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Issue Date: Vol. 53, No. 5, May 2013, Posted On: 5/30/2013


An Ounce Of Leak Prevention Saves A Ton Of Damage Claims


By Matt Greenwald
TAGS: vending, office coffee service, water purification, water leaks, water sources, Matt Greenwald, coffee brewing, water basics, water filters, John Guest, espresso equipment, commercial coffee equipment, plumbing, water line tubing, water line fittings


It can be interesting to view the OCS business from the perspective that an operation ultimately is a utility company. If coffee is about 98% water, OCS operators are simply reselling the location's own utilities back to the location -- the client pays the local utility company for its water, after it passes through the operator's equipment, the client pays for that water again. Brilliant!

Over the course of my career, I've been asked by equipment manufacturers, operators and even building management companies to participate in investigations to help determine the cause of a water line or piece of beverage-dispensing equipment becoming loose and flooding a workplace. As an "industry expert," I was expected to help find out whether the situation most likely was caused by human error, component failure, frozen pipes or what have you. They wanted me to point the finger so someone could get the blame -- and the bill.

For those of you who haven't experienced a leak, there are many blood-curdling tales of coffee equipment, or the connections between the building's water supply line and the brewer, failing and causing major water damage. The stories generally begin with a coffee machine that somehow imploded on the 20th floor of a high-rise, causing water to flood the property until someone noticed. Of course, this can happen on a Friday evening of a three-day weekend and go unnoticed until the following Tuesday.

Respected OCS and vending businesses, aware of these kinds of risks, rarely maintain the minimums when it comes to business liability insurance. In the litigious world in which we live, often times building owners require additional insurance or umbrella policies for as high as $15 million before an operator can install even one coffee brewer. We all know that an operator's best defense -- and sometimes only -- is maintaining proper insurance coverage.

A very close second to appropriate insurance is the knowledge and skill to do everything possible to avoid these mishaps.

Nobody wants his or her customer moving equipment -- but for whatever reason, it sometimes gets moved. The cleaning crew, exterminators, construction, late-night office romance on the counter; with all these possibilities, your equipment needs to be installed so it can be moved without sacrificing the integrity of the installation.

An operator who experiences an insurance loss due to the cleaning crew or maintenance personnel repositioning the OCS equipment and causing leakage has no choice but to take responsibility for the outcome. As industry professionals, we need to understand that rarely do these generally low-paid, often disgruntled staff members care about your assets. Should the machine need to be pushed aside to clean, paint, exterminate, etc., the task typically will not be handled as gently as it should be. Advising the client to contact your service department if your equipment needs to be moved is always suggested but rarely done.

Ideally, we'll have an easily accessible, dedicated shutoff valve for each piece of equipment we're installing within six feet of where the coffee machine is moving. Water line to filter; filter out to coffee unit. That's it.

An important but often overlooked element of the installation process includes bringing a couple of the key on-site personnel -- your sales contact and building maintenance individuals among them -- to whom you can explain exactly what you've done to connect the equipment, how you've done it, and most importantly, where they can find the shutoff valve should there be an issue.

Installation checklists that an operator can review with clients are a very good idea. The checklist is filled out with the relevant location staff after an installation to confirm that they've been properly trained in the operation, daily maintenance requirements and simple trouble-shooting of their new coffee machines, and instructed in what to do should there be an issue. It also makes sure that the account knows when to expect water filter replacement and other services. This checklist, to be signed by the client after the installation and the review, is not only a nice piece to add to your location setup procedure; even better, it breathes "customer service." When your tech comes back in three or six months to change the water filtration and PM the unit, he's able to answer questions, update any contact information and tell the customer about exciting new products.

Water filters should never just be lying on the counter behind the brewer. In-line filters should be strapped or clamped to the brewer or the wall, or simply secured somewhere. Cartridge-style filters must be securely fastened. Filter-head brackets need to be properly mounted to wall studs, cabinets or onto the equipment. Sloppy installation results in the inability to remove and replace the filter cartridges from the heads properly, and in leakage. Always leave extra water line neatly wrapped or coiled behind the unit. Water supply tubing is a lot cheaper than flood cleanups, so be sure there's some extra line: not a couple of inches, but two or three feet (even more). This will protect you if (when) the equipment gets moved.

Copper, polyethylene, stainless steel braided, vinyl braided tubing? Which kind of tube we should be using is often the question. Use what conforms to plumbing and sanitation codes; these vary by region. Several kinds usually are permitted, and the choice then may be made according to the operator's preference. There is no proof that one is better than the other; all of them can kink, burst, break and leak. It's up to the operator to make sure the entire installation staff is educated and cautioned.

Eliminate fittings whenever possible. Water is very smart; it is going to find the easiest way out. Leaks generally occur at fittings. Couplings, connectors, tees, unions, adaptors, reducers, splices: whatever they may be, the fewer of them you use when installing any type of unit, the less chance that you'll be calling your insurance company.

Of course we'll never completely eliminate the need for fittings, but make sure to use the right ones for the job. If you're using brass compression with poly tubing, make sure to use a reinforcing insert and a non-brass compression sleeve. For quick-connect fittings, use the locking clips to help secure the connection. Do your technicians know when and when not to use thread sealant? Not that anyone does it any more, but how many of your new techs know how to properly flare copper tubing? I assume not many.

Regrettably, many of the disasters we've seen over the years could have been avoided. Don't get me wrong; things break. This, we all know; but with a little common sense, skill and luck, we can all sleep better at night.


Matt Greenwald MATT GREENWALD is the director of vending and OCS at Betson Enterprises (Carlstadt, NJ). Greenwald is a 20-year veteran of the commercial coffee equipment industry, where he's worked for roasters, distributors and manufacturers. Prior to joining Betson, he was vice-president of a national organization that provides installation, repair and maintenance services to some of the world's largest retailers, equipment manufacturers and coffee companies.


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