As PEX pipe continues to evolve into a more viable option for commercial projects, manufacturers such as Uponor, Viega and REHAU are in their respective laboratories looking to provide the needed products for commercial engineers and contractors.
“We are seeing a shift in the commercial market to polymer pipe,” says Ryan Westlund, REHAU’s senior manager of radiant heating and cooling markets. “It’s about listening to the commercial market and the commercial market is moving and moving quickly.”
Stan Sveen, Uponor’s senior manager in the light commercial segment, notes the uptick in availability of larger-diameter PEX pipe is paying off in the hospitality market.
“We’ve found that PEX and its natural flexibility is taking over in hotels more,” he says. “The designs are moving up to 3 in. and projects are using PEX for the entire system.”
REHAU has been pleased by how its PEX hydronic products have been a fit for sports facilities such as at the NFL’s Denver Broncos practice facility in Englewood, Colo., and has spoke with various Major League Soccer stadiums. MLS reportedly will be adding two expansion teams in 2018 — with Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento as potential new franchise locations — to begin play in the 2020 season.
“We’ve grown our own turf-conditioning business,” Westlund notes.
To meet the demands of the larger-diameter pipes, Viega has developed 45° elbows and it has augmented its residential PEX ball valve line for commercial sizes ranging from 1 in. to 2 in.
“Those are pretty homogenous with our ProPress ball valves,” Viega Product Manager Seth Larson says. “They’re made of a high-quality silicone bronze alloy.”
Larson notes Viega is working with engineers so they become more comfortable specifying PureFlow PEX for larger projects.
“We continue to drive home the message of installing packages for the right application,” he states. “We want the engineers not to assume everything has to be copper in their designs.”
Aaron Stoko, a manager in Uponor’s commercial segment, confirms the Apple Valley, Minn.-headquartered manufacturer is keying in on research and development.
“We want to focus on the products,” he says. “We are using our PEX system to displace other materials. We’re looking at the macro trends on integrating technology.”
REHAU’s Westlund notes the worldwide manufacturer is focused on the radiant side of the industry, particularly with an eye on net-zero energy. “Radiant will be a part of that trend,” he says.
Westlund also wants to focus on presenting the facts of PEX products to potential customers.
“We need to make it easy for specifiers to understand the physical benefits of PEX,” he says.
Uponor says the labor shortage in the plumbing and mechanical industries is playing a factor in the PEX industry.
“It’s a huge macro trend,” says Casey Swanson, senior manager in the commercial segment at Uponor. “Because of this, offsite construction and prefabrication have become more popular because there is less skilled labor.”
More on the horizon
Uponor also is focusing on its design estimations and BIM solutions for engineers. “A few years ago we enhanced our estimation services,” Stoko says. “Engineers can get product information faster so the project can get to the bid process quicker. We’ve been impressed with how fast estimation has taken off and how the larger firms have taken to it.”
Viega is seeing a migration from the traditional manifold or branch-and-tee systems to more PEX designs being embraced by the commercial community.
“We are seeing an increase in the engineers understanding PEX can be more of a normal system,” Larson says. “They are using 45° elbows to get a more agile system.”
Finally, according to Viega’s Larson, the holdouts who haven’t embraced PEX in their designs should find more comfort as the product accessories become more robust.
“You’ll see more and more accessories come out,” he says. “For example, we’re seeing better ways to hang PEX pipe nowadays. We’re going to see more ways where PEX is convenient, where maybe the early adopters of PEX had to try harder. This will make it easier to sell to a building owner or engineer.”
This article was originally titled “PEX is becoming large and in charge” in the January 2018 print edition of PM Engineer.