I Get a Lesson in Polypropylene Pipe Fusion at Wise Man Brewing

By Trish Holder

I love visiting jobsites and mechanical rooms whenever I get the chance.

Last week, I not only got to visit a job where contractors were in the early stages of installing Aquatherm polypropylene (PP-R) pipe for the glycol lines at a soon-to-open brewery in nearby Winston-Salem, NC, I got some hands-on experience with Aquatherm pipe fusion.

I’m no stranger to Aquatherm. I’ve been writing about the product for years, but I’ve never actually seen an installation take place.  Wise Man Brewing is just a short drive away from Greensboro, so it was the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the product.

Kevin Payne, Ferguson Aquatherm product manager, was kind enough to give me a one-on-one lesson in the fine art of socket fusion, a process I’ve written about many times but never attempted myself. Turns out it’s as easy as I’ve been told -- and kind of fun, too.

As product manager for the Aquatherm line at Ferguson, a wholesale HVAC and plumbing supply company, Kevin goes all over the state teaching piping contractors how to work with Aquatherm PP-R pipe.

 Kevin payne instructs me on the Aquatherm fusion process.

Kevin payne instructs me on the Aquatherm fusion process.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” said Kevin, as he quickly assembled a makeshift workbench out of a large trashcan and a scrap piece of sheetrock from the Wise Man jobsite.

I watched as he set up all the materials for his demo – pipe pieces, socket fusion welder, pipe cutter, tape measure, and Sharpie pen.   In a matter of seconds, he was ready to show me everything I needed to know about fusing two pieces of Aquatherm together.

 Instructing me on the basics (including what end of the welding iron not to touch), he proceeded to demonstrate the process.  Then it was my turn.

 trish heating two ends of aquatherm pipe fittings before fusing them together.

trish heating two ends of aquatherm pipe fittings before fusing them together.

I felt like I had created fire

The socket fusion process boils down to about four steps:  Measure, cut, heat and fuse.  No kidding – it takes more skill to use a hot glue gun.  Very simply, you simultaneously heat the two pieces of pipe that you intend to fuse together by sliding them onto opposing sides of the welding tool, which is heated to about 400 degrees. As soon as the pipe pieces begin to reveal a bead of melted PP-R, you remove the pieces from the iron and then join them together by hand. In a about 10 seconds the two pieces of pipe become one – literally.

“Wanna see how you did?” Kevin asked, as he prepared to cut right through the fused portion of my handiwork.

When Kevin demonstrated this on his own fused pipe, the cross-section revealed a perfectly homogenous piece of pipe with no sign of a joint. I didn’t expect this level of success my first time, so I was giddy when the cut-through section of my own fused pipe was every bit as solid as the one Kevin had created moments before. I felt like I had created fire.

 slicing through the fused joint of the aquatherm pipe reveals that the elbow and pipe were transformed into one solid piece of pipe during the heat fusion process.

slicing through the fused joint of the aquatherm pipe reveals that the elbow and pipe were transformed into one solid piece of pipe during the heat fusion process.

Like I said, I’ve written about this process dozens of times. I already understood the process and the science behind PP-R heat fusion, but this little bit of hands-on really elevated my understanding of how simple the process is.

For Brewing and So Much More

Aquatherm PP-R has become a popular alternative to metal pipe in a variety of fluid transport applications, from plumbing to process, largely because the heat fusion process eliminates the need for soldering and because PP-R prices are more stable than copper.  It’s frequently used in radiant applications, domestic water distribution, geothermal applications, and more. The pipe is both corrosion- and chemical-resistant, so it is suitable for many food and beverage type processes. 

Not surprisingly, it has also become the go-to piping for breweries all over the country.  

Wise Man is one of several Aquatherm brewery applications that I have personally written about. Fortunately for me, this project just happens to be down the road.  Not only do I get to talk in person with the contractors about their first time installing Aquatherm, I’ll be able to admire the piping job from inside the taproom while enjoying some Wise Man brew.

 Inside the Wise Man Brewing area.

Inside the Wise Man Brewing area.

Hopefully that won’t be too long. Wise Man, located in the Art District of downtown Winston-Salem, NC, is due to open in late November – give or take.  Owner, Sam Victory, and his partners, chose to renovate an existing 90-year-old building for the brewery and taproom, a lengthy and painstaking process that has many in the Triad anticipating the grand opening. 

Having never met a microbrewery I didn’t like, I can’t wait.