When pipe repair is critical: Fixing an air con system in a London Hospital

An air con pipe repair had to be made in a London hospital to prevent a series incident unfolding on the hottest day of summer 2021 in the UK
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What is the worst possible situation you can imagine for an air conditioning pipe to burst, shutting down the air con system of a building until a repair can be made?

We know… a busy hospital on a summer day when temperatures hit their highest mark of the summer so far. Those are the cards that fate dealt a hospital in London during the summer of 2021, when a 300mm water return pipe located in a cabinet suffered from an unexpected and catastrophic failure.

It was a quiet Sunday night at the hospital when suddenly, water began escaping at 12 bar pressure in a maintenance cupboard the pipe passed through on its way to the upper levels of the building.

The hospital had no choice but to shut down the air conditioning system; to keep it in service would have caused internal flooding and even bigger problems for the hospital.

No temperature control at night was not too much of a problem for patients and staff. With the Monday forecast to be the hottest day of the year in the United Kingdom so far however, the hospital knew they needed to find an air con pipe repair method and fast.

Pipe repair methods have come on immeasurably over the past decade. In 2021, it is possible to make a permanent pipe repair in under one hour with the correct Kit.

That is invaluable in contexts like this. Fitting a replacement section of pipe could have taken hours, days or maybe even weeks if new parts had to be fabricated.

That timeframe was clearly not acceptable in a busy hospital – especially with the Covid-19 pandemic ongoing in the United Kingdom.

The maintenance team responsible for the hospital contacted Sylmasta, industry leaders in composite pipe repair products who supply solutions for several of the UK’s leading water companies and other industrial users.

After assessing the condition and damage to the pipe through a series of photos, Sylmasta were able to tailor a repair method for the hospital.

With Sylmasta HQ being located an hours drive from London, a member of the maintenance team arrived at 9am on Monday morning to collect the products and receive technical assistance.

By 11am, they were back on site and ready to repair the leaking air con pipe before temperatures peaked in the middle of the afternoon.

Even by mid-morning, alarms were being triggered across the floors and departments which had no air con as equipment began overheating.

The pipe had actually been repaired before, although not effectively as this latest failure showed. The Sylmasta solution would be permanent, enabling the hospital to rest easy at the prospect of the line being breached again in the future.

Coarse fibreglass strands were cut away from the previous repair, revealing that the two cavities in the pipe were actually deeper than first realised.

Not that this was a problem. The first stage of the application was to fill these cavities with a Superfast Steel Epoxy Putty Stick.

A putty stick supplies the two components of epoxy – resin and hardener – in a pre-measured, prepared format. The user cuts off the required amount of putty and kneads it by hand, sparking a chemical reaction which turns the putty from a soft material into one harder than steel.

Superfast Steel was chosen for this application because time was of the essence. It has a work time of three to five minutes, enabling holes and cracks in pipes to be rapidly filled.

The epoxy putty was pushed into the cavities in the pipe whilst soft. Within 10 minutes, it had cured to fill both holes.

Because of the inconsistent substrates in this case, it was decided to enhance the sealing power of Superfast Steel by taking a ‘belts and braces’ approach.

This involved applying Wrap & Seal Pipe Burst Tape over the top of the epoxy putty. Wrap & Seal is a waterproof self-fusing silicone repair tape which stretches by up to 300 percent.

When wrapped around pipes, it amalgamates to itself to form a solid rubber band capable of sealing live leaks up to 30 bar.

Using Wrap & Seal ensured that there could be no seepage from around the epoxy putty, setting up the final stage of the application – the reinforcement of the pipe using a SylWrap HD Pipe Repair Bandage

SylWrap HD is a composite repair wrap with a water activated resin. It is wrapped and smoothed around pipes, curing in minutes to form a rock hard, impact resistant shell.

This shell encompassed the entire length of pipe, increasing hoop strength and providing a sleeve which protected the line from future damage.

The entire repair was completed in less than two hours. By 1pm, the air con pipe was fully pressurised and temperature control restored to the whole building.

At 3pm, the temperature in London hit 27ÂșC. Without such a quick and straightforward means of pipe repair, the hospital would have found itself in serious trouble.

With the NHS already struggling for funding, the last thing that hospitals want to be doing is spending money on replacing ageing pipes and systems.

Thankfully, those advances in pipe repair technology mean that leaks and bursts can be permanently repaired in a straightforward and inexpensive manner without the need to hire specialist plumbers or contractors.

Over the coming years, pipe repair and other maintenance costs in hospitals might well become a hot topic of conversation – almost as hot as those UK temperatures. The experience of this London hospital provides an example of how such situations can be effectively managed.

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