The supply and use of water at a property is key, something we all take for granted unfortunately. If you’re dealing with a property in, say, a developing country, then any form of safe water supply could be a complete luxury, never mind having to worry about issues such as how to correctly treat and remove afterwards.
We get used to simply turning taps on, and for example, having heaters and hoses feed from it. The water board supply it, and the property user simply uses it when they need to. Until you come across problems you probably don’t deal with issues, whether it be the supply stopped, or serious health concerns emerging, or whether these are horrible smells or risks of legionella.
However without getting to technical, here is a simple 3-stage way of seeing the bigger picture of water at a property, whether a small residential flat or a larger commercial property, all sharing the same basic principles. This is deliberately taking a step back and seeing things through some common-sense property-management eyes, then homing in on whatever detail is needed afterwards.
Just for the record as well, this is for actual running water to a property, whether for drinking purposes or general heating, toilets etc. You may still have water at properties for other often non-authorised purposes, for example rain water leaks appearing, or storage of water containers at a property.
The ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ Water Principles
So let’s begin by first getting ready, and seeing how water is first supplied to the property. Then let’s steady things up, and see how we look after and manage water use within a property, and then understand the final go stage as waste water leaves a property.
1. ‘Ready’ For Water Coming In
Main water supply into a property will need to come in somewhere, typically provided by your local water authority, although deregulation in the market means you may find a different supplier actually billing you whereas the original supplier in that area still provides it.
The point when the building owner becomes liable for this pipework can be a grey area, to do with where the separate pipes and points begin on and off the land.
To make things a little more complicated, you can have other adjacent properties with their pipes running underneath your grounds, and even if they are not your direct responsibility you can be expected to carry out a full survey to determine any potential disruption to them if you’re considering, say, an extension to the property.
You’ll then probably have a water meter and stop-tap somewhere in the property, or possibly back out on the street under a special cover that only the water authority can establish. Stop-taps will help turn off the water supply in an emergency, so make sure you know where it is and how to easily access – also be proactive and look at isolating when the property is vacant for a long period of time to save high water-bills if there is a slow leak somewhere, and keep in mind the risk of damage from frozen pipes in winter.
2. ‘Steady’ The Way Water is Managed at the Property
Once water is within your property you have to make sure it’s safe and sound, an obvious aspect being the physical condition of water supply. So making sure any dangerous, exposed, or damaged pipes are repaired and can be accessed, and as above that there are no leaks slowly causing damage. Where there is a genuine unexpected leak from, for example, a bath or shower into a flat below, this can often be repaired through an insurance claim.
You then have to make sure water is safe, keeping in mind risks of issues like legionella where water becomes too stagnant. Ideally a Water Risk Assessment can help drill-down into this sort of detail, whether formally through an external Risk Assessor or via yourself for more basic systems.
The rule of thumb for checking water where it is not in regular use is to have a weekly tap-test where you run certain taps for a few minutes to keep the flow of water, and a monthly temperature test of certain areas to ensure minimum heat and cold levels. There can be other measures as well such as descaling shower heads, sterilising treatment tanks, and sampling of water.
Whatever needs doing, check any documentation like leases to see who needs to do what and when. A typical business lease does often state that a tenant is responsible for systems that exclusively supply their area, which can include pipes and meters way out in a communal cupboard somewhere in the property.
3. ‘Go’ and Make Sure Water Correctly Leaves
After water has had its use within the property, it of course has to be removed somehow back into the main water system or other land. There will be different types of water at this stage, whether just natural rainwater from roofs or surface water drains, or foul and sewerage that includes waste from toilet systems as well as standard waste water.
For unusual and often more modern sites, there can be separate sewerage and septic tanks to consider, and flood systems like SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) to help cope with excess waterfall.
You can also have classic drain problems, whether simple blockages, or more complicated issues like grease from, say, takeaway shops and nappies from residential properties. It’s one of those areas always worth digging into if you excuse the pun, including a full survey and plan of everything, as it can unearth a lot of problems and issue afterwards if not.
And just like the point above of water in the property, make sure you know who needs to do what through leases and any other agreements.
The 3-Stage Water Principle
As you begin to appreciate the ‘water issues’ at a property, whether you’re an occupier needing to benefit from it, an owner needing to ensure its supplied and compliant, or a middle-man trying to make it all happen, it’s important to take a step back and understand the basics.
First get ready and see where the water is coming from, and how this is correctly supplied and paid for. Then take a steady hand on the subject, and see how water needs to be supplied, stored, maintained, and processed at your property. Finally get going and make sure that all the waste water is correctly leaving the property through authorised means, with no nasty surprises like pollution and smelly odours.
If you have an issue somewhere, you can then begin seeing where this is and dealing with it. After some good advice and technical input, you’ll soon be on your way to washing away your water problems nicely.