Preventative HOA Maintenance.
Our 6th President in office from 1785 until 1788, and a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin adeptly coined the phrase “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This is the first of what will be a series of newsletters that make up my first blog: Preventative HOA Maintenance. This edition will focus on sewer line backups and what can be done to prevent them.
Hydro-jetting. One of the most disastrous incidents of water damage that occur most frequently and unexpectedly are sewer line back-ups. The black sludge that exits the drainage system and overflows into homeowners’ kitchens and bathrooms can cause harmful bacteria growth which forms Stachybotrys Chartarum – more commonly known as “black mold.” This can be especially harmful to children, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system.
Snaking. Using a “snake” as a means of cleaning sewer lines is a common mistake. Unlike water supply lines which are either made of galvanized steel or copper, sewer lines are made of cast iron. The inner circumference of the line deteriorates from rust over time, and diminishes in size as sludge builds up. Placing a snake into the line to clean it is as effective as trying to empty a jar of peanut butter with a pencil. Snakes are intended to clear obstructions from improper use such as paper towels or banana peels.
Hydro-jetting is a process that involves flushing horizontal sewer lines with approximately 3,000 lbs. of water pressure. There are main and branch sewer lines most often located overhead in the parking garage. These horizontal lines are exposed, so if a leak forms during the hydro-jetting it is easy to identify and repair.
The vertical sewer lines which run up through the walls of each stack of units should NEVER be hydro-jetted. Doing so can cause significant damage to unit interiors that may go unnoticed until it’s too late.
In the case of a problematic vertical sewer line, special attention is needed. Simultaneous access to all units in the stack is recommended to protect water overflowing while these lines are being flushed from the highest floor. In extreme cases where the pipes are severely clogged with sludge, and corroded from age, misuse and improper cleaning – replacing the vertical sewer line is the only safe way solve the problem. Unfortunately since sewer lines are so large in diameter (compared to water supply lines) a section of the wall equal to the width of the sewer line needs to be removed from floor to ceiling. With copper lines, a small opening under each fixture is sufficient as the thin and flexible copper can be bent and fished into the wall and down the stack. For many associations this makes full sewer line replacement projects infeasible from a cost standpoint. As a result, most buildings have not re-piped the sewer systems, and have no plans to do so in the foreseeable future. Consistent reserve contributions, sometimes combined with a special assessment, tend to be effective in funding such capital improvements.
Plumbers with advanced equipment can adjust the pressure when cleaning older sewer lines which may be more susceptible to damage. When developing a preventative maintenance schedule for your building it is imperative to take the age and condition of the sewer lines into consideration. New or drainage systems can handle more frequent cleanings, whereas older lines should be cleaned with caution. Consult with your plumber regarding the most appropriate preventative maintenance schedule. Once that is determined, make sure your management company sticks to the timeline.
Insurance. The majority of homeowners associations we take care of are insured by State Farm, CIBA or Farmer’s. These master policies usually include endorsements which either exclude or limit coverage for damage caused by sewer line back-ups. Competitive carriers will offer increased sewer line backup coverage for a relatively minimal annual cost.
Immediately after your HOA manager is notified of the damage, a certified water damage expert should perform moisture and bacteria testing to identify areas that may require drying, dehumidification and/or disinfection. Insurance companies do not want to delay this process, so it is customary for the carrier to reimburse the association so that the work can take place as soon as practical.
Deductible. It is one of the most important insurance decisions a board can make. When an unexpected disaster strikes, it is the amount the association is required to pay before the carrier will provide any coverage. Although a lower deductible can lead to savings when filing claims, higher deductibles will discourage homeowners from filing frivolous claims. Many carriers offer a $1,000 deductible as the default. However, it is recommended to set your deductible to an amount between $5000 and $10,000. In the long run a higher deductible can translate into greater cost savings. Be sure to comply with CA law when making changes to the association’s insurance coverage.