Five things to consider in care home and hospital plumbing installations

Nursing home, care and nurse with senior women doing healthcare checkup, examination or consultation. Medical, conversation and elderly woman in wheelchair consulting a doctor at retirement facility.

Safety is a critical factor in any plumbing installation, ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for users. But nowhere is this more important than in healthcare environments, including hospitals and care homes.

A safe plumbing system prioritises the health and wellbeing of users by removing the potential for occurrences like scalding injuries and widespread bacterial contamination. This is particularly important in healthcare environments where people are likely to be more vulnerable – and where the volume of patients and visitors means an even greater threat in the event of bacterial infections.

Central to safe plumbing systems are water control valves that fulfil a variety of roles across a successful system - from flow through to temperature control, they ensure the demands of a working system are met across the entire building. Together, these solutions can create a safe water system that becomes one of the most critical foundations for hospitals and care homes.

In this blog, we’ll be looking at five key considerations for those involved in the successful specification and operation of healthcare plumbing systems, ensuring every system is designed to suit the complexities of everyday healthcare demands.

1. Understand the environment

While every plumbing system has its similarities, each one is unique – particularly when we’re talking about the large-scale commercial systems that form the backbone of hospitals and care facilities. These systems are not only substantial in their scale, but also have the potential to serve hundreds – if not thousands – of people every day.

For system specifiers and installers, these characteristics shape the considerations that will underpin safety for all. Larger buildings, for instance, will typically have higher water pressures which plumbing systems will need to be equipped for, while user demand will fluctuate considerably throughout the course of a day. That’s why having a comprehensive understanding of the environment is a critical first step in the creation of safe plumbing systems.

For the best results, it is good practice to consider plumbing systems as a whole – despite the size of the hospital or care home being worked on. This will see the correct water control valves used to achieve optimum results across a complete system, with each performing their individual roles to cumulatively deliver safe and reliable performance.

2. Optimise plumbing systems for health and safety

Naturally, healthcare facilities will prioritise health and safety – and plumbing professionals will be acutely aware of the risks around scalding and Legionnaires in these environments, with both presenting serious health risks.

Thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) are essential components of healthcare plumbing systems, thermostatically blending hot and cold water to create a safe and stable outlet temperature. In practice, valves such as the Heatguard TMV3-8 TMV – which are approved for healthcare applications – ensure that water is delivered at consistently safe temperatures for use, ultimately preventing accidental scalding. This is achieved by mixing hot and cold water at the point of discharge to a safe temperature and, in the event of the cold supply failing, the valve will shut off to prevent unregulated temperatures from being available to users.

It is essential that TMVs that are used in healthcare environments meet the TMV3 Scheme criteria – something that sees them tested against a range of pressures to ensure they meet the necessary safety standards. TMV3-approved valves also meet the strict criteria set out by the NHS D08 specification, requiring TMVs to maintain a constant outlet pressure despite any fluctuations in the temperature of pressure of the water supply.

Nurse washing hands with soap.

3. Ensure the supply remains safe

When considering safe water temperatures for healthcare environments, scalding is only one part of the puzzle. At the other end of the scale – where cold water supplies can rise to ambient temperature levels – Legionnaires disease becomes a concern that stands in the way of safety. Therefore, utilising solutions that can enable the delicate balance of water temperature, is important in maintaining system safety.

Legionella bacteria require a particular environment to facilitate its growth – driven largely by temperature and the movement of water. Typically, the bacteria thrive in moderate temperatures, and where water becomes stagnant. If the bacteria does grow and patients, staff or visitors contract Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in droplets of infected water, the consequences can be far-reaching – particularly in hospitals and care homes where there are large numbers of people who are already vulnerable and potentially susceptible to infection.

Anti-Legionella Valves need to be fitted to expansion or cold water storage tanks to prevent bacteria from contaminating a water supply. The valves continuously renew the water content to maintain circulation and prevent stagnation – removing one of the fundamental environmental characteristics that support the bacteria’s growth. These valves will work alongside solutions such as thermal balancing valves and thermostatic mixing valves to ensure the circulating hot water temperature remains high and consistent across a building, ensuring efficiency while safeguarding against scalding at the point of use. 

4. Prevent backflow

The scale of healthcare facilities means that it’s not only the safety of people on site that needs to be considered, but in the event of contamination, and inadequate protection from backflow, even localised properties using the common water supply network from the road are potentially at risk should contamination occur. Backflow, where sudden drops in pressure can force water to move in the opposite direction and ultimately contaminate the water supply, is a particular threat to larger plumbing systems.

The problem of backflow can occur in all types of buildings, but some occurrences are more severe than others. This is outlined through five Fluid Categories, with category 1 being the lowest risk and categories 4 and 5 presenting significant risk. Buildings that fall into these high-risk categories – including hospitals – must take additional precautions to minimise the potential for backflow.

Reduced Pressure Zone valves (RPZs) are required to be installed in healthcare environments to remove the potential for backflow and contamination. This is achieved by ensuring that water in the system remains at a lower pressure than the incoming supply. Providing the highest level of mechanical protection against backflow, the Commercial Type BA RPZ Valve from Reliance Valves is a proven way to ensure compliance and maintain the required levels of safety across fluid category 4 environments.

boiler room operative

5. Maintain systems regularly

Alongside the professional installation of valves in healthcare plumbing systems, it is crucial that they are professionally maintained. This maintenance should always be carried out by a qualified installer to ensure continued performance and safeguard the water supply.

Due to the complexity of plumbing systems in healthcare buildings, together with the busy nature of these environments, valves should be easily accessible to facilitate easy maintenance while minimising disruption for staff and patients. Just as incorrect installation could result in an increased risk of contamination, so too could inconsistent maintenance, making it an essential consideration for plumbing professionals supporting healthcare facilities.

Whether it’s RPZs, TMVs, TBVs or Anti-Legionella Valves, every solution for healthcare applications from Reliance Valves has been fully tested and certified to meet the stringent regulations for the industry. While each component will underpin system safety, the ongoing maintenance of these valves will extend their service life and ensure reliable performance for years to come.

Get in touch

To find the most appropriate system for your challenge, speak to our Specification Team today.

Richard Bateman Headshot

Richard Bateman

Product Marketing Manager Plumbing and Heating

About the author

A highly experienced and passionate professional, I have over 15 years' experience as a commercial and domestic plumber and hold NVQ Level 3 qualifications from City and Guilds

Since joining RWC in 2015, I began as a technical engineer, utilising my extensive knowledge to provide exceptional support. Currently, I am thrilled to be working with the marketing department as a Product Marketing Manager. 

This role allows me to combine my technical background with a keen eye for market trends, ensuring that RWC's products meet the evolving needs of the industry. With my wealth of experience and commitment to excellence, I am proud to serve as a spokesperson for RWC, sharing our innovative solutions and contributing to the growth of the plumbing and heating sector.