While PEX has been used for more than 40 years in radiant heating applications, it’s now getting more traction in commercial hydronic heating and cooling applications as well. Contractors and engineers are beginning to spec and install PEX for distribution piping to various terminal units, such as fan coils, reheat coils, heat pumps, baseboard radiators Read More
While PEX has been used for more than 40 years in radiant heating applications, it’s now getting more traction in commercial hydronic heating and cooling applications as well. Contractors and engineers are beginning to spec and install PEX for distribution piping to various terminal units, such as fan coils, reheat coils, heat pumps, baseboard radiators and chilled beams.
However, while PEX is thoroughly tested and proven in the field, it can sometimes be misunderstood. Many wonder if a plastic pipe can really compete with, let alone outperform, metallic piping in these types of applications.
So, to make it easy, I’ve outlined a few important facts you should know before installing PEX in a hydronic distribution piping application.
All PEX is not the same
Professional PEX products fall into three categories: PEX-a, PEX-b and PEX-c. Of those three, PEX-a, manufactured using the Engel Method, has the highest degree of consistent crosslinking — at 80 percent. This produces a pipe that is more flexible and more durable with thermal and elastic memory properties.
Understanding thermal and elastic memory
Thermal memory is the ability to repair accidental kinks in the PEX-a piping with a controlled heating source, such as a heat gun. The controlled heat quickly eliminates the kink in minutes, while the pipe is restored to its original durability.
Elastic memory refers specifically to how PEX-a piping will quickly return to its original dimensions after expansion. This allows the use of the exceptionally strong, ASTM F1960 fitting connection.
In creating a PEX-a connection, the installer uses a specially made expansion tool to enlarge the diameter of the pipe, so that a fitting with a slightly larger internal diameter can be inserted. The pipe quickly compresses over the fitting, creating a durable connection that actually strengthens over time.
Just as important: Because the fitting diameter is a bit larger than the pipe diameter, “dry-fit” pipe connections are physically impossible. This eliminates the problem when an installer neglects to solder or glue a fitting in a copper or CPVC system, resulting in costly leaks inside the walls of a completed project. An ASTM F1960 fitting requires the connection be fully made, permitting quick visual confirmation.
The difference with expansion fittings
Unlike with metallic pipe, an expansion fitting is actually the strongest part of a PEX-a system. It will not leak. In fact, pull testing shows that even 3,000 pounds of force with over 13 inches of displacement does not compromise the integrity of the ASTM F1960 PEX-a connection. In all likelihood, there would be a catastrophic failure of the building structure before enough force is applied to break that connection.
Using hangers and supports
PEX-a pipe can be hung at similar intervals as metallic pipe. It’s true that other plastic piping systems typically require supports every 32 inches. Some manufacturers, however, offer PEX-a pipe supports — a galvanized steel channel that provides continuous support in suspended-piping applications. This support allows PEX-a to behave just like a metallic piping system in many ways, including hanger spacing: ½-inch and ¾-inch PEX-a pipe can be hung at 6-foot intervals; 1-inch through 3-inch pipe, at 8-foot intervals.
Addressing expansion and contraction
The PEX-a pipe support controls the natural expansion and contraction that occurs as the piping heats and cools. Used in conjunction with manufacturer-recommended installation practices, the pipe support allows PEX-a to undergo an expansion rate equal to or, in some cases, less than that of copper.
Temperature and pressure considerations
PEX-a is rated for continuous operation at 200°F at 80 psi. Any hydronic application with water temperatures at or below this value is perfectly applicable for the product.
Fire-resistant construction ratings
PEX-a is ASTM E84-rated for flame- and smoke-resistance inside a non-ducted, return-air plenum. This also applies to fire stopping. For more information regarding these listings, please contact the manufacturer.
Codes and standards compliance
PEX-a is compliant with all codes and standards that pertain to it, be they in the International family (IBC, IRC, IMC, IPC) or the Uniform family (UMC, UPC, CPC) of U.S. Codes.
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Kim Bliss is the content development manager at Uponor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Mechanical Hub welcomes you to the very first installment of “They Said It” where we talk to contractors and get their viewpoints regarding the industry. This inaugural piece features some of the most innovative, progressive and successful contractors in the country as they weigh in on going into business on their own. Question: What advice Read More
Mechanical Hub welcomes you to the very first installment of “They Said It” where we talk to contractors and get their viewpoints regarding the industry. This inaugural piece features some of the most innovative, progressive and successful contractors in the country as they weigh in on going into business on their own.
Question: What advice would you give to those thinking about starting their own company?
Stay in touch with customers. Communication is key! At first you may field calls yourself throughout the day. Eventually, you may have someone answer the phone or a reputable answering service.
Schedule … try not to overbook. Doing a job in our minds is way faster then actually doing the job. I can remember not accounting for things like travel time … supply house lines … and eating. Don’t forget to eat!
Public relations. Always be polite, and professional. Remember, the customer has a schedule also. It never hurts to give small tidbits of information as you go about the task of diagnosing. Do not be afraid to let someone know that you need a few minutes of uninterrupted thought. It may help to have an electronic device that clicks like a gas sniffer. Sometimes and audible prop will allow you the distance to collect your thoughts.
Follow up! Get over the fear of following up with quotes, even if a week or so goes by. Hey, it’s worth the call and you may be surprised as to why they have not gotten back to you regarding your estimate.
Be open-minded and willing to listen and learn from everyone you encounter from customers, vendors and other contractors.
Take the time to educate yourself in business practices. The psychology of the human brain probably helped me the most dealing with employees and customers. Engage in your community (volunteer), developing long-lasting relationships with everyone. Educate your team and yourself on all the newest products and practices.
Find or develop the smartest, hard working people when hiring.
Start early. I started my company at age 34 but wish I had done so five years earlier.
Make sure you are capitalized. My company was successful from the start but earnings were re-invested back into the company for growth. I was prepared financially to not take a paycheck for a minimum of one year to finance the growth of my company. Do not rely on banks, as it is unlikely they will write a note for a new small business. My bank said to come back in two years. My response: “I won’t need you in two years.”
Be persistent. Don’t quit. Show up on time. It seems like an oversimplification but I truly believe in this.
John Abularrage, Advanced Radiant Design, Inc.—Stone Ridge, N.Y.
John has been running his business since 1981. They custom-design fully integrated radiant and alternate-energy heating systems that deliver complete comfort, the highest efficiency and greatest reliability.
Running a business is a completely different skill set than the craftsmanship.
The most important thing in running a business is understanding people—employees, clients, yourself.
A long-term perspective of time is essential. It doesn’t matter where you are, but rather where you’re going. See the trends as they are happening.
Andy Mickelson, Mickelson Plumbing & Heating—Missoula, Mont.
Since 2011, Andy has built a solid foundation for his business through hard work and perseverance. His performance on high-profile jobs have placed him at the top for customers seeking a knowledgeable contractor in the plumbing, hydronics and HVAC field.
To steal a phrase, entrepreneurial seizure is a common term used when thinking of the idea of starting your company. Most that do it think it’s a really good idea, but one needs to do his/her homework first. Go to the local SBA (Small Business Administration) chapters or visit the local community chamber of commerce to do some researching, and for a reality check. I took 8-9 months of planning before I left my previous job to start Mickelson Plumbing & Heating. Often times, when working for someone, one thinks they might have an idea of what it’s all about, but really has zero knowledge of running his/her own business.
Don’t lie to yourself; take the “I think we did well on that job” to “I know we did great.” This will give yourself a better understanding of what you might need to do on the next job. If you assume that you made money on the job and you didn’t, you will fall into the same mistake. We’ve heard it before, “performing the same thing over and over again expecting different outcomes is the definition of insanity.”
Set attainable goals, and do it often; once you reach that goal, blow past it. But don’t set a goal that is unattainable.
Jason Ridgeway, Ridgeway Home Services—West Chicago, Ill.
Ridgeway specializes in forced-air HVAC, radiant, geothermal and snowmelt systems and the latest HVAC technologies that provide comfort to his customers. He has been servicing the Chicagoland area since 2007.
Don’t do it. It’s not worth it unless your one of the extremely lucky few who can handle and run a profitable business. It’s like a mirage in the desert; it looks like it will be an easy life where you sit at your desk or at home just counting money, telling others what to do. In reality, a service business can be life consuming, full of pitfalls—heartache, late nights and early mornings, with no sick days.
You wear all the hats, including full-time babysitter, accountant, businessman, front person, sales person and complaint box. Oh yeah, every now and then you get to count the money, but immediately after you get to dispense it, watch tens of thousands and some times hundreds of thousands of dollars instantly vaporize out the door—leaving you again under the gun to chase the next dollar.
But you get to make your own schedule and you don’t have someone telling you what to do. Well, except for the customer who expects you to answer the phone at any given time of day—one who demands that you come to their place for Christmas but not to eat. They want you to come see what that noise is they hear every now and then. You could send your guys and ruin their holiday or you could go and make everyone happy but your family.
While on vacation every one in the world seems to have an issue and they all have is your number. Do you toss your phone in the ocean or do you answer it? Will your business be there when you get back? Sorry honey, I have to cut this short by a day or two, there’s an issue I have to attend to. Have fun running that business on fumes while you fight to get pennies on the dollar.
Being the best service tech installer doesn’t by any means mean you will be a good businessperson. In fact, I think it’s the number one cause of failure. You will care too much. You will go the extra mile too often. You will say yes when it should be no. You will give too much of yourself for something that gives the slightest of chances of making it profitable.
That’s my 10 years worth of running a business advice. Don’t do it. Find a place that pays you what your worth; a place where someone else has to make the decisions; somewhere that when you’re done with work you actually get to go home and not have to think about work; a place that lets you have those vacation days. Find a place with good benefits and work there as long as you can.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s good to it but you have to step in piles upon piles of shit to get to it.
However, if you’re a strong headed go-getter entrepreneur and the greatest service/installer known to HVAC, and your going to be the guy who makes it:
Never, ever, ever, ever do new construction. No matter how profitable or big the number is. You will lose yourself and your company; it’s just a matter of time. There is no 40-year-old new construction company I know of.
Employees are not your friends. No matter how good you are to them, it’s business first and last.
Never count the money until after the jobs done and the bills are paid. Bills are not just materials and labor. This is a close runner-up for number one.
Hydronics 201: Last night I was called to a local farmstead for a no-heat in all of the bedrooms. Our typical Minnesota winter weather has finally returned so overnight temps are leveling out around -15F or lower so this was a priority call. This particular system was originally installed 60+ years ago and has Bell Read More
Last night I was called to a local farmstead for a no-heat in all of the bedrooms. Our typical Minnesota winter weather has finally returned so overnight temps are leveling out around -15F or lower so this was a priority call.
This particular system was originally installed 60+ years ago and has Bell & Gossett Monoflo tees; a very innovative [for the time] invention by B&G that made one-pipe hot water heating systems possible.
Why would we want to heat with one pipe?
At the time steam systems were the norm for heating both large buildings and homes so the folks selling hot water equipment were up against a wall. After all, you won’t be very competitive trying to sell a heating system that requires two pipes if your competition can do it with just one so the one pipe diverter system was born.
Why was this significant at the time?
While Bell & Gossett branded their diverter tees the “Monoflo” they were not the first or only company offering such a product. Taco had the “venturi” tee but the roots of this whole idea can be traced back to Oliver Schlemmer, a Cincinnati, Ohio heating engineer who designed and patented his O-S fitting in the early days of this century. Here’s what the O-S fitting looked like:
The O-S fitting is probably not even in use here in Minnesota but it was first installed for gravity hot water systems. The Monoflo or Venturi tee came later, after the invention of wet rotor circulators.
The diverter tee system made installing hot water heating systems in new homes less labor intensive; eliminated the need for large diameter pipes found in gravity systems and was competitive with the alternative but often dangerous steam systems.
How does it work?
With a standard tee fitting water can enter or exit in any variable of ways. We all understand this, that’s why there is no “inlet” or “outlet”, its just a tee, what goes into it has to come out of it. Goesinta/goesoutta as its said.
A diverter tee changes everything about the tee by creating a roadblock to divert flow thru one “goesoutta” in preference over the other. This allows a single pipe to operate as botht eh supply and return for the heating loop, thus lowering the installed cost of labor and materials. Although I was not around way back then nor do I personally know anyone alive today that was, I can imagine resistance in the labor force and promotion of this “new technology” by plumbing shop owners. ProPress comes to mind…
The following is shared directly from and article titled “Monoflo Know-How From B&G”
Removal of radiators
If removal of a radiator or baseboard is needed in a diverter tee system for remodel or relocation purposes do not cap the two pipes that led to the radiator. If you cap the pipes that used to lead to the radiators, all the water will go through the run of the diverter tee. That increases the system pressure drop and slows the flow rate to the entire system.
If you remove a radiator, remove the tees as well. If that is impractical, just connect the two branches with a short length of copper tubing. That way, the water that used to go to the radiator will still have a place to go.
If air is a problem on start-up, raise the static pressure until you’ve cleared it.
More air will dissolve in water that’s under pressure. If you’re having a hard time getting rid of air on start-up, try raising the static fill pressure. The higher pressure drives free air into solution and brings it down to your air separator. Once you get the system going, lower the static pressure again. This is important because if you continue to operate at higher pressure, your compression tank may not be large enough for the system. Your relief valve will pop.
Pitch the main and the radiators up in the direction of flow.
This advice goes back to the original installation books of the 1930s. The pitch makes it easier to get rid of air on start-up. Check those pipes. They may have sagged as the years went by, and that can give an installer fits. If you’re having problems, always check the pitch.
Use the right amount of tees.
Radiators above the main usually work with one tee, and that tee should be on the return side. Radiators below the main always need two tees, and those tees should be the width of the radiator apart.
And keep in mind these rules apply to convectors and freestanding cast-iron radiators. The folks who invented the Monoflo fittings never imagined you’d be running 50 feet of copper baseboard from two tees piped six inches apart. The long run of baseboard puts too much pressure drop along the branch. The water responds by taking the path of least resistance along the run. The result? A cold radiator. And it looks just like an air problem!
If you have long runs of baseboard, run them as a separate zone.
Put your circulator on the supply, pumping away from the compression tank.
When you pump away from the compression tank, the circulator adds its pressure to the system’s static fill pressure. That drives air bubbles into solution and makes it much easier for you get rid of the air that appears when you start the burner. Usually, you’ll find you won’t have to bleed the radiators when you pump away.
Having remote access, control and diagnosis of my client’s boiler and DHW is an absolute game changer. I’ve been installing and using the Lochinvar ConXus system in Knight boilers for a couple years and it’s saved a lot of time and headaches. I get notifications when there’s a problem, often before anyone in the house Read More
Having remote access, control and diagnosis of my client’s boiler and DHW is an absolute game changer.
I’ve been installing and using the Lochinvar ConXus system in Knight boilers for a couple years and it’s saved a lot of time and headaches.
I get notifications when there’s a problem, often before anyone in the house even knows there is one. I also have a good idea of what parts to have on the truck when there’s an error code and for ya that’s a game changer since the majority of these boilers are truly remote. We have about 30 systems in North Central Minnesota, some as far away as two hours north and none are close to a supply house.
Other boiler manufacturers offer similar access thru mobile phone apps or via a web browser. I’d highly suggest investing some time into researching what it may be able to do for your business. I know it’s been a huge asset to ours.
Dain Hansen is vice president of Government Relations, The IAPMO Group. He lends his frequent perspective of Capitol Hill, and the plumbing industry. Here is an edited version of his update December 08, 2017 Panel Recommends Changes to Two-Decade-Old EPA Water Affordability Guidelines. In a highly anticipated report, a panel chartered by Congress to advise Read More
Here is an edited version of his update December 08, 2017
Panel Recommends Changes to Two-Decade-Old EPA Water Affordability Guidelines. In a highly anticipated report, a panel chartered by Congress to advise public agencies on effective governance recommends that the EPA revise how it appraises financial burdens when communities are required to upgrade water and sewer systems. Observers say that the revisions, if the EPA accepts them, could change the agency’s permitting and enforcement of municipalities under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the bedrock federal environmental laws that occasionally result in multibillion-dollar modifications of water treatment facilities. That means communities could have more time to complete required projects. Defining or measuring affordability is one task. Acting on it is another. A more lenient definition from the EPA means that communities may approach unaffordable rates more quickly and thus be granted more time to plug leaky sewers and build mammoth cisterns to hold back rainwater. Instead of 15 years to curb sewage discharges, a city may get 25 years or 30. The system improvements will still be required, just farther down the road. The question that lingers is still, how to pay for it? Delaying a project for a few years may allow a community to identify a cheaper solution. But it may not. Federal grants for such projects largely dried up in the 1980s, though low-interest loans are still available and certain states such as California and Texas have stepped in with significant state funding. Philadelphia has pioneered a water rate based on household income, and other cities are considering similar measures, expresses Hansen.
FEMA Chief Pleads For Rethinking Of Disaster Recovery. Calling on Congress for help, the government’s top emergency coordinator said this week that the federal approach to disaster recovery is “fragmented” and “backward.” FEMA Administrator Brock Long asked lawmakers to tweak so-called Stafford Act rules that bar some mitigation cash from being spent until after a community has been damaged and that require disaster-devastated areas to be rebuilt no better than their previous standard. Particularly for recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, it wouldn’t make sense to rebuild infrastructure the way it was before hurricanes Irma and Maria, the administrator contended. Long also suggested Congress move certain mitigation money out of the constraints of the Stafford Act, allowing pre-disaster prep funding to flow to communities before a catastrophic event occurs. The combined devastation wrought by this summer’s triple whammy of storms, combined with the expanse of wildfire damage in the West, has brought FEMA’s systems under increased scrutiny this year. In aiding recovery from this year’s storms and wildfires, FEMA enrolled almost 5 million people in individual assistance programs in less than 100 days.
Commission Seeks Fracking Ban in Watershed Supplying NYC. A commission that oversees water quality for the watershed that supplies Philadelphia and half of New York City with drinking water is taking another step toward permanently banning natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The Delaware River Basin Commission this week published regulations to enact a formal ban on drilling and fracking, the technique that’s spurred a U.S. production boom in shale gas and oil. It also puts additional restrictions on the industry disposing wastewater within the watershed or using water from the river and its tributaries. The commission imposed a moratorium on drilling and fracking in 2010 and voted in September to start the process of a ban. Hearings and a public comment period are to follow, with a final vote possible next year. The area supplies drinking water to 15 million people.
Harvey Leaves Thousands Still Waiting On Clean Water. Thousands of people are still waiting on access to safe drinking water in parts of Texas more than three months after Hurricane Harvey. The storm and the heavy rains that followed overflowed drainage districts, cut off water and prompted hundreds of boil-water notices across the Gulf Coast. More than a dozen boil-water notices remain in effect across affected areas. The areas included cities, mobile home parks and housing developments in seven counties across southeast Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports more than 3,700 people in those areas haven’t had clean drinking water since late August.
American Cities Could Be Stuck With Part of Tab for Congress’s Tax Cuts. Congress’s plan to cut taxes by more than $1 trillion could send part of the bill to America’s states and cities. The House tax measures would pull the tax-exemption from investments in so-called private activity bonds that finance projects like airports, water facilities and roads, promising to make financing tens of billions of dollars worth of public works each year more expensive. It would also do away with advanced refundings, a technique municipalities frequently use to refinance their debt when interest rates fall. Tax break or no, localities still need to build roads, maintain schools and keep the water running. Without tax-exempt status, money for projects now financed with private activity bonds would be raised in the taxable bond market, where the cost is higher. For example, an A-rated municipality that issues $100 million in 30 year general-obligation bonds in the taxable market rather than the tax-exempt market would see an additional cost of 0.55 percentage points, or $16.5 million more over that term. White House officials said this week that the President will sign the tax reform bill regardless of whether the tax exemption for private activity bonds is included in the final deal or not.