Emerson College: Designing for the Unexpected

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When it comes to redesigning the plumbing systems in a historic building, most times you have to expect the unexpected. The central dining facility at Emerson College in downtown Boston was built around 115 years ago. The space needed to install completely new plumbing systems in a historic structure of that age comes at a premium. But space wasn’t the only concern.

With the all-new renovation also came metered faucets on timers, which added a level of complication.

“Most of the faucets are on timers, which limit the amount of water that can flow out,” said Rich Dean, Senior Plumbing Designer for Vanderweil Engineers who designed the hot water system installation for the project. “When you have the limited amount of time, you don’t purge the line. Viega’s double drop elbow gets water to the faucet from the source quicker, and that improves user experience.”

Dean designed the hot water plumbing systems for two bathrooms in the dining facility. One bathroom provided the space necessary to install regular tees, but the other bathroom was too small.

“It’s a very old building and just has the issues that come with renovations to a very old building. We had to drop individually to each sink as opposed to having the space to run it horizontally down right to the fixture,” explained Peter Hannon, Vice President of Commonwealth Plumbing, the company that installed the plumbing systems. “Due to space within the wall, we didn’t have that luxury. The tight quarters made the double drop elbows the best choice.”

An average user will take 30 seconds or less to wash his hands. Most of the time that means the water he uses will have been sitting in the pipe line for a while. It won’t be freshly heated water until the line is purged.

“That dead leg water is in those faucets,” Dean said. “It will purge itself over time, but not usually fast enough.”

By using Viega’s double drop elbow fittings in the bathroom installation, Vanderweil and Commonwealth eliminated the dead leg in the line completely.

“Installing the double drop elbows allows us to get the piping much closer to the fixtures to minimize the dead legs,” Dean said. “Having warm water at the faucet is a better experience for the user, so they’ll think the best of the facility.”

Dean still used the series design in the other bathroom, which had more space allowing them to install more traditional fittings.

“We have used Viega in the past. When it was first presented to us, it was unique and a bit different, but it started to meet some of the issues we were experiencing,” Dean said. “We first saw Viega’s double drop elbows more than a year ago. The Viega team came to the office and discussed its use in hospital situations. We thought about how it would be good in commercial applications too.”

While the danger of Legionella bacteria in plumbing lines is always a concern, eliminating it in a facility like a dining hall bathroom isn’t as crucial as a hospital or nursing home. For the Emerson College project, the main focus was providing hot water to users in spite of the low-flow faucets.

“Design for the unexpected. You don’t know if a client is going to come through there with a bad immune system, and you don’t want them to get sicker because of bad plumbing design,” Dean added.

In a series design installation, like the sinks in a bathroom, when water is turned on at the end of the line, the water circulates through the whole system, purging the line and providing hot water to the active fixture almost immediately.

“We’ve done a loop system before similar to this,” said Hannon. “This was the first time we’d used these particular fittings, the double drop elbows. We met our installation goals. Especially where there was a lot of wood in the building, pressing saved us from having to solder.”

“We have used them in other projects,” Dean said. “It’s a solid system. And Viega is a solid product.” Dean was one of many engineers who attended Viega’s water quality seminars, which were held across the country in various locations.

Thanks to coordination with their local Viega rep, Vanderweil and Commonwealth worked together on the Emerson College project.

“We’ve been using Viega for a number of years and have had very good luck with it. We recommend and submit it for projects as often as possible as a product to use,” Hannon said. “Our rep introduced the engineers to these fittings. We worked together on how best to make it work. Our rep was a great help, and we really appreciated his input.”

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