When Good Pipes Go Bad
Digging into solutions for rehabilitation
It’s inevitable. Pipes age. Pipes corrode. Pipes break. Pipes leak. Putting off pipe restoration — just fixing this broken pipe now and patching that next leak when it happens — was never the best plan. Stop-gap measures don’t work forever, so the folks in charge of infrastructure maintenance now are taking a harder look at pipe restoration.
A total repipe used to be the only way to go, but a repipe can be expensive, disruptive, time-consuming, and require significant demolition and post-installation renovation. More homeowners, business owners and property managers are considering pipe lining to get water delivery systems back in working order.
For the homeowner, the appeal may be both reduced cost and limited damage to their investments in their home and landscaping. Owners and managers of apartments, condominiums, hotels and resorts and commercial buildings are attracted both by rehab costs and disruption of business or inconvenience to tenants the can come with a major repipe.
Pipe lining isn’t a new idea. Processes have been developed and refined over the last several decades for use in pipes both inside and outside structures. But increasing maintenance costs and an elevated concern for water has generated a growing interest in pipe restoration options. While some companies focus on the residential customer, others see steady growth in the property management arena, where a company may have hundreds of units to maintain. Lining also is being used more in hospitals, hotels, resorts, and commercial buildings.
Along with being less disruptive to residents or commercial clients, pipe lining can be less costly than a repipe, lining manufacturers said. “The additional costs and inconvenience associated with traditional re-piping are dramatic,” said Cameron Knight, vice president of operations at Nu Flow OC. “Nu Flow can complete a typical job in two to four days with no demolition, while a typical repiping job takes two to four weeks and involves tearing into walls, floors, tile, cabinets and stucco. The Nu Flow process is typically between 20- and 50 percent cheaper than repiping, simply because we avoid the additional cost of reconstruction, cleanup and hotel expenses.”
The cost of pipe lining is traditionally less expensive than a repipe, agreed Brian LeMaire, founder and president of CuraFlo Technologies, who noted an American Water Works Association study indicating epoxy lining can last up to 60 years. The larger the building, the more money it will save you, LeMaire said. “A single-family home will be around the same cost as a repipe,” he said. “With a two- or three-story apartment building, there will be about a 20 percent savings to line rather than repipe. The bigger the building the more money the owners will save, sometimes as much as 40 percent.”
Lining installation is much less intrusive, LeMaire said. “Crews can be out of an apartment in two days compared to two weeks for a repipe project; drywall and painting repair is much less, with 90 percent of apartments requiring no drywall repairs compared to 100 percent with a repipe; and asbestos or hazardous materials handling is reduced and sometimes eliminated with a lining project. Re-piping also can be tricky business inside a multi-story building.
What does the pipe lining process entail? Current pipe lining technologies address piping for potable water, drain/sanitary systems, HVAC and fire suppression systems in all structure sizes. Typically, smaller interior pipes have their interiors coated with a proprietary epoxy material, while larger exterior pipes like sewers are lined with an epoxy-impregnated fabric or fiberglass tubing.
“With our proprietary system, we can restore water flow without tearing out walls or excavating,” LeMaire said. “Epoxy lining delivers benefits that repiping cannot. CuraFlo’s certified professionals use specially designed equipment and proven, proprietary processes to clean and then line the inside surface of pipes with a safe, durable epoxy lining.
The process of applying our epoxy pipe lining is as follows: First, the pipes are dried. Then the pipes are cleaned, removing corrosion and other buildup that can impede water flow and affect water quality. Finally, an odorless, tasteless and safe epoxy is applied. It becomes a permanent barrier, protecting against future pipe leaks and corrosion.
“The CuraFlo Engineered Flow Lining System uses a proven and certified process for promoting the flow of liquid epoxy through pipe segments. Epoxy is applied via compressed air which creates a vortex that draws epoxy from the entrance to exit point ensuring that the pipe interior is uniformly coated with our proprietary epoxy,” LeMaire said. “After the lining process is completed in a piping segment, air pressure is maintained to keep the epoxy coating uniform while it cures. After curing is complete, our technicians then perform water flow tests to confirm water pressure has been completely restored. The CuraFlo Spincast System uses a computer controlled dispenser to apply epoxy to the interior of large diameter pipes. After the epoxy has been applied via the Spincast application, our technicians inspect the pipe interior using a closed circuit television.” LeMaire noted, rather than lining an entire structure’s pipes, the process can be used only on a section of the building.
Nu Flow Technologies manufactures, installs and distributes cost-effective, green repipe alternatives and no-dig solutions, including epoxy coatings for potable water lines and structural liners for drain lines, Knight said. In-pipe restoration products including structural and epoxy linings. The structural liners, felt impregnated with epoxy, are either pull-in -place, literally pulled in place with a winch, or fed through a machine that inverts the lining into the pipe.
Nu Flow’s pipe coating is a non-invasive process that uses epoxy to coat the inside walls of existing pipes without destruction to the home or business. “It provides a permanent protective barrier which eliminates the chance of corrosion and leaks. Additionally, it protects your water from lead and other contaminants that may leach from your pipes. Epoxy coating is well recognized as a long-term solution to prevent corrosion and leaks, but is commonly used as a preventative tool to preserve the life of existing piping systems.” The Nu Flow process can be used on any metal-based pipe, and can coat pipes ranging from ½-inch up to 12 inches in diameter.
“The Nu Flow process is performed using the existing access points throughout the home,” Knight said. Shut-off valves that are located under sinks and behind toilets are removed and air hoses are connected directly to the pipe. The entire plumbing system is then drained and dried using dehumidified compressed air. “A safe abrading agent is then blown through the piping system, removing rust, scales and corrosion that has built up over time, while at the same time lightly etching the pipe to prepare for the epoxy coating process.”
“Pipe-tracing” of the plumbing system is then performed to determine the exact amount of epoxy needed for each individual pipe, Knight explained. The epoxy is then introduced into the pipe and evenly distributed throughout the piping system. “Following the coating application, conditioned and controlled air flows through the pipes to facilitate epoxy curing. The end result is smooth, permanent epoxy coating barrier between your pipes and water. After the epoxy coating cures, new valves and hoses are installed to all fixtures and the water is introduced back into the system.”
The obvious questions: Why should I suggest pipe lining? Won’t that take away from my revenue stream, whether I do the job or refer my customers to someone who does pipe lining?
Experienced plumbers and contractors can easily add pipe lining to their service offerings, manufacturers suggested, and the investment in equipment can pay for itself in short order. Having the lining option also can increase a company’s business, in the light of customers’ reluctance to tackle a repipe. Positive experiences with piping rehab also can lead to referrals for similar or unrelated plumbing projects.
Lining manufacturers cited their enthusiasm about working with plumbing professionals. CuraFlo started out as a plumbing and heating service company with a repipe division and has grown into a company that offers both services across North America, LeMaire said. “We offer our services in two different ways. One is we have our own crews that travel and do the work in different cities. The other way is we sell licenses to other plumbing contractors across the country and teach them how to do the lining and repipe work as well as supply them with know-how, equipment and technical support.” Nu Flow offers extensive training to its partners, including seminars on trenchless technology and the Nu Flow System, along with 24/7 tech support.