Resident safety is one reason this assisted-living facility has a manifold system.

The residents of The Logan House, a new assisted-living facility in Logan, Utah, may not know a lot about plumbing, but many do remember what it feels like to be scalded in the shower if someone else should flush a nearby toilet or start a load of wash. And they know it’s not likely to happen to them at their new apartments.

That’s because Richard Miles, one of The Logan House’s developers, bucked what some consider plumbing convention by installing a manifold plumbing system — rather than a traditional two-pipe copper system — in the development’s 92 units.

With the manifold system, every sink, toilet and shower in every residence gets its very own dedicated hot and cold water lines. The lines, made of PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) tubing, connect directly from the fixture to one of 36 central manifold control units installed in the ceiling along The Logan House’s corridors.

Benefits Of The Manifold System

Manifold systems are known, among other things, for their ability to help create equalized pressure, enabling two or more fixtures in a unit to be used simultaneously without dramatic pressure and temperature changes.

“Our residents often don’t have the quick reflexes they once had,” explains Miles, a partner in Western States Lodging & Development of Salt Lake City. “If scalding hot water comes out of a showerhead or faucet, it’s going to take longer for many seniors to react. We see a manifold plumbing system as one more safety feature we can offer to help protect them in our developments.”

Resident safety is one reason that Western States Lodging & Development has specified manifold systems in each of the 12 commercial properties — including six senior living facilities — it has developed over the past 10 years. But there are other reasons Miles and his residents prefer them over traditional two-pipe systems.

For one thing, they are easier for the company’s property managers to maintain. In fact, system maintenance is a huge reason why some retirement property developers only specify manifold systems in their properties.

“When a plumbing problem arises at The Logan House,” says Miles, “all a maintenance person needs to do is take down the ceiling tile where the manifold unit is located, and shut off the problem line with the turn of a key. Like the switches in an electrical box, the keys in the control units can shut down the problem line without disturbing the rest of the fixtures in the apartment, or any neighboring units.

“It removes the urgency from many repairs. In properties with two-pipe systems, on the other hand, you might have to shut off the water in four or eight units when there’s a problem. That’s always an inconvenience. But for our residents, it can be even more so."

Growth By Word-Of-Mouth

Miles says he first learned about manifold systems about 10 years ago from his plumbing contractor on the 168-unit Legacy Retirement Residence in a suburb of Salt Lake City.

That man, Kevin Flannery, who heads Shamrock Plumbing in North Salt Lake City, admits he wasn’t the first plumbing contractor in Utah to experiment with manifolds and PEX.

“When our company got started back in 1980, everyone was still using copper systems in our part of the country,” he recalls. “We had a good reputation and didn’t want to be a guinea pig with something new. We took a conservative approach and just watched to see how they performed.”

Within a couple of years, Flannery began noticing a significant shift in the Salt Lake market. Once manifold systems had proved themselves, his company gave them a try and has since become one of their biggest advocates.

“Originally, we used manifolds almost exclusively on large, custom-built homes,” he explains. “The more we used them, however, the more we were sold on the benefits of using them on larger, commercial projects.”

Today, Shamrock’s 80-person staff installs, on average, 3,500 manifold systems a year, compared to 1,600 traditional copper ones.

Simpler Installation

“Manifold systems are popular here, too, because they are so easy to install,” says Flannery.

Because PEX tubing is flexible, installation of a manifold system is relatively simple. In the case of the new Logan House project, a 3-inch diameter water main delivers water to the development. From there, the water is branched from the central manifold control units to each apartment using 1/2-inch PEX tubing.

Shamrock Plumbing installers pulled a total of 75,000 feet of 3/8-inch tubing and 30,000 feet of 1/2-inch tubing through to individual fixtures — the way electricians pull electrical wire. “Each line was sized according to the demand of the fixture it served, eliminating the over-sizing that might otherwise be necessary to accommodate all the additional fixtures on the same supply line,” explains Flannery.

Tubing was pulled through stud walls, around obstacles and to fixtures in a single length. To get through a stud wall, installers would just drill a hole a little bigger than the outside diameter of the pipe, pull the tube through and then caulk around it.

Shamrock Plumbing installers attached the tubing to fixtures using the insert and crimp ring system. Because there were no joints to sweat, the contractor greatly decreased the risk of leaks or fire damage during the installation process. Installers then labeled each supply line in the manifold unit.

It took two installers, on average, four hours to install the system in each unit — about half the time necessary to complete a comparable two-pipe copper system, according to Flannery.

Water-Saving Considerations

Water conservation is another issue to consider. In more arid parts of the country, manifold systems help conserve water. Since each fixture gets its own line, the water literally has less distance to travel. Manifold systems, as a result, can deliver larger quantities of water more quickly than two-pipe systems.

In a traditional two-pipe system, the entire line must be purged of cold water — a process that can take a minute or two — before hot water can be delivered to any given fixture. By contrast, it takes only 10 to 15 seconds for hot water to reach any fixture in an apartment with a manifold system. That translates into a savings of up to three gallons of otherwise wasted water each time a faucet is turned on, which is important in parts of the country that average only a few inches of rainfall a year.