Condo Plumbing can be a bit tricky.
If you own a home (or have in the past), you probably know a bit about plumbing.
When you need to work on it, you can turn off the water. Easy Peasy!
This is so not the case in many condos!
Shared Waters Systems for Condos
Condos are often on a shared water system. By shared, we don’t mean just on city water, we mean shared, as in: the pipes run from one unit to the next, or they’re all fed off of one (or more) main valves. Shutting off the service to one unit may mean shutting off the service to all of them in the complex, or to a bunch of them that are in the same building (if the development has multiple buildings).
If you want to do some plumbing work on your own unit, you need to schedule a maintenance period with the HOA (Home Owners Association). The HOA is often managed by an HOA Management Company.
This might take a few days, or it could take a few weeks.
Working on Condo Plumbing
You may or may not get to pick your shut-down time to work on the plumbing in your unit. The HOA might tell you when you can do it, and then you get to work within that time frame.
You must find a reliable plumber that will show up on time, and make sure the job is completed before he leaves, so that the water to all of the affected units can be turned back on. Some HOAs will want the licensing information for the plumber before approving the maintenance, so your friend Joe-the-handyman who will work for beer and $20 might not pass muster.
And here is the painful kicker to all of this: shutting off the water isn’t as simple as just shutting off the water like it is for a single-family home. The water may take a while to drain from the system. It could take 20 minutes, it could take an hour or more. More units = longer time to drain.
And then, let’s say the work gets done, and the plumber wants to tests the work for leaks. It also takes a while to turn the water back on. Sometimes the plumber won’t have permission to turn the valve back on – maybe the maintenance guy has to do that, and you might have to hunt him down, first. And if the new connections leak, it’ll take the shared plumbing system a while to drain again before more work can be done.
A Real Life Condo Plumbing Story
You may be asking: where do they GET this stuff they write about?
Real life, of course.
Here is a real life shared condo plumbing tale of woe.
- Woman buys condo.
- Hall bathroom is UGLY.
- Woman orders new countertop for hall bathroom.
- Counter is delivered and can’t be installed because the water shut-off valves under the sink don’t turn all the way off, which means the faucet on the old counter can’t be removed.
- Woman learns that replacing the shut-off values requires shutting off the water main for 8 units.
- HOA gives permission after checking plumber’s license, notifies residents of 4-hours for a water-off maintenance window.
- Maintenance man shuts off main valve at designated time.
- Plumber and woman wait and wait and wait.
- The plumbing system takes an hour to drain before work can start.
- Plumber replaces two shut-off valves under the sink.
- HOA maintenance man turns water back on.
- New shut-off valves work properly.
- Woman pays plumber $180 for two hours of work that would have taken 20 minutes for a single-family residence.
And that would be the end of the story . . . except . . .
- When the water is turned back on, some debris (scale) in the hot water pipes of the older plumbing system clog the shower valves in both showers.
- Both showers that used to have full water pressure now have very low water pressure.
- Fixing THAT is going to require another planned maintenance, and the HOA doesn’t want to approve it quickly due to the inconvenience to the other unit owners.
Bottom Line on Condo Plumbing
When you live in a development like a condo where some resources are shared, it just takes longer to get some stuff done. More coordination is necessary. More people are going to be in the mix for getting stuff approved, scheduled, and completed.
That doesn’t mean don’t buy one, it just means: know what you’re buying and make sure you’re ok with the trade-offs that condo living brings to your lifestyle.