A well-oiled machine or, in this case, thoroughly cleaned pipes will keep your condo building from a nose-plugging incident. But how do you ensure something’s working when you can’t see it? 

Old or new, your building will have a sanitary drainage system in place connecting all of your sinks, washing machines, toilets and more to the main city sewage lines, and we’ve got the blueprints to understanding what’s going on behind your condo’s walls.  

Keep reading to learn what the drain system looks like, the terms you’ll need to know to communicate with your plumber or stack cleaning team and tips for keeping it all in working order!


What’s Happening Behind Your Walls & Under Your Floors

Condo buildings need to collect and discard soiled water from the building to the main city line. This takes place on a much larger scale than a single home and requires everything to move in tandem to work properly.

Unlike single-family homes, condo plumbing is particularly challenging because it’s in-part owned by the condo building and in-part owned by the resident. Meaning, whatever runs throughout the main part of the building, including the stacks is your responsibility as the property manager to maintain, but if a kitchen sink clogs, it’s up to your resident to foot the bill.


Get to Know the Drainage Terms

Condo stack/drain graphic.

Knowing the plumbing lingo can help you communicate with your maintenance team about regular cleanings and repairs. 

Vertical Stack: a line that runs from the top to the bottom of your building, collecting waste from each unit. For the most part, these run vertically but may run horizontally along the top floor of your building, especially if your building doesn’t have a flat roof for stack access. Vertical stacks are classified as waste stacks, soil stacks or vent stacks.

Branch Lines: these connect your toilet, showers, sinks, dishwasher, etc, to your main stacks, like the branches of a tree connecting to the trunk. 

Horizontal Lines: the lines that collect everything from your vertical stacks and runs it to the city line. 

Waste Stack: collects drainage from your kitchen sink, washing machine, showers and bathtubs (also known as greywater), but never your toilet. 

Soil Stack: collects drainage from your toilet or urinals and may also include greywater from your sinks, tubs or shower (also known as blackwater). 

Vent Stacks: don’t carry any liquids. They provide airflow into the drainage system so the traps don’t back up from pressure.

Clean water: this line comes from the city and provides clean water to the building. 


What Calgary’s Plumbing Lines are Made From?

Calgary faces its own challenges when it comes to plumbing and has changed the materials used to move water and sewage throughout the years. Knowing the year your building was built can give you a better idea as to when your pipes will need to be replaced and how to keep them in tip-top shape. 

Copper: This lightweight, durable and heat-resistant material was the product of choice in the 60s but first came to the market in the 30s. As the price of copper rises, the pipes have become more expensive and older ones may need to be replaced if they were soldered with lead.

PEX: Known for its ability to handle heat, this durable plastic is used to bring fresh water into the home and is coloured coated for hot or cold water inputs. PEX complements PVC as PEX typically brings water into the home and PVC moves it to the sewage lines.

PVC: PVC is a durable plastic that came into use in the late 50s and seems to outlast most of the other types of pipes. It’s normally used for cold-water (soil stacks) outlets because it’s unable to handle temperatures from your hot water heater. Portions can be replaced, making it easy to repair, and they typically last 40-50 years. 

Cast Iron: Homes built before 2000 may have cast-iron pipes. It was available before plastic was invented, had a long life span (80-100 years) and could withstand high water pressure. As pipes age, they can rust and crack, making them a costly repair. 

Lead: There is a small percentage of homes in Calgary that still use lead pipes. They mostly belong to homes built between 1939–1947 when copper was in short supply during the war. The city has replaced most of the main lines, but some lines within the residence may still remain.


How to Keep Your Drains Working

Upkeeping your drains will help extend their lifespan and ensure that your residents don’t experience backups within their homes. 

Schedule regular cleaning: have your drains professionally flushed every 1-3 years depending on their age, condition and resident usage. Learn more about the cleaning process.

Keep an eye on old-growth trees: your residents might list your shade-casting trees as a major selling point for your condo building but they could be causing damage below ground. Keep an eye on their root systems and make sure they aren’t penetrating your lines, causing blockages. 

Damaged Pipes: as pipes age, they are prone to corrosion, cracks, leaks and blowouts. These most often target your seams and can be caused by the chemical composition of water combined with water pressure. 

Educate your Residents: keep your residents informed with what they can do to help reduce wear and tear on the building’s lines. This includes properly discarding grease, only flushing toilet paper and addressing clogs that arise within their individual units in a timely manner.


Schedule Your Stack Cleaning

Now that you know how your building’s stacks work and what they’re made of, check your maintenance log to see when they were last cleaned. 

If they haven’t been done within the last three years or your residents are experiencing backups/slow drains, contact us at GoJaxon to book your free consultation. We’ll assess your stacks and prepare a quote for you.