Jack Sweet 2014-05-30 01:19:53
A look at seven must-have products. Arguably the past 25 years have seen innovation come into the industry fast and furiously, almost as if in response to a longtime pentup demand to innovate. The purpose of this article is to name what we consider the most innovative developments of the past 25 years, and items that will still be in the plumbing industry — like the sewer machine — in 80 years time. Many of the things we mention will have histories much longer than 25 years, but the item itself only came into common acceptance in the plumbing industry within the given timeframe, so we have included them here. Below, in no particular order, is our list: Lead-Free Products Once upon a time, relatively high amounts of lead were allowed in plumbing fixtures. California, Vermont, Louisiana and Maryland currently have laws in effect which limit the lead content of the wetted surface of every pipe, fixture and fitting to no more than .25 percent. In an effort to consolidate the lead-free laws enacted state-by-state into a uniform regulation for the whole country, manufacturers through the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute worked to create a set standard for the whole country. As it stands now, the lead-free laws adopted by the initial four states will be put into law by The U.S. Government. On Jan. 4, 2014, the Federal “Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act” will bring those standards to the nation. The Act will modify the “Safe Drinking Water Act” of 1974 to redefine lead-free as it pertains to fixtures and fittings. Newly defined lead levels nationwide will be .2 percent lead in solder and flux and not more than a weighted average of .025 percent in the wetted surfaces of pipes, fittings and fixtures. The growing pains felt when lead free products were first mandated by California and Vermont are manifest today, with manufacturers who didn’t roll out completely lead-free lines earlier needing to comply to the now-national standards by the first of the year. Modulating/condensing boilers One of the most saleable things someone can Do to a product is to make it do its job more efficiently. And did they hit it out of the park with Mod/Con boilers? Yes, they did. In the old days, fuel was used to heat water through a heat exchanger. Burned gases and other combustion residue went right up the smokestack. Most cast iron boilers of this type operate in the 80- to 88-percent efficiency range or thereabouts. One of the combustion byproducts that go up the chimney in a standard boiler is water vapor. Mod/Con boilers basically condense this water vapor to liquid water, thus recovering its latent heat. This process can boost efficiencies the high 90-percent range, saving energy costs And providing greater bang for the consumer’s DHW/radiant heating buck. Dual-flush toilets Like many of the other items on this list, dual-flush toilets had a long history overseas before being adopted widely in the States. Without getting into the first “low flow toilet” debacle, the dual-flush units came from sunny Australia, a country with its own water conservation concerns. Instead of blasting whatever is in the bowl with three gallons of water, the dual flush toilet offers two options, as one would gather by its name. One button or handle would unleash a 1. 6-gallon torrent to remove solid wastes while liquids were gently wafted down the river with a push on the other side of the button or handle, which would release a .08-gallon trickle. Generally, Dual-flush toilets will do their thing via gravity with a large trap way rather than siphon so less water is required to do the job. So much less that water savings up to 60 percent and more have been attributed to the devices. Tankless water heaters For decades, the old tank-type water heater was a familiar sight in garages and utility rooms across the country; across the world, for that matter. We all happily accepted standby loss as the water in the tank cooled several times during the day so that the burner would kick on and heat it up again, just in case somebody wanted Hot water. This is fine if someone’s home and taking a shower, but if nobody’s around, do you really want to be wasting gas or electricity heating water nobody will use for hours? That’s what tankless does, with the added benefit to the consumer of endless hot water. As long as the tankless unit senses a demand, it fires its burners or heaters and delivers hot water until the tap is turned off. First touted as an energy saver in that they have no standby heat loss, tankless heaters may Encourage longer showers in that the hot water won’t run out. Also, retrofit units can require sometimes costly conversion to a ¾-inch gas line for the water heater to properly feed it and to ensure long life. PEX It’s difficult to believe plastic tubing could be one of the most innovative products of the past 25 years. But, with the labor- and time savings, PEX undoubtedly belongs on the list. Crosslinked polyethylene tubing, once again, has a history in Europe and, since its introduction to North America, has become one of the most scrutinized Plastic tubing products in history, following a debacle of notable proportions with another type of plastic. California was one of the last states to add PEX to its plumbing code in 2010. Just forget about its common use in radiant hydronic heating systems for a moment and consider PEX recently won approval for potable water applications in the codes, and repipe specialists and new construction plumbers are reaping the benefits — PEX goes in faster, with a minimum of connections and splices because it’s just like paying out wire. The selling points for PEX is that it can be used for hot and cold water, it works with metal and other plastic pipes, given the proper connector, it has fewer fittings so there are less chance for leaks in a system. There are also different types of PEX for different applications, so one Material, basically, has the ability to take care of most of anyone’s basic piping needs. Push Fittings and Press Tools For those working with hard piping lines, the prospect of threading and fitting or soldering lines together must be a daunting task in some situations. You’ll have to watch for fire, you’ll have to make sure your solder gets all the way ’round the fitting to ensure leak-free performance, and you’ll possibly have to fiddle with threaded joints after assembly to make sure each is tight and leak-free. Two developments have made these kinds of situations more or less Obsolete, as push-and-twist fittings and press tools have come along to make these jobs easier and the connections more secure. The push-fit plumbing concept actually first appeared in Europe and Australia during the 1980s. However, in the North American residential and commercial plumbing market, the use of this technology didn’t take off until the late 1980s. It didn’t take plumbers too long to figure out that saving time on installations equals money in their pocket, so these little gems took off quite fast in the U.S. market. They’re now available for PEX and CPVC, with one threaded end, and in a host of configurations that include fittings. On the press tool front, you can’t argue the efficiency of making a solid-leak-free connection with just a mechanical squeeze. That’s that happens when you use press tools. These devices are Specialized tools that use pressure to secure copper pipe and PEX, eliminating the need to thread, solder, braze or weld. Again, faster work means less time on the job and more money in a contractor’s pocket. Solar thermal Using the sun to heat water, either for potable use or otherwise, has been an idea that has been around since antiquity. Even today, some cultures keep tanks on their roofs in order for the hot tropical sun to heat the water inside for use. With increased attention being paid to all things “green” today, solar thermal water heating has Become something of a status symbol in some neighborhoods. In one of the most common types of solar thermal water heating, an active system will use a pump or two to circulate heating fluid in the system. The heating fluid picks up heat while it’s in the collector, then it’s pumped into a storage tank’s heat exchanger, which then imparts heat to the domestic water. Passive systems are similar, but they don’t use pumps or controllers, they’re basically means by which water can be directly heated in the collector and this heat is what circulates the water by convection. A direct or open-loop system circulates potable water throughout the system, but doesn’t offer much protection against excessive heat or freezing. This original article (entitled The Great Eight) ran in BNP Media’s Reeves Journal in July 2013.
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