How grooved mechanical piping can help structures reduce environmental impact.

Today, sustainability in commercial structures is an imperative rather than an option. “Being green” is something owners, contractors, architects, engineers and occupants all want to achieve for environmental as well as social and economic benefits. When it comes to plumbing and mechanical systems, owners and engineers want to know the latest techniques to make systems safe, sound and sustainable.

In 1989, the United Nations defined sustainability as the ability “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This sounds a bit vague to someone involved in the details of developing a project, but it is a reminder that sustainable structures start with a simple commitment on the part of a building’s owners and planners to make an effort to conserve resources. That commitment can include goals to: minimize site impact by preserving trees and wetlands; conserve energy, water and other resources; reduce dust, noise and air pollution; use renewable materials; and plan for the impact of transportation and parking on surrounding neighborhoods.

Still, sustainable piping and mechanical systems require more than just attention to site orientation and energy-saving techniques. What goes into a building’s infrastructure is equally important to the long-term sustainability and efficiency of that structure. Many owners and developers do not realize the amount of waste and energy loss that occurs during installation, maintenance and operations of HVAC, plumbing and other mechanical systems in a building.

A choice to use grooved mechanical piping over alternative joining methods such as welding, flanging or threading can help to reduce waste and energy loss from installation through the life of the building, but this decision is often not considered to have a significant impact on the building’s sustainability. The sustainable nature of grooved mechanical piping systems can help reduce the environmental impact of structures and increase efficiency from manufacture and installation through operations and maintenance during the life of a building.

Inherent Sustainability

Before reviewing the direct benefits of grooved piping to a building’s sustainability, it might be helpful to know about the method’s background. Many of the attributes of grooved piping were “sustainable” before the word was in vogue and green building was a trend.

Grooved mechanical piping was invented and used during World War I to rapidly deploy essential resources such as fuel and water to Allied forces. Grooved systems employ a roll- or cut-grooving process to join piping, valves and other components. Using a simple two-bolt coupling, pipe fitters can make secure joints using basic hand tools. Couplings are sealed by means of a pressure-responsive elastomeric gasket.

This system is more efficient, cleaner and safer than alternative joining methods. Reducing the need for welding, soldering or brazing means better air quality, less particulate matter released into the atmosphere and decreased fire risk. Less material waste than welding or soldering reduces site impact. Indoor and outdoor air quality is preserved because no fumes or particulate matter endanger workers or the environment.

Products Made From Natural Resources

Many companies have practices in place that reduce dependency on natural resources during the manufacturing process. In the case of Victaulic grooved products, 90 percent of the steel used to make the couplings comes from recycled steel. Oftentimes, products are painted using a dip-coating application, which, unlike spray painting, does not atomize paint particles, so they are not sources of regulated pollutant emissions.

In addition, dip coating eliminates the need for volatile solvents that are used to thin paints in the spray-painting process. And foundry operations that recycle 100 percent of the sand used in the forming of patterns are at the leading edge of the industry’s sustainable practices.

Grooved piping cut-away. Photo courtesy of Victaulic.

Less Waste On Jobsites

During installation, mechanical grooved piping systems significantly reduce or eliminate waste, emissions and noise pollution, providing a safer and healthier jobsite environment.

By eliminating soldering, grooved piping reduces emissions on the jobsite. Solder fumes can contain lead oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hydrochloric acid, in addition to many other harmful particles and gases. In 2007 alone, the use of Victaulic grooved mechanical pipe couplings in lieu of welding on HVAC piping systems reduced airborne weld emissions by 145 metric tons of particulate matter, which is equivalent to eliminating the pollution produced by 1 million cars on the road for a month.

The elimination of these harmful pollutants means less airborne pollution, resulting in a more sustainable environment, as well as a safer jobsite during construction, maintenance and retrofits. Especially during retrofit work in occupied spaces such as hospitals or schools, the planning and configuration required to keep welding fumes confined can be extensive.

Installing a grooved mechanical pipe joint does not require the use of electricity, thus reducing the draw on burdened power resources. Pipes that are joined by welding or soldering require vast amounts of electricity for prolonged periods of time, consuming up to 4,000 watts of energy per hour on an 8-inch joint. In addition, using grooving machines to roll or cut for pipe preparation consumes less energy and time when compared with the preparation of a welded pipe.

The installation of a grooved mechanical joint is cleaner than soldered joints, thus reducing on-site job waste. Unlike soldering and brazing, grooved mechanical systems do not require flux, which must be flushed and cleaned from the system prior to operation. Soldered systems often require as much as 35 percent rework for failures discovered when pressurizing and testing the completed system, which requires additional resources. Plus, Victaulic grooved mechanical pipe joints can be visually inspected for proper installation so rework is minimal, saving energy, resources and time on the job.

More Efficient Operations And Maintenance

Energy costs typically represent 30 percent of a building’s annual budget, making it the single largest operating cost, according to Energy Star. The Energy Systems Lab at Texas A&M University indicated that energy use in buildings could be reduced by as much as 10 to 40 percent by improving operational strategies in buildings, including maintenance strategies.

In a plumbing system, booster pumps and strainers need routine maintenance to operate efficiently, and less deferred maintenance means a higher level of energy efficiency. Accessing valves, strainers, pumps and water softeners in soldered or brazed piping systems frequently is a time-consuming and inconvenient process due to system shutdown and drainage. The more difficult the process, the more likely the maintenance will be deferred.

Mechanical pipe-joining systems provide an optimal way to maintain piping systems in structures, thereby reducing the deferral of maintenance and promoting operating efficiency and saving money. Their ease of installation and ability to disassemble and reinstall the same components make them a simple solution for the performance of both routine and irregular maintenance.

For access to a grooved piping system, a maintenance person simply loosens the coupling bolts to access the joint, using valves to reroute the system without having to shut it down. For maintaining equipment such as chillers, boilers and pumps, which consume the vast majority of energy in a system, grooved piping makes access easer for proper and timely maintenance. Additionally, mechanical pipe-joining systems are a safe alternative for maintaining piping systems in facilities where open flames could create a hazardous environment.

Aside from routine maintenance, it is sometimes necessary to join two existing systems within a structure. With a union at every joint, the grooved system is easily re-routed in retrofit and adaptability projects. No time is required to drain the piping system, and grooved mechanical pipe joints can be installed on wet lines. Operating efficiency can be maintained during retrofit work, and systems can remain live because properly placed butterfly valves provide “dead-end” shutoff service for isolation. Owners can engage in retrofit projects in occupied buildings without having to vacate the space because mechanical grooved piping rework does not affect indoor air quality negatively or introduce a fire hazard.

A properly installed grooved piping system minimizes the likelihood of water contamination from leaks, ruptures and other faults resulting from seismic stresses. The elastomeric gasket used to seal pipe couplings also creates discontinuity in the piping system. This reduces noise and vibration transmitted through piping from pumps, chillers and other components.

The flexibility of grooved piping compensates for system expansion and contraction, eliminating the need for traditional expansion joints. These features are important for enhancing the productivity and comfort levels for building occupants that live and work in the vicinity of mechanical piping systems – and it means more efficient operations.

A Blueprint For Green Development

To better assist owners and architectural design teams in achieving sustainable development goals, the U.S. Green Building Council has codified guidelines through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating program.

LEED is a growing effort worldwide to promote sustainable development. Under the program, developers can earn LEED rating points in six key areas: proper site orientation, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.

Incorporating grooved piping systems into a building’s design can help contribute to sustainable efforts through LEED in a number of ways. Grooved piping system fabrication requires no welding, so fewer workers are needed and for a shorter duration and there is less material waste, reducing site impact. With no fumes or particulate matter to endanger workers or the environment, indoor and outdoor air quality is preserved. Simple, rugged design combined with the ability to resist seismic movements make grooved pipe joining ideal for collection and distribution of graywater and for reducing the possibility of potential contamination of water supplies on or near the site. Finally, the use of highly recoverable material content during the manufacturing of grooved mechanical piping system components can help contribute to LEED in the materials and resources category.

Building owners, consulting engineers and contractors using grooved piping readily acknowledge its superior value and performance in the design of sustainable plumbing, HVAC and other systems. Many owners are already reaping benefits through savings in construction time and costs, reduced waste, advancement of environmental goals and improvements in personnel safety and comfort. Equally important, the resulting long-term efficiency and maintainability will continue to pay dividends over the building’s life cycle.