/6L).  Two buttons allow for the user to select between a flush for urine or faeces. Because most of a household’s flushes are for urine, dual flush toilets can save a significant amount of water.

The majority of cisterns are now internal overflow; this means in the event of a failure, the water will be contained within the unit.  A variety of different flush and cistern-fill mechanisms are used. Older toilets have a ball valve controlling the inflow to the cistern and a lever operated flush release valve (of various designs) at the base of the cistern.

Cistern fill valves control the water inflow into the cistern. The valves are of two main designs: 

  • The side-float design and; 
  • The concentric-float design. 

The side-float design incorporates a float, usually ball-shaped, which is located to one side of the main valve tower, at the end of a rod or arm. As the side-float rises, so does the side-float-arm. The arm is connected to a linkage which blocks the water flow into the toilet tank, and thus maintains a constant level in the tank.

A concentric float valve opens when the water level in the cistern is low, allowing more water to enter. When the water level returns to the full level, the valve is shut. The newer concentric-float fill valve consists of a tower which is encircled by a plastic float assembly. Operation is otherwise the same as a side-float fill valve, even though the float position is somewhat different. By virtue of its more compact layout, interference between the float and the flush valve is greatly reduced, thus increasing reliability. 

 

 

Left: A typical modern toilet installation with a concentric valve flush mechanism. Right: The older style ball valve cock controlling the inflow and a lever controlled flapper valve controlling the flush.

Toilet design is constantly improving with the goal to maintain an efficient flush, but use less water.  In the United States, these improved products are generally identified as high efficiency toilets or HETs. HETs possess an effective flush volume of 4.8 litres or less.  HETs may be single-flush or dual-flush. 

The performance of a flush-toilet in the US is rated by a Maximum Performance (MaP) score. The low end of MaP scores is 250. The high end of MaP scores is 1000. A toilet with a MaP score of 1000 should provide trouble-free service. It should remove all waste with a single flush; it should not plug; it should not harbour any odour; it should be easy to keep clean. The United States Environmental Protection Agency uses a MaP score of 350 as the minimum performance threshold for HETs.  

There are no equivalent minimum standards (or MaP score requirements) in South African for toilet flushing.  This may come: 

Worldwide advanced technology is being integrated into toilets with more functions. These features, which will be seen increasing in up-market South African homes in the future, already include:

  • Automatic-flushing mechanisms, operated by a photocell or other sensor. Typically these flush a toilet when the user stands up, or flush a urinal when the user steps away. 
  •  Water jets, or “bottom washers” like a bidet, as an alternative to toilet paper. 
  •  Blow dryers, to dry the body after use of water jets. 
  •  Artificial flush sounds, to mask noises such as body functions. 
  • Urine and stool analysis, for medical monitoring. One Japanese smart toilet checks blood pressure, temperature, and blood sugar. 
  • Digital clock, to monitor time spent at the toilet. 
  • Automatic lid operation, to open and close the lid. 
  • Heated seats (some of which may overheat). 
  • Deodorizing fans. 
  • Automated paper toilet-seat-cover replacers, which automatically replace a paper toilet-seat cover with the push of a button.
  •  Electric Toilet Brushes

Macerating waste systems

Macerator waste systems have recently become available in South Africa.  These systems, have a grinder (“macerator”) fitted to the back of a toilet.  This system allows the homeowner to install a new toilet or a full extra bathroom almost anywhere – without first having to break-up existing concrete floor slabs in order to accommodate the waste piping.   

Previously it has only been practical to locate new toilets and bathrooms in areas which are in close proximity to the sewer drainline.

To “macerate” means “to soften and break into pieces”. Macerating systems use a rotating cutting blade to liquefy human waste and toilet paper. When mixed with flushing water, the waste, together with grey water from basins,  baths and showers is pumped away as fine slurry.

This system, which is fairly widely used in France, uses a grinder-pump to pump the waste uphill – if necessary. The waste is pumped into the existing sewer system by means of a waste pipe system that connects to the existing drain and which compiles with building regulations.

Problems with macerators are said to include noise from the pump, a slight residual odour around the toilet and the propensity for the system to break down if anything other than human waste and grey water is processed through the macerator. 

A macerator system – showing how the waste is pumped away via the roof cavity.

A macerator is not suitable for kitchen sinks because the greases and larger food particles flushed down sinks tend to clog the small diameter macerator pipe and eventually create a problem.

Bidets

A bidet is a vitreous china (porcelain) sanitary ware item designed for washing the crotch area.  The word comes from the French for “pony” because the user sits astride the bidet while washing. A bidet is fitted with a cold (and usually hot) water supply which operates through various types of mixers.  A bidet also incorporates a water trap seal and must be connected directly into the main 110mm waste via a 32mm pipe (not via a basin or bath waste pipe).

Basins

Basins in South African homes are of various types – the most common being wall-mounted, pedestal basins, drop-in basins (into a vanity countertop) and ‘stand on top’ basins.  A variety of different materials are used to manufacture basins – the most common being vitreous china (porcelain).

Baths

Many baths are freestanding.  Modern freestanding baths are carried on metal brackets with adjustable legs and incorporate an apron to conceal the brackets and legs.  Old enamelled cast iron baths are much sought after and normally stand on ornamental legs. Repairs and re-enamelling of these older baths is a widely available service.

Older bathrooms often have built-in baths – normally of plastic or fibre construction.  A common building error is to inadequately support the weight of a filled bath. The result is either excessive movement around the rim of the bath resulting in cracked caulking, or a hollow sounding bath which may be prone to failure.  

Normally a built-in bath installation involves  bricking-up the sides of the structure, then placing the bath on a bed of sand (often mixed with some cement) and then filling in around the sides before finishing off the top edges with concrete and tiles.  Sometimes the rim of the bath itself forms the top edge.

The bathtub should be filled with water prior to caulking.  The weight of the water will maximise the width between the tub/wall joints and reduce future movement, stress and cracking.  The water should be left in the tub until the caulk bead is dry.

Plugs & overflows from baths and basins

There has been a lot of development in waste plug design for baths and basins and so a variety of different plug types are found in South African bathrooms.   Old style rubber push-in/pull out plugs were replaced first by lever-operated metal plugs and now increasingly by one-push “clicker” plugs. If there is an overflow in the bath or basin this is linked to the waste via a slotted clicker plug.

 

A brass waste clicker for a basin with overflow slot

 

Showers

The substrate of showers (floors and walls) needs to be adequately waterproofed (preferably with a suitable bituminous coating) prior to tiling and the installation of the doors/panels.  Leaks in showers often occur because of poor grouting and sealing. Poor sealing is a particular danger if a shower tray has been installed – often used in an upstairs bathroom renovation – especially with wooden floors.

The bezel (cover plate) of the shower mixer can also be problematic, inasmuch that if the pipe penetrating the wall and tiling behind the bezel is not sealed, water from the shower can seep behind the tiles, resulting in tile delamination and damp on the opposite side of the wall.

Kitchen sinks

Kitchen sinks may be made from  stainless steel, ceramic or from composite fibre material.  The home inspector should report on the condition of the sink, the presence of plugs and any evidence of leaks in the trap or drain below the sink.

Taps and Mixers 

There are quite a variety of tap and mixer manufacturers on the market in South Africa. Many taps are also imported from overseas. The range is extensive and varied. There is however some important differences. 

Firstly there are taps as in single taps, or single taps on a mixer body. These kinds of taps have washers and are easily repaired, and not as expensive as single handle mixers which have a ceramic disc mixer cartridge (see next page). 

 
 
 Pillar tap  Bib tap  Pillar tap high waste 
     
 Basin Mixer    Basin Mixer   Basin Mixer 
     
 Kitchen, Bath and Basin Taps
   
 Bath Shower     Bath Shower   Basin Sink 

Single handle mixers have, in the place of washers, a mixer cartridge. These cartridges are much more expensive than a tap washer – up to R500 per cartridge.

 Mixer Taps With Single Handle
   
 Basin mixer   Basin mixer   Bath/shower

 

  

Balance is achieved by installing a pressure control valve (multi-valve) on the main water inlet to the house.  This valve is usually installed next to the hot water geyser, on the cold water supply. The cold water supply to the mixers etc. is then taken from a point between the pressure reducing valve and the geyser.  This ensures that the cold water pressure is the same as the hot water pressure.

Installation of a pressure control valve can prove difficult in the older houses that have more than one water entrance point to the house. If a single handle mixer is installed in an unbalanced water pressure system, the mixer cartridge will not last long, and will need to be replaced, and the manufacturer’s guarantee will probably be void.

Smart taps

Fairly new to the South Africa market are ”smart taps” with an under-counter installation able to deliver filtered water – either very hot (within 2 degrees C of boiling), or chilled water (11 degrees C). 

Franke offers this range in South Africa under the brand Zip Hydrotap, Zip Boiltap and Zip Chilltap.

Installation requirements are a cold water feed – minimum pressure 150 kPa and an electrical supply via a standard three-pin plug.    The device can be programmed to go into sleep mode during the night hours.

      

Sanitaryware drainage systems

For reasons explained more fully in the next SAHITA Module on drains, all sanitaryware located in a building which is connected to a drain/sewer system will include a “trap”  This is a “P” or “S” shaped drain which is designed to hold water at all times – the “water seal”. Traps and water seals are designed to provide a water barrier to prevent unpleasant smells from the drains to penetrate the interior of a building.

Inspection guidelines

  • Even if you know everything, or think you are prepared, it is always important for you to follow a logical step by step method of thoroughly checking plumbing installations and their components.  Overconfidence and lack of procedure may cause you to miss defects.
  • The following is a suggested process which has been compiled based on years of practical inspecting experience.  However, you may feel more comfortable to approach your inspections differently – so long as you are sure you have done what was required from you.  
  • To first step of inspecting plumbing is to find and identify all components of the installations – in particular: The water meter and water mains stop cock.  This will be somewhere outside, normally near the boundary. If you cannot find the water meter and all else fails, ask or contact the owner! 
  • Locate the various water outlets and – kitchen, bathrooms, laundry and outdoor systems (taps and irrigation)
  • Locate the various hot water heating devices – geysers etc.
  • Once you have a picture in your mind where water is used on the property, then you are ready to inspect the components of the various plumbing installations for defects.

Checklist for the home inspector:

  • Check the water flow, run the water briefly in every sink, basin, bath and shower. 
  • Check the visible traps and drains for leaks and signs of damp.
  • Check the open and close function of all valves – taps, mixers and shower heads.
  • Observe the water pressure delivered at each outlet.
  • Check the water temperature at hot water outlets (only if the geyser is switched on). 
  • Check for previous or active leaks from piping, fittings or installations.
  • Check if the correct piping was used.
  • Do not switch on the geyser (if the geyser has been switched off) without permission. The geyser may have been switched off for some reason. Rather note in your report that the hot water temperature could not be checked.
  • Do not tread, stand or pull on piping.  
  • Do not leave cabinet’s doors or covers open if you have opened them.
  • Do not climb onto equipment / housings etc.
  • Do not switch on appliances and installations on if you are not sure.

Before you take the online test, please……

Make sure that you are thoroughly familiar with the material in this module before completing the online test.  The more familiar you make yourself with the information presented in this Module the better you will be as a professional building inspector. Review thoroughly all areas of this module before and during the open book online test.


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