Fixing This Old Pipe: Pipe Lining as Restoration
Repipe or pipe relining?
Aging and damaged pipes ---and the hazards they bring with them---are putting a more intense spotlight on pipe restoration. Headlines about compromised water quality, threats of substantial property damage and concerns about high costs down the line are fueling interest in both repipe and pipe lining options for residential, commercial and industrial customers.
Plumbing contractors know that fixing broken pipes and patching leaks remain stopgap measures. It’s also well known that a total repipe can be messy, expensive and time-consuming. Customers typically dread the disruption that comes with replacing old pipes with new product, including extensive trenching and structural repairs. So, the choice to repipe or use a lining process is being explored more seriously by plumbers and contractors.
Whether residential or business job, there is a case to be made for pipe lining versus a complete or partial repipe. Among the benefits manufacturers list are: smaller client investment, faster project turnaround time, a more flexible project schedule, minimal building disruption, little to no tenant/resident displacement, little to no business downtime, greatly reduced construction noise and mess, a prolonged lifetime of piping, and the ecological benefit of adding less material to landfills. They add that happier customers and customer base growth also are a plus.
What are the main methods of pipe lining?
There are several technologies used to line metal pipes, with specific applications used on hot and cold domestic water lines, recirculation lines, heating and chilled water lines, fire suppression lines and sprinkler lines, natural gas lines, drains, waste lines, process piping and pneumatic lines. Large projects can require multiple technologies.
For most residential and light commercial projects, of the various types of pipe lining methods are available, epoxy coatings are the preferred process. Different manufacturers of epoxy coating technologies each use their own patents and formulas, so there are some varying differences with the epoxies and the application process. However, the majority of systems follow some basic application steps.
- Step One: Using existing access points, the interiors of the pipes are dried using clean, compressed air.
- Step Two: The liquid epoxy is sprayed or blown through the pipe system using compressed air and/or a vacuum assist.
- Step Three: The epoxy is left to cure for a specified amount of time. Curing time varies by process. After the epoxy has cured into a thin, strong barrier coating inside the pipes, it will the interior of the pipe system from pinhole leaks, slab leaks, lead and copper leaching, corrosion, buildup, rusty water and other issues.
Before application, with some systems, the piping is scoped by camera to certain the pre-treatment condition of the piping. The entire process is completed using existing access points, preventing the need for destruction or business disruption to the property. The system may also be scoped after the application process is completed.
One timely addition to this product/service category is an in-place pipe lining that produces a protective barrier than can reduce leached lead and other metal contaminants down to safe levels in water lines. Lead reduction continues to be growing segment, especially in municipalities with problematic water supplies.
How can plumbers and contractors get into pipe lining?
While the process may seem fairly straightforward, manufacturers advise getting a thorough grounding in available technologies before adding pipe lining to their repertoire. Each project will be offer unique challenges. Among the factors under consideration: age of the existing pipe, composition of the piping, extent of damage/breakage, piping configuration, the extent of piping, levels of the structure where piping is being restored.
In some cases, full repipe may be better option for good results, despite the probably higher cost to the customer and lengthier project time. Installers also need to know why the existing piping is being repaired, what caused the damage or deterioration.
Installers are also advised to work with/partner with reputable companies who will be there when training and technical assistance are needed, because projects can always offer challenges that are not commonly confronted. Contractors also must be educated well on products and systems so that the advantages and disadvantages of line versus repipe can be explained clearly to end users.
The simple answer is: do some serious basic research. Because there are many proprietary processes, which are applied to specific piping uses, it’s a good idea to take some time to survey the pipe-lining landscape. Plumbing professionals can Google key words to learn more about the different technologies and products.
When you attend trade shows, take advantage of opportunities to speak with company experts and technicians on the kinds of systems available. Take advantage of training classes offered by trace associations or the manufacturers introduce technologies to your company or upgrade what you already offer. Once you find a technology that interests you, contact contractors outside your market area to ask questions about real-life experiences with different systems. It’s a good way to get a handle on what kinds of technology is best suited to the kind of customers you serve.
Company Web sites also can offer a wealth of information, including a library of instructional and informational videos, as well as troubleshooting and tech support. Especially when entering a new niche, plumbing professionals need to ascertain the level of support and training each manufacturer provides.