Transient identification of defective trap seals

J. A. Swaffield

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The prevention of the ingress of contaminated air into habitable spaces has been a central concern in the design of building drainage and vent systems since the 1850s. Failure to provide the necessary protection, primarily through appliance water trap seals, was shown to have been a significant contributor to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic spread in Hong Kong, China, in 2003. Prevention depends upon both good design, to limit the air pressure transients propagated within the system, and good maintenance. Good practice has evolved to include wherever practical long radius bends to minimize the local air pressure changes. Similarly, modern usage of drainage networks includes the random discharge of disposable sanitary and hygiene products that may interact with undesirable rapid changes in flow direction and thereby contribute to local surcharge conditions. However, a maintenance regime within a large complex building network also requires a degree of prior knowledge of possible defective appliance trap seal locations. This paper proposes the use of air pressure transient simulation and transient response measurement to identify, during periods of system non-use, the location of depleted trap seals. The simulation of air pressure transient propagation within building drainage and vent systems is detailed, based on the proven capabilities of the method of characteristics solution of the St Venant equations. Validation of system transient response simulation is presented together with indications of the impact of a defective appliance trap seal on the system response to an applied low-amplitude, short-duration, pressure surge. Comparison of the defect free and defective system response is shown to be sufficiently discriminatory to allow the identification of an appliance trap seal in need of replenishment. Identification of persistent trap seal depletion would allow local installation of active control devices to prevent further failures - including the addition of either air admittance valves to limit trap seal loss to negative transients or variable volume containment positive air pressure attenuators to limit trap seal loss due to positive pressure transients. © 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)245-256
    Number of pages12
    JournalBuilding Research and Information
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - May 2005


    • Building operation
    • Building services
    • Defects identification
    • Disease vectors
    • Drainage design
    • Drainage systems
    • Public health
    • Water seals
    • Water traps


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