Building drainage system design for tall buildings: Current limitations and public health implications

Michael Gormley*, David Kelly, David Campbell, Yunpeng Xue, Colin Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
743 Downloads (Pure)


National design guides provide essential guidance for the design of building drainage sys-tems, which primarily ensure the basic objectives of preventing odor ingress and cross-transmission of disease through water-trap seal retention. Current building drainage system design guides only extend to buildings of 30 floors, while modern tall buildings frequently extend to over 100 floors, exceeding the predictive capability of current design guides in terms of operating system condi-tions. However, the same design guides are being used for tall buildings as would be used for low-rise buildings. A complicating factor is the historic roots of current design guides and standards (including the interpretation of the governing fluid mechanics principles and margins of safety), causing many design differences to exist for the same conditions internationally, such as minimum trap seal retention requirements, stack-to-vent cross-vent spacing, and even stack diameter. The design guides also differ in the size and scale of the systems they cover, and most make no allowance for the specific building drainage system requirements of tall buildings. This paper assesses the limitations of applying current building drainage system design guides when applied to the case of tall buildings. Primarily, the assessments used in this research are based on codes from Europe, the USA and Australia/New Zealand as representative of the most common approaches and from which many other codes and standards are derived. The numerical simulation model, AIRNET, was used as the analysis tool. Our findings confirm that current design guides, which have been out of date for a number of decades, are now in urgent need of updating as code-compliant systems have been shown to be susceptible to water-trap seal depletion, a risk to cross-transmission of disease, which is a major public health concern, particularly in view of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number70
Issue number2
Early online date16 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Building drainage systems
  • Codes and standards
  • COVID-19
  • Design guides
  • Numerical model
  • Public health
  • Simulation
  • Tall buildings
  • Wastewater
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction


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