2019 Update: This reference document was originally written in about 2013 and remains as an archive for review by interested parties. More recently (2018 and 2019), this document has been referenced by several media outlets, law firms, and project owners since a number of high-profile failures in the Aquatherm product have been recorded in the US and Australia. CoEngineers, PLLC is cited on a number of these media reports. Please feel free to contact CoEngineers for expert opinion or reference for engineering matters related to this product.
CoEngineers, PLLC has encountered several failures with Aquatherm and our observation is that the product may have several vulnerabilities which individually may not harm the product, but if several are combined or acting together, a failure becomes increasingly likely. These conditions appear to be as follows:
- Presence of copper ions
- Excessive clamping stresses
- Elevated temperatures
- Factors reported by other Engineers include: flow velocity, pressure, water chemistry
The twist is that responsibility for each of these contributing factors may lie with one or more of the parties arguing a case. This may make these cases very difficult to litigate. There may be no certain way to calculate which of the factors was more or less responsible for the failure – and by whom. Unfortunately, much of the discovery in this process may not reach the public domain. We risk a negative early judgement on what could be a very good material for some important applications
Recommendation: Water can carve canyons so it should be no surprise that all piping materials have vulnerabilities and PP-R is likely not an exception. Over time, the industry has figured out ways to mitigate and control these vulnerabilities in other materials so that innovation and progress can occur. It is therefore vital that engineers are allowed to access the body of knowledge related to this and other materials in order to arrive at the appropriate conclusions related to utility and applicability of the material.
Finally, If you find the information on this page useful, please attribute the source to CoEngineers, PLLC
**** 2013 ***
(The Following report was solicited by a client considering the use of a promising plumbing product which is relatively new to the US. The client seeks a green solutions and sees Aquatherm as a product that uses less energy to manufacture, operate, and recycle than alternative products. CoEngineers, PLLC was deployed to perform a market review to determine the viability of the product)
Introduction: With the rising cost of Copper many alternative piping materials have entered the market. These include PVC, C-PVC, Polyethylenes, Epoxies, Polyurethanes, even stainless steel has become a viable alternative in some applications. Each has advantages as well as disadvantages. Further, some applications favor some technologies over others.
All attempts to contain water eventually fail. However, by understanding the vulnerabilities of each technology, we can arrive at a best-case solution. PP-R has many excellent properties as well as a few caveats. This documents seeks to uncover both.
PP-R is a viable alternative to copper piping with many desirable characteristics including:
- Water quality safety / no leaching
- Strength and weight advantages
- Excellent thermal, acoustic, and mechanical properties
- Simple installation
- Superior warranty
- High level of craftsmanship required
- Flammability/smoke issues
- At least one known failure
A Simple Molecule: Polypropylene (PP-R) is one such material which is generally new to the United States (about 5 years) and more common in Europe (40 years). Polypropylene is a very simple molecule containing only Carbon and Hydrogen yet is engineered to have polymers of various length contributing properties of strength and flexibility. A product developed in Germany is currently available in the US and is well supported by highly reputable Mechanical Contractors and MEP engineers in both Washington and Oregon. The total cost is estimated to be about 20-30 percent less than Copper with the greater savings noted in the larger diameter pipes.
Taken together, these factors suggest that the Polypropylene (Aquatherm) Product may be a viable alternative to consider for the Harrison West Condominium project. As such, we will include this material in the technology assessment portion of the pre-construction phase.
The Aquatherm Website has a great deal of information related to the product, specifications, certifications and fusing technologies. Case studies and relevant specifications are noted below:
2012 Product manual aquatherm-na This link provides a good overview of the product, fusing technologies, applicability, sizes and certifications. The AquaTherm website has an enormous collection of documents for download and review leading us to believe that disclosure is a consistent practice in this product and company.
As of 2013: US Aquatherm Installations
As of 2013: Aquatherm High-Rise References NW projects-1
Governing Standard: Polypropylene; ASTM F2389_abstract
AquaTherm Case Studies in Seattle and Portland: These projects in Seattle and Portland have also been made available to us and the HOA to visit and review the performance with operating managers. Local projects have been successfully permitted and a variety of expert installers and MEP design/build experience would give the HOA the diversity of competitive resources to hold costs and maintain quality in a market for services.
Market Values: Aquatherm is marketed as a sustainable building material both for its benign origin, inert reactivity, and recyclability. In addition to technical performance, Aquatherm is touted as an environmentally friendly material manufactured from the byproducts of the Oil and Gas industry by sequestering Carbon and Hydrogen from the refining process. When looking at Market perception, Aquatherm is likely a net neutral to positive value improvement over traditional materials such as Copper.
Industry Trends and Feedback:
In assessing the Aquatherm product for use in the Harrison West project, we found several plumbers who had experience with the product. As with all piping technologies, craftsmanship appears to be the strongest factor for the success or failure of a particular technology. Some comments are provided below:
“Aquatherm will last longer than Copper if properly installed. The pipe & fittings are cheaper than Copper. When you are set up, it installs faster than Copper too. Only issue IS you need to really plan out your fusions relative to the size of the Iron and tight places. In some cases you may need to do some, or a lot of pre-fab to avoid fusions in tight places or tall awkward areas. It SERIOUSLY puts the ‘T’ in Tradesmen, and I mean that”.
Pricing considerations: The contractor needs to allow for more hours testing. Instead of a 200 PSI water pressure test for the inspector, you need to do the regular test for the inspector, PLUS you need to complete the Aquatherm warranty testing which is a series of 3 tests, to get their 6.5 Million Euro Insurance Policy (not warranty, Insurance policy). The test involves stressing the joints using differing pressures, which is supposed to show weak joints pretty quickly. Then you submit the completed, passed test form to Aquatherm.
Fire Rating: To get the full fire rating Aquatherm needs to be insulated with Reflectix insulation. With this insulation and the R-value of the pipe, the pipe wall will have an R value of around 6.5. This insulation is easier to work with than typical fiberglass, so a separate insulation contractor may not be needed.
It is common knowledge that all water containers or barriers eventually fail. The Grand Canyon, for example, is a colossal failure of earth and rock under the duress of water. As such, every water barrier has vulnerabilities. We study failure in order to understand the limitations and vulnerabilities of technology failures so that we can avoid any foreseeable a hazard.
Failure At Jackson Landing: Aquatherm Failure; Presentation 201110 C
The above presentation describes multiple failures in the same project – a high rise residential project much like our current client commissioning this report. Problems increased in frequency over time from start up until 3 years later. Failures are distributed throughout the building and appear systemic. We contacted the Aquatherm representatives for additional details and root cause analysis on this project and they returned this letter of investigation:
Failure at Jackson Landing: Aquatherm Failure Report
In essence, the root causes cited the following factors:
“From [authors] analysis, the Jacksons Landing failures were restricted to recirculating hot water loops and were caused by a combination of primarily mechanical stress due to poor installation practice, non Standards compliant clipping, excessively high water temperature and dissolved copper ions from severe erosion-corrosion of copper pipes within the recirculation system.”
Author’s rebuttal: Was there an insurance payout per the Aquatherm 10 year 15 million Euro warranty? If so, how much was paid out, and what was the extent of remediation? If no claim was serviced, then why not?
One answer was provided by Aquatherm Australia – the supplier in closest proximity to the failure:
Aquatherm has maintained throughout this was an installation failure by an interstate plumber who shortly after completing this project went into liquidation.
The hot water riser and its branches (where all failures occurred) were either not clipped at all or not in accordance with the catalogue instructions and with a two-part metal clip contrary to the Australian Plumbing Standard.
The result was the riser was swinging in the duct with a 25mm hot water branch cemented into a masonry wall thereby directing expansion back to the riser – again contrary to the Australian Standard.
Compounding the stress fractures, caused by the absence of clipping, was massive Cu ion oxidation from corroding Cu hot water return lines. Cu return lines and gas fired hot water services have also been replaced. There was never an issue with the cold water application.
Lend Lease has indicated, at site inspections, hot water Cu return lines have a velocity of 1.8mpsec (well in excess of international best practice and your own American CDA advice) with delivered hot water temperatures in excess of 70c.
**We are deeply appreciative of the forthcoming honesty and transparency of this supplier.**
Part 2; Second review of Aquatherm product on request of the customer.
The Client HOA board resolved in session to pursue deeper investigation into the Aquatherm Product for use as a piping material for their potable water system renewal project. The following collection of references is compiled in response to this HOA resolution. The objective of this research is to assess the future viability of the Aquatherm company and the use of Polypropylene piping systems in the future.
Aquatherm Gmbh is a German company, as such, search terms are different than what we are accustomed to. This is an inherent difficulty in working with this product. The company seems to operate under the more complete name of:
Aquatherm GmbH Kunststoff- Extrusions- und Spritzgießtechnik
A proper search in the german language should include this term
The English Translation of the original German site can be found at the link below. We find this British / English version to reflect the original German values and priorities better than the US Marketing Materials:
Likewise, the following link arrives at a long list of European application for Aquatherm in sports arenas, cruise ships, swimming pools, and hotels. Very comprehensive application in some arguably harsh environments. This record reliably covers about 20 years of service as far as we can verify.
Overview by qualified German Engineering Professional is assistance to GSG Group. This review is interesting because our reviewer is an auditor for quality standards that reviews companies such as aquatherm. He also provided some links into the British/English translation of the German site.
Additionally, Aquatherm appears to be a family business with young management – second (maybe third) generation. This is another indication that the company may exist into the future.
Known Vulnerabilities acknowledged and published by Aquatherm:
Portland Federal Building uses Aquatherm. See case study here:
More case studies:
This link goes to an Aquatherm page that cites over 40 case studies for Aquatherm Use in many different situations on significant structures and projects.
List of Projects in US that use Aquatherm:
I am awaiting an official US and International project list of prior use for this product. For now, here is my best compilation so far scooped from the Aquatherm website. I’ll update this sheet when I get the data:
List of prominent high-rise projects specific to the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon):
Photographic Sample of Aquatherm applied to specific components discussed at recent HOA meeting including pump room, fire system, non-potable water, and mixed materials:
Aquatherm Product Manual – In digital format: This document demonstrates many of the procedures that would likely be seen in an installation at Harrison West including tools and methods that may be discussed during the pre-construction phase:
The following presentation from Aquatherm reviews their baseline position statement to the Dayton ASHRAE community (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers)
We seek to follow what their US Marketing material states in the profession in comparison to what their European marketing material states to the professions.
We are told that there may be as many as 30-40 manufacturers of polypropylene pipe, albeit few appear to have the support/science structure in place as Aquatherm. Therefore, the likelihood is increased that compatible polypropylene pipe sources may exist in the future.