Nothing puts a damper on a hip, urban lifestyle like leaking pipe. While developers of the trendy new Via6 apartments in downtown Seattle were sure to include tenant pleasing amenities like barn-door-style room dividers and arresting balcony views in the 654-unit complex, they were also considering what piping material would give them the greatest peace of mind for domestic hot and cold water applications.
Poised for LEED Gold certification, Via6 is an eco-friendly, centrally located building consisting of two 24-story towers with a six-story podium in between and three levels of below-grade parking. The $200 million real estate project, which sits at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Lenora Street in downtown Seattle, began construction in late 2011 and was completed in spring 2013.
Given the size of the project, its uncertain construction schedule, and copper prices being volatile, the owner and contractor knew that committing to copper piping might be a pricey decision, so alternatives were explored.
Alternatives to copper piping were also considered because longevity was a major concern. Over the last decade, numerous Seattle facilities with high-volume potable water have suffered premature failure of copper piping due to corrosion. Although the reasons for the premature failure remain debatable, Seattle and other regions of the Pacific Northwest have been significantly impacted by costly leaks and repairs.
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Ultimately, the design team chose Aquatherm Green Pipe®, a non-leaching, chemically pure material that is highly resistant to corrosion. Aquatherm’s polypropylene-random (PP-R) pipe system was chosen because of its hydrophobic nature, which repels water from its surface and keeps the pipe wall from eroding and leaking.
The mechanical and plumbing installer for the project, MacDonald Miller Facility Solutions, supported the decision to use Aquatherm considering successful use of the product on previous projects and having already invested in necessary tools.
Approximately 35,000 total ft of Aquatherm pipe, ranging from ½-in. to 6-in., was installed to provide both hot and cold water distribution for the Via6 apartments. This included all of the domestic water piping from the street mains to the risers and distribution to all the floors.
The only domestic water piping that isn’t Aquatherm serves the end-use fixtures and is embedded in the concrete structure of the building.
Fused for Success
Aquatherm, its local manufacturer’s representative, Ridgeline Mechanical Sales, and wholesaler, Harrington Industrial Plastics, provided training to the MacDonald Miller staff on electrofusion, a process that uses special fittings embedded with a heating element to melt and fuse pipe.
This methodology came in handy at the jobsite where occasional space limitations prevented butt welding (also known as butt fusion), which requires larger fusion equipment.
A Solution That Holds Water
Considering the speed of installation and reliability of the pipe is where MacDonald Miller truly became a believer in Aquatherm technology.
When PP-R is heated and melted, the molecules bind together allowing the pipe and fittings to be permanently joined, just as they would in an extrusion or molding process. As a result, the fused material is just as strong as the pipe wall, leaving no path for leaks or blowouts. This makes testing much more reliable.
Aquatherm pipe cannot be “dry fit” and if it is fused incorrectly, an initial test reveals this fact immediately. However, metal pipe installations may take months or even years for a flaw to manifest as a leak or blowout. By that time, the consequences can be catastrophic and costly to repair.
Aquatherm also comes with a 10-year multimillion dollar warranty that covers everything down to incidental damage and personal injury.
“It’s a solid system. We have made thousands of Aquatherm joints and we have had only a couple of leaks – and those were due to installer error. The guys are used to it now and have accepted it. And I’m more comfortable with it than grooved pipe or solder,” said Mike Kunkel, plumbing superintendent at MacDonald Miller.
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Some unanticipated benefits from using Aquatherm include the elimination of expansion loops since Aquatherm pipe can absorb much of the thermal expansion of the water. And because the heat-fused joints are so reliable, pre-assembled piping sections could be transported to the jobsite without worry that the transport might weaken the connections.
There is no room for uncertainty when it comes to large commercial plumbing projects. High profile, multi-unit residential projects like Via6 cannot afford chronic leak problems, where repair costs can diminish owner/investor profits and compromise the perceived value of a property.
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