A Trip to the Trash Chute

A Trip to the Trash Chute

By Chet Ribner / Published June 2016

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Is a trip to your building’s trash rooms an unpleasant—and unhealthy—experience for your residents and staff? It doesn’t have to be that way! Proper trash chute hygiene and maintenance is often overlooked until there is a fire violation or a blockage in the chute. There are a growing number of progressive-thinking managers and/or boards who maintain their chutes on a regular basis, but the majority prefer to allocate funds for more physically appealing projects, such as landscaping.

However, a poorly maintained chute can result in a lot more than fire (or insurance) violations—it can result in sick building syndrome (SBS). What’s that, you say? Your maintenance team uses the cold-water washdown in the chute regularly? Well, here’s our analogy: Think back to when you last cooked something particularly fatty or greasy, such as a frying pan of bacon or a roasting pan. Chances are, you put the messy pan in the sink and added lots of very hot water and detergent. After all, cold water isn’t going to touch that greasy residue!

The same dynamics apply to your trash chute, except cold water will speed up the rusting process in the chute, reducing its useable life. Consider what goes into the chute on a daily basis—hundreds of pounds of discarded food, paper, and used toiletries. Some of the bags will open on their journey down to the dumpster. Others will leak or tear. Every building has those residents who don’t even bag their trash. All of this falling debris leaves its mark in the way of greasy, odorous sludge on the walls of the chute.

This sludge is a breeding ground for bacteria and also a major source of food for roaches and rodents, who bring their own assortment of disease and germs with them. These unpleasant neighbors can cause respiratory ailments and allergies. Anyone unfortunate enough to cut themselves on a trash chute door, or to touch a door with an open wound on their hand, can end up with a bad infection.

The sludge build-up creates another hazard—it is highly combustible, as it contains grease. A small trash room fire can turn into a major conflagration, leaving residents homeless, if not hurt. The chute acts like a chimney, sucking flames and smoke upwards. Trash chute doors that don’t self-close and self-latch allow the fire and smoke to escape into the corridors of the building, making the damage much worse.

The most noticeable sign of a sick chute is odor—a signal that bacteria are present. So, how do you keep your chute healthy and safe in an affordable manner?

  • Work with a reputable, licensed, trash chute company.
  • A professional cleaning system utilizes super-heated water (to cut through the grease), water-soluble chemicals, odor-counteractants, and special products to deter vermin.
  • It will also use specially-designed spinning heads with jets that blast the inside of the chute. This pressure, combined with super-heated water, is the most effective way to get the grime off the chute and kill the bacteria.
  • Professional technicians clean all the chute doors by hand, polishing the exterior and tightening the hardware.

Depending on the size of the building and the type of community (rentals, condominiums, year-round residents, etc.), professional cleaning should be done at least once per year. In between cleanings, a system that keeps the chute smelling fresh is a good idea. One such system is a timed-release pump that “mists” the chute with a cherry-scented odor controller 24/7. Whenever a resident opens a trash chute door to deposit their rubbish, they are met with the scent of fresh fruit rather than week-old, rotting garbage.

What about those pesky fire inspectors? Why do they inspect your trash chute? As mentioned earlier, the chute acts like a chimney, and the grease inside the chute is very flammable. So, the trash chute system has to meet Fire Code standards. There are two defense systems in your trash chute.

At the very bottom of the chute, there is a discharge (or guillotine) door.

  • The Fire Code requires that this door be equipped with a UL-rated fusible link.
  • In case of a fire in the trash room, the link will melt, allowing the discharge door to roll closed, sealing off the chute and stopping the deadly ascent of fire and smoke.
  • Many fire inspectors— and more and more insurance inspectors— cite a building for not having a fusible link, but that is only one part of the door’s ability to function properly. If the door is rusted or bent, it still will not close.

Good chute maintenance includes:

  • Inspecting the discharge door twice per year
  • Servicing it to remove rust
  • Lubricating it to ensure smooth operations

If the door does have to be replaced, most sizes can be installed for less than $700. That is truly a small price to pay for a key component of your building’s fire safety systems.

The second component of the chute’s fire safety is the trash chute doors on each floor.

  • These doors have to be UL-rated for at least one- and-a-half hours.
  • They must self-latch and self-close. This prevents smoke and flames from escaping out of the chute onto residential floors.

Thankfully, trash chute fires are not an everyday occurrence! But maintaining your chute doors is important for reasons other than fire safety.

  • Doors that don’t shut properly allow odors— and those charming little critters—to escape out of the chute.
  • Improperly-maintained doors that do not have hydraulic closers can fall open, and can also ‘snap’ shut very quickly. This can injure a resident or staff member.
  • Doors that don’t latch are easily opened by small children, who may be tempted to slide down the chute—yes, it has happened!—or just ‘take a peep’ down it, then lose their balance.

Many maintenance people, working with a tight budget, attempt to repair trash chute doors on their own. They often use parts that they purchase at a hardware store and have to ‘rig’ to make the door work. Unfortunately, using incorrect parts often requires them to drill into the door, which, in turn, destroys the fire-rated integrity of the door. A lot of older buildings still have their original doors in place, which were fabricated from aluminum. These are not fire-rated doors, and they need to be replaced.

These are just some of the reasons why a condominium should have an amount designated in their budget for trash chute maintenance. Regular cleanings with hot water and a proactive approach to repairs will keep your chute healthy and extend its useable life.

Florida’s humidity and proximity to the ocean are brutal on all metal. Sooner or later, your chute will need to be replaced. When the metal rusts away and holes develop in the chute, garbage gets between the chute and the wall of the chase. Then, there is no way to clean and sanitize the chute, and either partial or full replacement is required. More and more properties are opting to spend a little more money for 300-Series Stainless Steel chute systems (rather than aluminized steel). The extended life of the stainless steel makes it a very worthwhile investment.

Unfortunately, if the chute is not being inspected and maintained, you don’t realize there is a problem with rust until you start getting blockages in the chute—or sections of the chute actually collapse. Then, the board is in the sorry position of having to do major repairs that are not in the budget. Quite often the chute has to be closed down while permits are being obtained and materials custom-fabricated. This guarantees you a building full of bad odors and unhappy residents! And it can so easily be avoided with a little planning.

So, to ensure that your residents’ visits to the trash room don’t become scenes from a “B-rated”  horror movie, take a few simple steps to maintain a healthy chute:

  • Budget for regular professional cleaning and maintenance of the trash chute.
  • Stop using your cold water washdown system.
  • Have a bi-annual inspection of the entire trash chute system by a licensed professional.
  • Consider installing a time-release odor control system.

 

Chet Ribner

Owner Southern Chute, Inc.

If it’s service that you need, Southern Chute has offices on the West and East coasts of Florida to meet your needs. Southern Chute is the number one source for repair, maintenance, and cleaning of trash chutes, laundry chutes, and dryer risers in South Florida. Our family-owned business has provided exceptional service for more than 20 years through our use of state-of-the-art equipment, highly-experienced technicians, and top quality products to ensure both value and excellence. For more information, call (866) 475-9191 or visit www.SouthernChute.com.