Best Practices for Pipe Repair and Replacement Programs
By Ken Alessi and Shukri Elmazi
The very nature of a broken pipe is that it is unexpected.
Crews take action and resolve the issue as quickly as possible to mitigate the damage. Like any emergency, speed of resolution is often more important than cost. Utilities are prepared to remove staff from other jobs, rent expensive equipment, pay high courier costs, etc. In contrast, replacing an aging infrastructure often comes with a gift of time that is used to hire experts to assess the condition, find the optimal solution, and prioritize critical needs first.
While you might not know exactly when and where the next pipe will burst, planning for ruptures is possible, and the effort put into this is a direct benefit to optimization for replacement projects. Below are some good practices that utilities are using to deal with the historic issues plaguing budgets today.
With the global supply under pressure, having the inventory you need right at your fingertips has never been more important. It is impossible to have all the items you will need and the cost of buying expensive parts for a very unlikely event is more of a luxury than a need. Combining knowledge of your infrastructure, such as type, size, and age of pipes, with experience of work teams is essential to maintaining affordable, high turnover inventory.
Carefully review the demand for repair products and when they are used most frequently. Look at your orders over the past three or four years and try to identify trends. Check to see if there are times when the demand for certain clamps or couplings is high and other times when it is low. This will help determine which products should be in high quantity and which may be lower.
There are also products designed to accommodate a wide range of pipe types and diameters. Product design can go a long way in expanding the versatility and scope of repairs. For example, there are several coupling products, one being the HYMAX Versa, which have the versatility of joining or repairing pipes, providing a high degree of flexibility to make repairs as needed. These types of clamps and fittings can replace up to three traditional products, on the shelf or in the truck.
Weather can also play a key role in determining what repair supplies will be in high demand and how quickly you can get them. Repairs are often needed when the ground moves during the spring thaw and at other times of the year when weather conditions are extreme. Keep in mind that deliveries may be more difficult to fulfill when extreme weather conditions hit certain parts of the country.
Use the right tools
When a repair doesn’t work, it’s often because bad practices are being used to get the job done. For example, push blocks are probably the most common way to hold a pipe. Engineers go to great lengths to design the right push block for the needs of the project. Bags of concrete mix with drilled holes and a bucket of water poured over it is not a push block, nor is a 4 × 4 pole. Fortune constraints inevitably fail and all repair expenses must be repeated. However, in many circumstances, mechanically restrained products, such as the HYMAX Grip which uses a mechanism to grip the pipes, can be used to restrict the pipe, saving repair time and the cost of blocks. thrust designed.
If you are connecting a pipe, use a fitting and not a clamp. Repair pliers are designed to repair holes or ring breaks. They are not designed for connecting pipes as they do not offer any deflection or retention capability which could lead to failure.
Choosing the right size repair product is also important for making good repairs, and you can only know for sure the pipe size with an OD tape. It is not uncommon for people to devise their own methods of measuring the outside diameter of the pipe and get it wrong. This is the first thing to check when a new clamp installation is leaking – do you have the correct size clamp? Some product lines like HYMAX have wide outside diameter ranges, which means the products will operate on a wider variety of outside diameters, so there is room for error.
As a general rule, make sure you have the following items in your truck:
- OD band
- Torque wrench
- Deep socket set
- Adjustable wrenches
- Pipe scraper
- Cordless impact wrench
- Safety equipment (helmet, goggles, safety vest, protective shoes, etc.)
- Pipe Saw / Cutting
- Trench box
It is important to keep abreast of new solutions and even to hone the skills used on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon for teams to pick up bad habits or use old ways that take longer to get the job done. Bad habits can affect worker safety and tend to spread to new hires.
AWWA and NRWA are running a series of educational workshops with different manufacturers, many of which are accredited. If you’d rather dive into your favorite repair products, you can call the manufacturer directly and see what courses they offer. While it is ideal to gain hands-on experience, due to the global pandemic more and more manufacturers are offering online training, making it more accessible than ever.
Contractors approved versus in-house
If your budget allows you to hire expert repairers, this is a great option as it saves you the hassle of owning expensive equipment and specialized training. Not having the cost of these highly skilled workers on your payroll when nothing is happening, can also justify the higher cost when you need it. Make sure you have an annual review of approved contractors to stay up to date, and who is available and any new equipment they may have acquired, or maybe they are willing to offer preferential pricing due to the sheer number. of times you’ve called them in the last year.
The downside with subcontractors is that they are not always available and when big weather events occur they are in high demand so availability and pricing can be an issue. If most of your repair work is done by contractors, you’ll still want to make sure your staff are up to date with training in case they are the only option you have in a serious crisis. With this outsourcing approach, engineers often decide when and how to make repairs, but utility managers need to be part of the planning process. Once a piping system is complete, it is their responsibility to ensure that the system is functioning properly.
Internal teams have their advantages. They are more familiar with the system and generally have a broader understanding of all of the factors involved that lead to the repair, which can affect the outcome in the long run. Internal teams tend to have a holistic understanding of the system, which is best for inventory management and long-term planning of pipe replacement programs. On-site crews can fix a repair and decide that the hose should be a priority in the replacement schedule, given the condition.
As both have advantages, a hybrid approach can work very well. In some cases, this may be a necessity if a utility does not have the large construction equipment needed for the repair. So, whatever your approach, it’s important to have these relationships on hand before you need them in an emergency.
Choosing the right materials is important
Not all materials are created equal and the price will be taken into account when choosing one material over another. If you are considering repair or replacement in your new pipe purchasing decisions, choosing a higher quality product pays off in the long run.
Easy-to-install fittings and clamps can make repair jobs more efficient, save time, and help eliminate installation errors. There are a variety of repair fittings that are quick and easy to install. For example, the HYMAX 2 coupling has upward facing bolts, which are simple to tighten and greatly reduce installers’ repair time. Products that don’t need to be disassembled can also make a big difference for quick installation.
Avoid buying low quality products which will fail prematurely and lead to another repair. It pays to use high quality products that are exceptionally durable under harsh conditions and designed to prevent future pipe damage.
Optimizing Your Distribution System Is Your Best Defense
There are many factors and indicators leading to a burst pipe. While these best practices will help you streamline your ability to respond and rectify an immediate problem, optimizing your distribution system is the fundamental best practice for repairing and replacing piping. Monitoring and managing the water pressure in your system will go a long way in preventing pipe bursts, and investing in this technology will reduce the number of pipe bursts. Monitoring the progress and severity of the leaks will also help teams prioritize repairs before a flurry is imminent. 24-hour leak monitoring can be as simple as adding a leak detection node to an existing fire hydrant that will transmit data and notify crews of impending issues.
All utilities are at some point in digital transformation, there really is no linear path. If a utility is struggling with an excessive number of pipe bursts or aging infrastructure that needs urgent replacement, this is a great entry point to inject sensors and control mechanisms to monitor leaks. and manage the pressure.
Ken Alessi is Strategic Product Manager for Mueller Water Products. He has worked in the water industry for over 43 years with experience in sales management, water distribution and piping design. He holds a master’s degree from the Georgia Plumbing Institute in hydraulic engineering.
Shukri Elmazi is Product Manager for Mueller Water Products. He has worked in the water industry for over 16 years with experience in water infrastructure, wastewater and pumping systems. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in mechanical engineering.