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Plumbing a Cramped Park City Mechanical Room
by Barry Campbell   

When Mountain Seas Development planned to renovate its historic building located in downtown Park City, Utah, careful, space-conscious design was imperative. Since the building sits on extremely valuable land on Main Street, every square foot was precious. Mountain Seas sought to update the building’s existing retail space and build an addition for a three-level apartment above it. On top of the need for maximizing every inch of the building, its listing in the historical registry also made the project challenging.

Al Coelho, the project’s general contractor has a reputation for highend, meticulous, detail-oriented work in the residential and commercial arenas. Since the Main Street renovation would require breaking ground for new retail space in the basement and adding the apartment, Coelho foresaw that the project’s main problem would be how to fit all of the necessary mechanical equipment into the building.

plumbingcrampedA Tight Spot
Typically, one 6-ft by x 6-ft room would have been necessary for all of the mechanical equipment, but Mountain Seas could not spare that much space. A consensus was reached to put all of the mechanical equipment for the 6,500-sq-ft building into two small closets, although the confined space would represent a tight workspace and mechanical installation challenge.

Since it can withstand the associated high temperatures, copper would typically have been used to connect all the equipment, however, there were concerns with using copper. Ryan Bateman, Mountain Seas’ project manager, was concerned with the temperature of the mechanical room. The heat emitted from the copper piping would raise the room’s temperature, causing the boiler to run inefficiently and also potentially causing damage such as warped wood and more. “Copper piping would have required power blowers for venting to exhaust the heat emitted from the copper pipes,” Bateman added.

Carl Pond, owner of Carl Pond Plumbing & Heating Inc., which served as the job’s mechanical contractor, advised that copper was not a good fit. “Soldering the copper joints would have been a major fire hazard in such a tight spot. Plus, it was a finished room and they wanted to leave it finished. Using an open flame in that small room would have been a big deal.”

One of the mechanical rooms serves the stores and common areas of the building and is located under the stairwell in the basement. This room includes: a 250,000 Btu Triangle Tube Prestige condensing boiler and a Triangle SMART 40-gal indirect-fired water heater for the public bathrooms and office bathrooms. The boiler services 2,913 sq ft of radiant heating and 200 sq ft of snow melt for the entry areas. It also provides heat to a 20,000 Btu fancoil to heat the stairwell area. The room is 5-ft by 3-ft and includes a 48,000-grain 960 digital on-demand Pacific Water Conditioning water softener for the whole building.

Located right in the middle of the three-story apartment which it serves, the second mechanical room is 3 ft by 3 ft and includes another Triangle condenser boiler like the one in the downstairs. The boiler serves 1,221 sq ft of radiant floor heat, 483 sq ft of snow melt decks, and 15 sq ft of roof snow melt around roof drains, with a Triangle SMART 60-gallon indirectfired water heater. All systems are fully automated and individually controlled for energy efficiency. Each one of these systems has multiple Grundfos pumps for zoning, and domestic hot water with Taco pump controls. Each room had to house all of the equipment and subsequent piping.

No Fantasy – A Dream Pipe
Pond, a plumber with over 30 years of experience, suggested using Aquatherm’s polypropylene-random (PP-R) piping. “Aquatherm was the perfect – and only sensible option for this project. Aquatherm Greenpipe® which is used for potable water and Climatherm, which is used for heating and cooling, were a superb alternative to copper.”

In the cramped mechanical closet, running the pipes would mean a lot of connections – and the possibility of leaks. The Aquatherm heat fusion process is much simpler than the soldering of copper pipes. Two identical pieces of plastic are heated using a 500ºF welding iron and then joined under moderate pressure. There are no flames, chemicals or mechanical connections. The joints are seamless, virtually eliminating the chance for leaks and the possibility of corrosion.

Coelho, the GC, trusted Carl’s analysis of the situation, but was concerned with it being a new technology to the North American market, and finding qualified people to install it. Since Pond’s company had experience with PP-R installations, Coelho and Mountain Seas accepted his recommendation.

The mechanical room was finished using 1-inch piping. The room was so small that they could only fit one person in the room (and barely do that once the equipment was in place) at a time. Luckily, the headers could be prefabricated and the final connections were then made inside the room. “The job would have been impossible to do in copper or any other medium,” said Pond.

Pond’s plumber and radiant heat supervisor, Kris Dahlquist, was pleased with the fusion outlets, which quickly and easily take the place of tees. “The fusion outlets allowed for a cleaner, quicker process, and PP-R's modular design was the key to its success.”

Coelho remarked, “I’m not a heating professional, but I was concerned with the newness of the product and the quality of the installation. I don’t know if it is the material or the installers but it went together like a dream. I will use it again if we have qualified installers like Carl Pond.” The piping easily passed inspection and the Park City inspectors were thoroughly impressed with the project.

Potable Piping and Savings Too
In addition to the mechanical room, heating, and snowmelt, PP-R was used for main lines throughout the building for potable water. Over 225 linear feet of 1-in. pipe runs to 15 fixtures including: toilets, sinks, laundry, kitchen, full baths, three men’s and women’s bathrooms, and one common bathroom. Pond said that durability and cost were the main reasons PP-R was specified on the job. According to Coelho, the total mechanical estimate of $112,000 was decreased by 13% by switching from copper to PP-R and approximately a week’s worth of labor was saved.


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