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Reno’s reputation as a gaming hub is well-deserved. For many years, gamblers and fun-seekers have flocked to the northern Nevada city. Smaller and more affordable than Las Vegas, its glitzy neighbor to the south, Reno’s downtown casinos offer all the gaming amenities, including luxurious rooms, spas and pools, exciting dining options and family fun — all within a few miles of each other and the airport.
While gambling is still important to Reno, the city’s declining gaming numbers during the past few decades prompted a shift in focus. A University of Nevada, Reno study found that 13.8% of Reno’s economy in 2002 was driven by gaming. By 2020, that figure had fallen to 5.3%.
Then came COVID-19. One casualty was Harrah’s; in March 2020, the historic 84-year-old casino shut its doors for good after the pandemic forced a 78-day closure of Nevada’s gaming industry. The property was sold to CAI Investments, a Las Vegas-based real estate development and management company, for $50 million.
Its new Reno Experience District (RED; www.redreno.com) features two luxury apartment buildings (Basecamp and Emory) and a two-acre park with a jumbo LED screen and outdoor stage. The mixed-use development is slated to have more than 70,000 square feet of retail and a 170-room hotel. The master plan calls for 1,300 high-end apartments, ranging in size from studios to penthouses.
Amenities include indoor/outdoor fitness centers, swimming pools, clubhouses and even a rock-climbing wall. Once completed in 2023, there also will be 382,000 square feet of office space built.
“Considering the scope of work, it should come as no surprise that RED’s construction required a large amount of plastic pipe,” states Lance MacNevin, P. Eng., director of engineering for the Plastics Pipe Institute’s Building & Construction Division (www.plasticpipe.org/buildingconstruction), representing the North American plastic pipe industry.
Developer Lyon Living awarded the plumbing contract for three buildings and a parking garage to Las Vegas-based Focus Plumbing. The three five-story towers have 598 units, which Focus plumbed using Viega PureFlow PEX tubing and PureFlow press fittings. In all, more than 100,000 feet of PEX tubing was used, along with thousands of fittings in sizes from ½ inch to 2 inches. Viega is a member company of PPI.
“The PEX tubing carries potable water from each building’s water main to each of the units in the apartments and hotel, connecting to toilets, lavs, showers and kitchen sinks,” MacNevin reports. “Instead of using copper, PEX provides significant cost savings. A 100-foot coil of PEX for this job cost less than 10 feet of copper would have.”
Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) is a type of flexible piping invented in the late 1960s. “The product is unique in that it is made by linking polymer molecules in polyethylene, which increases its flexibility, durability and temperature resistance,” explains Nevin. “It has gained popularity in commercial and residential construction as an alternative to copper and galvanized steel plumbing.”
PEX tubing has many benefits, such as lower installation costs — roughly two-thirds less than copper piping — and high corrosion resistance. It also is easy to install as continuous lengths can be placed in hard-to-reach areas. And PEX has a lower thermal conductivity compared to other piping types, making it much more efficient. Finally, it can absorb surge pressure and reduce water hammer.
PEX and Press Fittings
For the large-scale commercial potable water system, Focus Plumbing installed two Lochinvar tankless water heaters per building, each running at 1.2 million BTUs.
Installation of the Viega system used the company’s PureFlow products. The fittings and connections were made using PEX press fittings instead of crimp fittings. The Viega PureFlow fittings have built-in Smart Connect technology, making it easy to identify unpressed connections and allowing transition from PEX to copper in traditional branch and tee installations.
The Focus Plumbing crew used a battery-powered press tool kit from Milwaukee Tools and Viega PureFlow jaws. These spring-loaded jaws grip the metallic ring that is pressed around the tubing. The color-coded rings have indicator ports showing that the tubing is fully seated inside the fitting.
“The press system with the power tool does have some appeal in reducing human error when making the actual fitting connection,” says David Van Amstel, Focus Plumbing’s project manager for the Reno area. “That has to do with the tool itself and the way the fitting is designed to press onto the pipe, as opposed to trying to expand a fitting around a pipe and then have it shrink.”
As for the pipe material, Van Amstel likes PEX tubing for its flexibility and durability. “It helps reduce installation costs in a number of ways,” he notes, pointing to the fact that it comes in 100-foot lengths that can be easily threaded through a building.
“PEX is particularly good in climates with extreme temperature fluctuations like Reno, where it’s not uncommon for the mercury to hit 100 F during the day and drop as low as 68 F at night,” he explains. “The pipe is flexible enough that it can expand and contract with the temperature changes without degrading the plastic. And it has no trouble handling the 50 psi to 80 psi pressures being run through it.”
Steve Cooper has reported on a variety of plumbing, construction and infrastructure projects for several decades.
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