To meet the needs of a growing under-18 population, Logan City School District in Logan, Utah, embarked on an expansion of Woodruff Elementary School during the winter of 2007-2008. With copper prices at an all-time high, Randy Godfrey, owner of plumbing contractor Carson Mechanical, proposed an alternative for potable-water piping: polypropylene-random (PP-R) Aquatherm Greenpipe.
Manufactured in Germany, Aquatherm systems have been used in more than 70 countries over the last 35 years. Joints are formed via a fusion process by which a pipe and fitting are placed on a welding device and heated—typically, for only seconds. Once fused, the pipe and fitting have the same physical properties. Additionally, with a faser-composite fiberglass layer, the pipe is 75-percent less prone to linear expansion than pipes made of other plastics and hangs rigidly.
"I pushed for it," Godfrey said. "I had used it on a residential home near Layton (Utah). ... My installers liked it, and everything had gone smoothly, once they got past the learning curve."
Godfrey presented the system to the general contractor, engineer, and school district as an effective and cost-saving alternative. Initially, there was skepticism.
"When I first saw Aquatherm, I had reservations," Chris Derr, the now-retired Logan School District plumber, said. "It's taken me many years to get over the skepticism of plastic pipe. ... But I got more comfortable as I went through the training class and studied up on it. It's kind of the way things are going, and now that I'm running my own plumbing business, I can see a lot of applications where I could integrate it into my business."
It took the Carson Mechanical installers about a week to get fully acclimated with the fusion-welding process. While, compared with copper, PP-R requires a bit more pre-planning, once up to speed, the Carson Mechanical crew was able to achieve some efficiency.
When installed by Aquatherm-trained and certified installers, the pipe and fittings come with a 10-year warranty.
Carson Mechanical bought the heat-fusion-welding tools necessary for 1/2-in. to 2-in. Greenpipe, which was run from taps in the existing supply lines to approximately 80 new fixtures. Roughly 3,000 linear feet of NSF-certified Greenpipe was installed. Godfrey had three or four installers on the job, working on the PP-R piping for about half of the six months needed to complete the plumbing portion of the expansion.
The installation proceeded smoothly. Among the couple thousand connections, Godfrey reported only two leaks, which he attributed to operator error.
"We would have probably had at least a couple more leaks with copper," Godfrey said.
The job was completed in time for the 2008-2009 school year.
Don Bell, who assumed Derr’s position, said that, to date, the pipe has held up perfectly.
Godfrey estimated that using PP-R instead of copper saved the school district about $8,000. On top of that, because PP-R has a natural insulation value of R-1, insulation was not needed, which provided additional time and material savings.