Smart Solutions

Starco Overcomes Confines of Jail Project Using NIBCO’s Innovative PressACR System

Starco installer Dave Hirby uses a NIBCO PCR-20M Press System® battery-operated, mini pressing tool to install PressACR® fittings for joining copper tube systems in air conditioning and refrigeration applications.

To update the HVAC system at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, OH, Starco, Inc. relied on NIBCO’s new PressACR system to save at least 100 hours in installation time. Initially, press systems were not approved on the specs for the project, but Starco convinced the building owner and the project’s engineering firm, HEAPY, that PressACR would save time and money.

Also located in Dayton, Starco specializes in commercial plumbing, heating, air conditioning, piping systems for steam and medical gas, and sheet metal ductwork. “NIBCO is our ‘go-to’ brand,” said Jonathan Stumpf, project manager at Starco, who led the $2.2 million project. “It’s been that way ever since I’ve been at Starco, and I’ve been here for 11 years!”

Improving Life on the Inside

Originally constructed in 1965, Montgomery County Jail was expanded in 1993 to become a minimal-security county jail complex, which  now has a 900 prisoner-bed capacity. The older, original portion of the building required an HVAC system upgrade to improve the efficiency and performance of the system, which consisted of an older chilled heating combination system with unit ventilators servicing areas in the cells where the prisoners reside.

The facility wanted to remove the outdated system and replace it with eight variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems to serve the same areas. The replacement system consisted of eight condensing units, 46 indoor units, and three make-up air units. Starco, the prime contractor for the renovation, also had to do some rework to an existing air handler to change it from a single heating/cooling coil to have separate heating and cooling coils, enabling two separate systems throughout the building.

“The project was certainly a bit unusual due to it being a jail,” commented Stumpf. “We worked in narrow, three-foot-wide catwalks with the prisoners in close proximity of our installers. Security guards had to be with us at all times, which presented some logistical challenges for scheduling.”

Beginning in fall of 2022, Starco worked in approximately 32,000 square feet of the five-story building, but also had considerable work on the exterior of the building, where all the refrigerant pipe and ductwork was run. The pipe and ductwork ran down the exterior sides of the building due to the narrow catwalks on the interior. Piping ran from the individual indoor units through holes in the wall to the exterior. To access the exterior piping, Starco had to work with scaffolding on one side of the building because it was too narrow for lifts. On the other side of the building, the installers worked off vertical lifts.

Pressing in Prison

To expedite the installation, Stumpf chose NIBCO’s PressACR system, a joining method designed for use in copper tube systems for air conditioning and refrigeration applications. PressACR fittings are approved for use with a wide range of refrigerants and lubricants and create a safer installation, as there is no flame or fire hazard with press technology.

“This Montgomery County Jail project was our first experience with PressACR,” said Stumpf. “I had wanted to try it out for a couple of years, and I thought this would be a great project to try it out on because there was a substantial amount of refrigerant pipe—about 2,800 linear feet.”

Stumpf explained that the estimated time savings with PressACR were key to getting approval for its use. He also noted that “getting copper fittings to 1,100° F to braze in the middle of winter outside on a rooftop is not an easy process. I did a cost analysis comparing my bid actual costs and calculated that it took approximately 100 hours less time to install. It was about $2,500 more for the materials, but we saved about $7,500. Plus, the aggravation!”

Because the bid did not take into consideration that the actual installation would have required extra time for the outdoor winter brazing, the savings were likely underestimated. Also, without brazing, there were additional cost savings from reduced brazing rods, fuel gas, and nitrogen purges.

According to Dave Hirby, Starco’s foreman on the project, “PressACR saved us a lot of grief. It was most definitely easier to slide fittings together, press a button and crimp, versus brazing, in the winter, on a roof. And I appreciate the consistency and reliability of the joints.”

Due to logistics, each VRF system required short pieces to be brazed into the wye fittings before using a press coupling to join them as they were installed down the wall. The only two leaks in the entire system of the eight VRF systems installed occurred in the brazed joints. To install the PressACR fittings, Starco used a NIBCO PCR-20M Press System®battery-operated, mini pressing tool designed to create a leakproof connection with the correct pressure. Starco conducted its main pressure test of the system at 550 psi (the fittings are rated for 700 psi), after the installation was completed.

Starco began using pressing soon after it was introduced to the United States 20 years ago. “We press any time we can on a project, if it is allowed for,” said Stumpf.  “If it’s not specified, we even push for it after the fact, using RFIs [requests for information] to see if we can obtain acceptance to use pressing for domestic water and hydronic piping.”

NIBCO is Starco’s preferred brand for solder fittings, press fittings, and valves for all its projects. On the Montgomery County Jail project, for the chilled piping, heating piping, and condensate drains, Starco used a variety of NIBCO press fittings, including more than 100 90-degree elbows, more than 90 flare adapters, and 60 couplings, in sizes ranging from ¼” all the way up to 1 3/8”. Starco also used NIBCO ball valves in the heating and chilling system.

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