Real Estate Weekly
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Plumbing health and safety will help contain COVID-19

By April McIver

Sanitary plumbing systems and the New York City Licensed Master Plumbers who maintain them have always been essential to ensuring public health and combating the scourge of infectious diseases.

As New York City continues its reopening, the Plumbing Foundation City of New York is reminding our colleagues in the real estate community of important health and safety guidelines designed to protect the public that will help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Combatting this unprecedented public health crisis needs the best technicians not only to fight the disease but the transmission as well.  


Plumbing standards and safeguards in the city’s Building Code apply to not only commercial property owners and leaseholders who may be considering plumbing alterations and building water system upgrades to help their tenant businesses conform to new social distancing standards including additional bathrooms and hand washing stations. They also pertain to residential apartment and building owners conducting regular work and maintenance on plumbing fixtures that connect to sanitary water lines.

There are serious public health implications at stake relating to potable water systems and sanitary drainage systems inside buildings. We know that COVID-19 can be transmitted through human waste, and that other dangerous organisms such as Legionella can also be spread through building water systems.

As such, the principle regulation to consider is that only Licensed Master Plumbers, licensed by the New York City Department of Buildings, who are trained and certified, can legally perform work and maintenance on building plumbing systems within the five boroughs. 

Owners who perform unlicensed plumbing work on their own or who allow unlicensed handymen to perform plumbing work not only pose a danger to their inhabitants and customers, they may also pose a health and safety risk to neighbors in the same building.

Known hazards of untrained, unlicensed plumbing work include: spread of viral or bacterial infection including COVID-19, Legionnaires’  Disease from improperly installed or maintained water heaters;  uncapped fixtures that could expose toxic or noxious gases; improperly installed fixtures that fail to properly contain sewage and dangerous gases; and failure to prevent dangerous backflow and cross-contamination. 

With only one-third of the New York City’s office workforce expected to return to their desks by the end of the year, according to a survey of the city’s top employers, routine maintenance of water systems is especially important for large commercial buildings that have remained mostly dormant during the current pandemic.  

Regular service checks and maintenance of commercial buildings should be conducted by Licensed Master Plumbers who understand complex water and cooling systems that can sometimes stretch for hundreds of miles along the interiors of large buildings.

Routine service at relatively low maintenance costs can help keep building systems in good working order and prevent high cost repairs down the line. Most importantly, regular maintenance by Licensed Master Plumbers ensures the health and safety of building residents and tenants.

Plumbers have helped New York City overcome the rampant spread of disease before. Working together while adhering to the law and some common sense public health measures, we stand ready to do our part once again.  

April McIver is Executive Director of the Plumbing Foundation City of New York, Inc., a nonprofit association of licensed plumbing contracting firms, engineering associations, manufacturers and suppliers whose mission is to ensure public health through the enactment and enforcement of safe plumbing codes.  

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