When luxury cars have wooden wheels



There’s never enough money to install a pipe system correctly with the correct materials (which might be expensive), but there’s always enough money to fix it later when the cheap materials have failed.

In my decades of experience, I have found that there is always enough money for the visible elements of a building, but not for the important hidden elements. This is like having a luxury car with wooden wheels.

I was called to assist with a serious water leak in a beautiful mansion located in one of South Africa’s upmarket suburbs. As it happened, I had designed the water and sewer reticulation at this swanky complex many years ago — a time when we still used slide rules and we made up the drawings by hand with special ink pens. The contractor had bought a new Mercedes Benz for R6 000 and I could only afford a new Cortina for R2 500. I built my own house for R11 000, which included the cost of the erf, costing R2 000. This seems long ago, but it was in 1980.

The wonderful house I refer to was not built in those years; it was built only a few years ago, but the sewers and water reticulation were designed and constructed in the 1970s. I was responsible for the design of municipal services and for building water services, but over many years, I became more involved with the design of the water and drainage systems of buildings and less in the design of municipal services. This was not by choice; instead, it was a case of somebody in the office had to do it, and for some reason I was chosen for this.

In those days, my colleagues and I had limited choices in terms of types of piping and water in buildings. We could choose from only galvanised mild steel pipes, later, copper pipes, and then still later, plastic pipes and all the other wonderful and not so wonderful types of pipe materials, systems, and equipment. Over the years, we’ve been ‘bitten’ by how some of these new pipe materials have been connected and installed.

We have been talked into using some of the new materials, and some developers and professionals have persuaded us to use a new ‘cheap’ pipe system. When they fail, the manufacturer or supplier does not take responsibility for it. Then, the designers have to sweat and carry the responsibility, and in some cases, carry the claim for a system that failed. I always say that it is essential to select high-quality piping for the water system because it must last for at least 25 years.

Most of the water piping is situated inside either a wall, a floor, or underground. If it leaks, it not only causes water loss, but also serious damage and it could affect the stability of the building structure.

I’m ranting about the quality of water piping because in this architectural masterpiece, the water leaks are costing the owner a large sum of money every month, and this is because somebody selected the cheapest piping material for the water reticulation.

The problem is also that a master architect designed this mansion, but now a few years later, no drawings of the water reticulation system are to be found and, as the drip pipes are not visible, the hot water geysers do not comply with SANS10254. The piping used was not only of the lowest quality, but also a mix of piping. In addition, most of the connections are wrong.

You might live in a mansion, but if the services do not work, then all the pleasure of the building and all the comfort it should be providing are compromised. Somebody will now have to break into the beautiful walls, ceilings and paving to fix or replace the low-cost piping and the wrong connections — at a substantial cost.

I was told that many plumbers have tried to fix the problem, but the monthly water bill is still excessive. So, if you get a master architect to design your mansion, then you should also use a master to design your services — or you should at least have the plumbing reviewed by a master plumber so that the master of the mansion, the family and their visitors will be content for years to come.

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