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All About Commercial Plumbing: Why It’s Different, Why It Matters, and Best Practices

Nov. 10, 2020

commercial plumbing

The Burj Khalifa is 2,722 feet tall and uses about 249,908 gallons of water daily, distributed among its 163 floors. That alone is enough to make any plumber shudder. While commercial plumbing rarely goes to such heights, this example gives a good sense of what commercial plumbing is all about.

Commercial plumbing takes a different sort of person. A page in the diary of a commercial plumber would be filled with lots of clogged drains, leaking or burst waterworks, heated water tanks, and maybe a few installations. If they’re lucky, some of this work might take place in a donut shop. But boy, it can have some nice paychecks!

At the end of the day, a commercial plumber needs to reassure their clients, because customer service is always central to a successful commercial plumbing enterprise.

Understanding Commercial Plumbing

Commercial plumbers are the guys who work with water supply and wastewater drainage systems for businesses, public spaces, building complexes, and high rises. The extensive and sophisticated nature of plumbing work in these places makes commercial plumbing much more demanding than residential plumbing. 

Commercial plumbers are responsible for the regular maintenance and repair of all such systems. Their scope of work is almost unlimited, depending on their skill level and training. You will find them fishing in public bathrooms, wading in flooded basements, fixing broken fixtures in schools, repairing water pumps, and a whole host of other jobs. 

Why Commercial Plumbing is Different

There are some important factors that come into play when one enters the world of commercial plumbing. They’re the reason why not every plumber can handle a simple-sounding job in a high rise building.

1. Multiple Levels

Where more than two stories are involved, gravitational forces make a much bigger impact on water columns in piping, drainage, tanks, and other fixtures. The Burj Khalifa would have water columns weighing over 280 tons if its sections were not broken up.

2. Scale of the Work

Everything about commercial plumbing is bigger. Bigger buildings, bigger water systems, bigger equipment used, bigger problems to handle. Many times, commercial premises also use industrial-grade equipment such as boilers, fire systems, piping, etc. which require specialized knowledge. In addition, when it comes to building quotes for commercial projects, it’s crucial that every task is itemized so the projects get approved easily.

3. Maintenance Standards

Commercial plumbing relies on preventative maintenance to avert large-scale problems. The systems in a high-end commercial building or a hospital, for example, cannot afford to fail.

That’s why contractors servicing buildings like that can benefit big-time from maintenance contracts. Not only does the customer avoid costly emergency repairs, but the contractor has consistent work. Not to mention the additional pull-through work that can come from being on-site for a regular PM visit.

4. Regulations and Laws

Because of the number of people who depend on commercial plumbing systems, the regulations around it are much more robust. One of the most prominent (and for good reason) surrounds health and safety. In particular, in restaurants and hospitals,  the water supply and drainage systems have to be flawless to avoid health hazards

5. Efficiency

Leaky taps and inefficient heaters have a much greater impact in industrial settings. They can cause a massive waste of energy and resources to maintain and fix, which means that commercial plumbers have a much greater responsibility to ensure the efficiency of these plumbing systems. They can also do massive damage if left unchecked. Think about what would happen if a sink on the 100th floor of the Burj Khalifa sprouted a leak for 4 hours. The water would pool, and cause major damage to whatever was beneath it.

6. Work Hours

Since commercial premises are occupied during normal working hours, these contractors often work unorthodox hours so that they can be out of the way.

Commercial Plumbing Specialists

In order to make themselves more highly sought after, some commercial plumbers obtain specialized training for specific facets of plumbing. These can include:

  • Potable plumbers: plumbing systems that involve drinking water
  • Pipefitters and steamfitters — these plumbers work in industrial environments on heating, cooling, and even electricity generation
  • Pipelayers — these commercial plumbers usually deal with laying pipework for storm and waste water drainage. 
  • Sewage and septic systems plumbers
  • Fuel gas plumbers

What it Takes to be a Commercial Plumber

The first step is typically a local apprenticeship under a master plumber, going through a trade school program, or both. The apprenticeship program should last at least 4 years, blending classroom learning with hands-on work.  After completing the apprenticeship, the plumber is licensed as a journeyman plumber. 

With experience and further coursework, the journeyman can then become a master plumber, at which level they’re equipped to run their own contracting business or supervise other plumbers. 

Most journeyman and master plumbers can handle the bulk of the work involved in commercial plumbing. However, specialized applications, such as industrial-grade plumbing, almost always favor those with a higher level of training, such as special certifications or an undergraduate degree.

3 Commercial Plumbing Tips

The standards and industry best practices used in commercial plumbing vary depending on the specific application. For example, systems that deal with potable water or hot water have specific guidelines on the materials and fixtures that can be used.

However, there are also some best practices that have evolved with time to be accepted by the industry in general

1. Preventative maintenance

As mentioned earlier, preventative maintenance is a great way to increase margins while being proactive about a building’s plumbing systems.  Think about all the commercial facilities that have been sitting idle all these months thanks to COVID. Because of that, many contractors are experiencing a post-COVID surge, repairing systems that haven’t gotten the regular maintenance they require.

2. Sending the Right Tech

It’s critical you know which of your teammates are most suited for specific tasks. A dispatch software that allows you to send out techs by skills is your best bet here. Look for something that leverages your team’s skillsets and availability to identify the best tech for the job, reducing call-backs and improving efficiency.

3. Regular, Scheduled Tests and Checks

Testing and checking of all plumbing systems must be undertaken in accordance to the set standards. This is especially important for concealed piping and fixtures, which the consequences of not inspecting can be catastrophic, and expensive.

Tests such as hydraulic tests and toxicity tests should be conducted regularly according to set regulations. Whenever issues are detected, corrective measures need to be taken immediately.

Commercial plumbers have a lot to worry about in the normal course of their duties without having to be weighed down by the day-to-day running of a plumbing contractor business. BuildOps offers to handle all your office tasks such as organization, dispatch, invoicing, and more. 

BuildOps is an all-in-one operational software designed for the modern commercial plumbing team. It comes with all the tools you need to effortlessly run your teams in the field, manage your customers, streamline your office tasks, and grow your bottom line. Don’t believe it? Contact us to experience it for yourself.

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