Contractor Dispels Doubts About Restoration Work

Florida contractor provides replacement alternatives for ailing waterlines and sewer lines

Contractor Dispels Doubts About Restoration Work

Javier Martinez connects ePIPE / ACE DuraFlo fittings for an ePIPE project at Thonotosassa Elementary School in Florida. Tristan Bourdier, technician, is seen in the background.

Pipe rehabilitation has been around for decades. Long enough that the alternative of tearing into walls and floors to rip out old plumbing and inserting new pipe seems antiquated.

Restoration is the neater, simpler choice; and epoxy coating and cured-in-place pipe lining are the go-to methods. Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions in Sarasota offers both systems and caters to people who need their plumbing upgraded, prefer to spend less doing it and want to be minimally inconvenienced in the process.

“Restoration is about 30% cheaper, if you look at the whole picture,” says Randy Hromyak, executive vice president of Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions. “The whole picture means digging up or tearing out the old pipe, putting in new pipe and then putting everything back together again. It’s about 30% cheaper to restore the existing pipes than do all that.”

The Florida company is 14 years old and began as a franchised epoxy-lining firm offering the patented ePIPE / ACE DuraFlo system for potable waterlines. Rod Coddington and a partner started the company. Today, Coddington is sole owner. Hromyak was brought on 3 1/2 years ago to handle day-to-day administration of the company.

Coddington has diversified the company beyond its ePipe origins and now offers CIP relining of drains and sewer pipes along with CCTV inspections. CIPP has, in fact, overtaken ePipe as the company’s primary offering, with CIP clients claiming about 60% of orders.

Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions now has 26 employees, and the company does about $4 million in business annually. Work contracts have come so fast that the company is pausing to catch its breath: Business volume has grown about $500,000 per year for each of the last three years, Hromyak says, and 2018 is being dedicated to consolidating those gains before pushing ahead.

“We are the only company that can provide waterline and storm drain rehabilitation. No other contractors are doing both,” says David Baker, the company’s vice president of operations. The epoxy coating technique can be utilized in pipes up to 12 inches in diameter, though most of the work is on lines 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter. Company technicians use CIPP liners in drainpipes up to 36 inches in diameter.

HIGHLY SKILLED

Baker is a trenchless technology veteran. A certified plumber for almost half a century, he began working with “exotic plumbing” in Florida in 1995 when he turned a small jetter unit and a CCTV camera into a pipeline service business. When Baker cashed it out in 2004, the business had grown to five hydrovac trucks, five camera trucks and 40 employees, and it was certified to work across the southeastern U.S.

He began work at Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions in 2005, a year after the company was incorporated, and supervises eight crews who are cross-trained to work in both potable water systems and sewer and drainlines. Trenchless technology is less about joining pipes and turning wrenches than it is about calculating epoxy shots and operating compressors and injectors.

“Our techs are, first of all, excellent plumbers,” Baker says. “A lot of them started out not knowing anything about the technology and became skilled epoxy-coaters. They learned how to locate pipe, determine pipe sizes and do the necessary mathematical equations. They are consummate technicians. They can tell you how many shots of sand were used, what the air pressure was, the volume of air, how much epoxy went in the pipe and what the flow rate was afterward.”

The accomplished crews work in communities across Florida, most often restoring pipes 1/2 inch to 6 inches in diameter, according to Hromyak. Some restoration jobs are on high-profile commercial and institutional properties like Bank of America buildings, the University of South Florida campus, Universal Studios and the Walt Disney World Resort. The Florida company sometimes ventures far from its Sarasota home base to restore pipes in places like New Orleans and Houston.

“And I do a lot of work for plumbing contractors,” Baker says. “A plumber will get into a situation where they recognize restoring the pipes makes sense. They know they can trust me, that I am not going to take advantage and try to steal their customer.” He adds that subbing out the restoration work is a good business decision for the plumbers. “They are smart not to get into this technology. If you don’t do it every day, you are not going to be successful. It is a hard enough trade that you need to have repetition to master it. Some contractors will get enamored of it and buy a machine and then end up not getting enough work.”

SATISFIED CLIENTS

Customers are steadily being converted to the idea of coating and lining their pipes rather than replacing them. Testimonies of satisfied clients are piling up. “The internet is our best selling tool,” Hromyak says. “Potential customers can watch videos and read testimonies and educate themselves. They can see for themselves that it’s a good alternative solution.”

Evidence of the restoration products’ durability is dispelling doubts. The ePipe process comes with a 25-year leak warranty, and failure is rare. “Usually a leak is the consequence of some ancillary thing, like a kinked pipe,” Baker says. “And kinked pipes are hard to find. Our callback ratio in the last 14 years is 1%.”

While CIPP is the more familiar trenchless restoration method, epoxy is also a reliable option. It involves three steps. A line is tapped through an existing access point, such as a shut-off valve, and infused with drying air. Then an aluminum oxide cleaning agent is introduced to smooth and remove corroded surfaces inside the pipe. Finally, a calculated amount of the epoxy resin is injected, thinly coating the entire interior of a system. Pinholes are quickly sealed by the resin. In larger-diameter pipe, leak points up to 1/4 inch in diameter can be filled and firmly sealed. Within a couple hours, the resin is set and the system flushed and ready to use.

The whole process is designed to minimize messes inside a house or office. Compressed air and injection machines are set up outside or in a garage with hoses running into the living area of a structure and connecting to the plumbing system. On one project at a Florida retirement home, the ePipe lines were connected at some 3,600 points. “We connected through 300 toilets, 600 lavatories, 600 showers, plus main valves and bedpan washers,” Baker says. “We were there about 15 months. We still do work there and have never had a callback.”

The process is the same, whether in a multistory building or a home. The only real variable is the amount of epoxy utilized, Baker says. “It is a mathematical equation based on the size of pipe and length of system, each situation taking so many shots of epoxy. That’s how we measure it, in shots. A mathematical formula determines the amount of material. In a 2,500-square-foot house, probably 2 gallons will be installed in the system.”

Verticality is not a problem. Pipes running up and down between several stories of a building can be coated without difficulty. Baker makes it sound easy. “We’ve shot 17- or 18-story buildings using a big compressor to push the epoxy up. It’s like shooting stuff out of a cannon. The coat is gorgeous,” he says. “By the time you go up an elevator to the floor above, you have a nice coat at the top.”

BIG ACCOMPLISHMENTS

On another project, the crew lined a 90-foot sewer line in the basement of a 300-unit retirement center. Lining the extensive network of 8-inch sewer lines in the center’s basement had daunted some other plumbing companies considering the job. The possibility of stressing the center’s senior population during an intrusive plumbing repair project had further heightened contractors’ concerns. In the end, Baker’s crew did the job without any trouble.

“We came in on a Monday, cleaned the pipes on Tuesday and Wednesday, and went in and shot the pipes on Thursday. On Friday, everything was changed over, and Saturday we pulled everything out,” Baker says.

He makes it sound simple, but in the course of the week, some 240 gallons of resin were used to impregnate the LMK Technologies CIPP liner. Equipment from United Rentals was used to provide bypass pumping, and a jetter from Mongoose Jetters by Sewer Equipment and vacuum unit from Vermeer were moved to the work site for the cleaning and lining stages of the restoration project.

Restoration of the sewer line was all accomplished with virtually no disruption in the rhythm of retirement center life, Baker says. “If we hadn’t had a pumper in the parking lot, they never would have known we were there.

“It is exciting to me that we can go out into the community and accomplish jobs like that.”


School’s out … for restoration

When Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions began restoring pipes in 2004, homes were targeted. After all, there are nearly 7.5 million homes in the state, and many of them are connected to deteriorated pipe. But in the intervening years, the company has expanded its trenchless offerings and its customer base. Today, fully 65% of business is with commercial and institutional customers.

In the summertime, a particular customer base is served: school campuses. The pipe restoration process is particularly appealing to school districts because, with minimal construction fuss, old pipe systems are turned into safer conduits for drinking water at all those school hallway fountains.

Lead content in old water systems is a constant worry for school boards and administrators, and the ePIPE / ACE DuraFlo and CIPP restoration products of Florida Pipe-Lining Solutions resolve the worry. The freshly lined pipes seal off the old copper or galvanized pipe so that the lead in joined segments of pipe can no longer leach into the water.

Thirteen school districts have contracted with the company to restore pipe on several elementary, middle and high school campuses over the next five years. “We’re introducing the ePipe product into five schools this summer, which is about what we have done each summer for the last few years,” says Randy Hromyak, executive vice president. “How many schools we can take on depends upon the size of the campus. Some have multiple buildings needing pipes restored.”

For example, Thonotosassa Elementary School in the city of the same name contracted with the company to restore pipes in 12 buildings. The seven-week project included the challenge of locating more than 600 feet of water pipe.

Schools with ready funding haven’t hesitated to contract with the company, which is the only one certified by the state of Florida to coat pipes with the epoxy sealant.



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