Reducing costly repeat drainage issues

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Chris Nelson of Metro Rod discusses the importance of efficient maintenance of drainage to reduce costly repeat visits

Blocked drains are a common issue in housing, and can lead to significant costs for providers and local authorities – as well as unhappy tenants. With the UK spending over £100m unblocking drains each year, it is clear that those looking after large numbers of properties need to put in place plans to minimise issues.

The problem is made worse by a lack of accurate information and reporting on the causes of blockages. This is leading to an increased number of repeat call outs to properties to deal with the same or similar issues, creating significant and unnecessary extra costs for providers.

The right drainage company

When appointing a drainage company to deal with and prevent blockages, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind. Firstly, it is important to ensure that the provider has experience dealing with private housing properties; this ensures that the company understands the challenges and common issues that occur. On top of providing the highest quality service in a discreet manner, it is also vital to get an assurance that engineers have received thorough training, are DBS checked, and will be courteous to tenants.

In order to save costs and reduce the number of repeat issues, it is also crucial to ensure that the drainage provider has analytics software capable of creating detailed reports on drainage issues. This means that when an engineer visits a housing property to investigate a potential blockage, the information can be relayed to both the main depot and the housing provider, detailing exactly what is causing the blockage and how it will be solved.

Using analytics to reduce costs

Each time an issue is logged by an engineer at a property, all the data from the report can be recorded onto a drainage management system. This allows the drainage company to produce a full picture of any particular properties or streets where issues are reoccurring.

While these repeat visits to the same properties would usually result in significant costs, by using the data collected from previous visits, the drainage company identify recurring issues. From here, it will be able to advise on the most suitable course of action to ensure the causes of the issues are treated in the most efficient way.

Common causes of repeat blockages

Tenant behaviour is a common cause of repeat blockages, and items that shouldn’t end up down the drain causing issues are a regular occurrence. Alongside an increasing amount of fat, grease and oil being poured down kitchen plugholes, tenants are also disposing of items such as wet wipes, food and sanitary products down the drain.

Despite some products being labelled as ‘flushable’, this simply means that given enough force, they will flush – but it is unlikely that these items will biodegrade. Instead, when grease and food cools in the drainage system it congeals with these non-flushable items to form solid waste, or fatbergs, in the system, resulting in time-consuming and costly blockages.

This type of blockage is easily and efficiently identified by the latest CCTV equipment, and will be initially removed using high pressure water jetting which propels water at high speeds to clean surfaces and materials. For certain properties, electro-mechanical cleaning will be a more suitable option. This involves the use of a motorised tool which rotates a cable to clear the blockage, providing a handheld option. For larger blockages, combination tanker vehicles can be used to clear the issue.

Using the data obtained, it is possible to keep a record of properties where the problem is reoccurring. This means that rather than re-attending the same issue on a monthly basis, the underlying cause of the drainage is identified, allowing the drainage company to develop a plan of pre-planned drainage maintenance (PPM). This helps to ensure the problem is rectified, creating long-term cost savings for those managing the maintenance of housing developments. For instance, fatbergs forming can be avoided by installing a grease trapping unit which will prevent the grease from entering the system and sticking to the pipes.

Freeing up budgets elsewhere

Ensuring the correct maintenance of drainage is a crucial responsibility for providers. By appointing a drainage company that has state of the art reporting software, providers can keep costly repeat drainage problems to a minimum. Investigating and dealing with the cause of the issue rather than providing a quick fix will not only free up budget to be spent elsewhere, but also significantly improve tenant satisfaction.

Chris Nelson is senior technical manager at Metro Rod