Building & Architecture News

July 2014

Copper Proves to Be the Superior Piping System for Hospital Expansion Project

Unique Building Design, Versatility And Reliability Make Copper Pipe The Better Choice Over Black Steel For Plumbing And Mechanical Systems

When it came time to install the plumbing and mechanical system at the Nemours/A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, the shape of the new building created some unforeseen challenges for the contractor.

The semi-circular design of the new $215 million, five-story hospital building required a large-diameter piping system that was lightweight, malleable and easy to work with. Black steel pipe — the material originally specified for the project — did not meet the criteria and was proving to be difficult for the job. As a result, Binsky/Snyder Mechanical Contractors, SkanskaUSA and AEI Engineers, as a group, decided to contact the Copper Development Association (CDA) for assistance.

Plumber with copper pipes

A plumber prepares the copper piping on racks at the warehouse.

Photo Credit: Angela Richardson Photography

On the advice and recommendation of CDA, the hospital opted to go with a copper piping system instead of black steel pipe.  Copper tube, of various sizes, is now being installed for domestic hot and cold water service, HVAC systems as well as for medical gas distribution.  Copper’s superior performance, durability, versatility, reliability, resistance to corrosion – as well as its ease for bending and fabrication – ultimately made it the better option for this project.

“We got a call from the engineer on the project asking about bending copper tube in sizes up to  2 1/2 and 3 inch so that they could have it wrap around two football-shaped additions,” said Dale Powell, project manager and piping application specialist for CDA. “Following discussions with the engineer and installing mechanical contractor, it was determined that the amount of bend required would be well within the limits for copper tube and could easily be accomplished by several local pipe bending companies.”

Using modular construction techniques — including mechanically formed extruded outlets which effectively reduce the number of tee fittings and soldered or brazed joints needed — CDA was able to assist the engineering team in creating curved copper tube assemblies to meet the project’s design and ensure its functionality. As a result, the entire large-diameter piping work was done using copper.

According to Michael Duffy, project manager for Binsky & Snyder, by applying this type of joining technique, they were able to work faster and more efficiently, providing a much better installation at a lower system cost, despite material prices being higher.

“Given the radius of the building, the bending required and the weight of the piping, it was much easier for us to work with copper than steel pipe,” added Duffy. 

The project design team was also able to pre-fabricate the plumbing modules for the bathrooms and medical gas system offsite in a warehouse just 10 miles away. This aided in expediting the project.  Using a series of rack systems, the piping was transported to the site, once it was ready to be installed. Powell noted that the piping project should be completed this spring.

When complete, the hospital expansion will consist of a 144-bed unit with underground parking. The parking garage will also connect to the existing building by means of a three-story connecting link.  The building’s first floor will contain a new emergency department, atrium, retail and dining facility. 

In addition to this project, CDA has also worked with SkanskaUSA on the piping systems for the $1.2B University Medical Center Project in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is estimated that the new University Medical Center will use more than 12-1/2 miles of copper tube when it is completed.

CDA released a video case study to highlight the new copper piping system installation at the Nemours/A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital.

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