During the fall of 2008, Jimmy Hughes, owner and president of Hughes Bro. Inc., was in the process of bidding a potable-water-piping job at a 65-room, four-story Comfort Suites hotel in Nashville, Tenn. With copper prices at an all-time high, he was looking for a more cost-effective alternative. It was at that time he learned of a solution that had been used successfully in other parts of the world for more than 30 years: Aquatherm Greenpipe. But it was not only Greenpipe's lower cost that caught Hughes' and the hotel owner's attention.
Greenpipe is a fully recyclable, fusible polypropylene system that eliminates the need for toxic materials, glues and resins, and open flames.
The piping is joined via a heat-fusion process that creates seamless connections that can last a lifetime. The pipe and desired fitting are inserted onto an Aquatherm welding device and heated for a specified time (typically seconds), then joined together.
Once fused, pipes and fittings have the same physical properties, eliminating systemic weaknesses. Additionally, a faser-composite layer in the pipe reduces linear expansion by 75 percent compared with other plastics, ensuring the pipe hangs rigidly, even when subjected to high operating temperatures (up to 200°F).
In November 2008, after renting a few Aquatherm fusion-welding tools (a manual welding jig for 2½-in. pipe sections and a handheld welding tool for 2-in. and smaller lines), Hughes Bro. started installing water piping for the hotel's guest rooms and laundry facilities. Hughes Bro. learned the fusion-welding process on the job with assistance from Aquatherm and Derek Goodwin, sales manager, and Rick Hollis, sales assistant, of plumbing- and building-product supplier Ferguson Enterprises Inc. Hughes said the process did not present any particularly tough challenges.
“We can prefabricate a lot of the connections in the shop and bring them to the job site, especially the tees,” Hughes said.
Most of the taps for the rooms were prefabricated at the Hughes Bro. shop in about 2 hr. Hughes estimated that doing the same work in copper would have taken a full day and that the copper tees would have been more expensive.
A National Science Foundation-certified 2½-in. Greenpipe water main runs from State Ultra Force water heaters in the facility's mechanical room down the hotel's main corridors, with 2-in. Greenpipe and 1-in. Uponor Wirsbo cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) pipe and adapters running to each room. Hughes Bro. installed 35 sets of hot and cold drops — one for every two rooms — and a total of about 1,000 ft of Greenpipe. Only one leak, which was caused by operator error, likely from allowing dirt into the connection, occurred in the approximately 400 fusion-joint connections made at the hotel.
TWO CREWS QUICK TO FUSE
Hughes had two different crews installing the polypropylene piping.
“A new crew can catch on really quickly and go with it, and that is important with today's workforce,” Hughes said. “Also, as they get more experienced with it, they can get even faster.”
The installation process, which was completed in March 2009, proceeded so smoothly that the company is doing another Greenpipe installation in another Comfort Suites hotel north of Nashville. Hughes estimated that using polypropylene saved about 25 percent in costs compared with copper and added that because the polypropylene piping has a natural insulation value of R-1, no additional insulation was necessary, which provided additional savings.
Because the Greenpipe had all of the proper code approvals for installation, the hotel's corporate engineers willingly accepted its use on the project. The hotel is open, and the potable-water system, running at approximately 65 psi, is delivering water free of glues, solvents, and other chemicals associated with other piping systems.