Plumber Sam Crandall remembers the job at the 4th Street Market in Santa Ana, California, “as kind of a beast of a project.” Not that this 32-year-old contractor hesitated one bit in taking on the job when it was first offered to him — even after learning that other contractors had chosen not to get involved.
“We tend to get calls for jobs others don’t want,” explains Crandall, who with his spouse, Erica, started Crandall’s Plumbing in nearby Huntington Beach in 2009. “We’re used to handling all kinds of installation challenges.”
But the challenges at 4th Street involved techniques Crandall and his technicians had not encountered previously “and don’t come along every day,” he admits.
“We were turning the first level of a 30-year-old, two-story building into something modern and different, making it impossible to anticipate every little thing,” Crandall explains. “Plans changed daily. All we could do was rely on our knowledge of the local codes and design-engineer the thing as we went along.
“Their vision of the final structure got a little tricky,” continues Crandall, speaking of the building’s highly creative ownership. “But I believed in what they were doing and that made it fun. There was always light at the end of the tunnel.”
The “they” above refers to Costa Mesa, California-based S&A Management. The “vision” Crandall credits belongs to entrepreneur and chief strategist Ryan Chase, S&A principal and owner of the 4th Street Market, a new-wave food hall and culinary center that opened in February 2015 in Downtown Santa Ana (DTSA).
The Chase family traces its ongoing involvement in DTSA back nearly a century, to 1919, when Ryan’s great-grandfather opened a shoe store there. In recent years, Santa Ana’s East End District — once known as Fiesta Marketplace — has undergone a dramatic, multimillion-dollar revitalization into “an urban oasis for up-and-coming restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues,” Chase says.
The newest addition to this trending scene is the 4th Street Market, a 30,000 square-foot, street-level emporium, designed to attract a young clientele seeking cuisine from talented young chefs lacking the financial wherewithal to go solo. Inspired by well-known food markets such as Pike’s Place in Seattle and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, 4th Street Market is devoted to food and the people who make it — and make it special.
Now fully operational, the market consists of 15 food vendors each occupying roughly 300 square feet and with funky names like Electric City Butcher, Radical Botanicals, Chunk-N-Chip and Noodle Tramp. The largest player in the space is East End Incubator Kitchens, offering 10 commercial rental kitchens.
Combining all these food venues into a single, 44-foor by 31-foot space on one level — and the special, mechanical requirements that resulted — are what drove the plumbing design and installation challenges for the Crandall’s crew. It was especially true for the building’s domestic hot-water system, a critical need for all 22 food-service tenants in the 4th Street Market.
Up on the roof
No different than any other commercial developer, Chase sought to maximize the rentable space in renovating the first-floor venue that would ultimately house the 4th Street Market. The year-round warm climate of Southern California offers the luxury of locating building mechanical systems outdoors — in this case, on the roof — and S&A Management happily capitalized on that advantage.
Given that space is so precious, “no building owner or tenant wants to see an exposed mechanical room,” Crandall says, “especially in a trendy space like 4th Street Market that caters to consumers.”
But while a rooftop location for the water heating equipment was seen as the best option from the outset, S&A Management had initially envisioned a boiler and storage-tank system until coming to grips with the daunting logistics of such an installation.
“Providing enough water for 22 tenants, plus the facility’s own needs, is a huge requirement,” notes S&A construction manager Jeff Beddow.
The finished building had 49 outlets for hot water: 20 kitchen sinks, 19 prep sinks, seven lavatories and three mop sinks. If all were running simultaneously, they would require a flow rate of nearly 43 gallons per minute. The system was sized for approximately 75 percent of the maximum or 32 gpm.
“At a minimum, we would have needed two, 600-gallon storage tanks to do the job,” Beddow continues. “Not only was there no room on the first level for such a system but its sheer weight would’ve been way too much for the roof.”
There was one other complication: As much as possible, S&A wanted to offset its operating costs by metering the hot-water consumption of each tenant separately. That way, each could pay its own monthly gas bill, rather than S&A assuming this financial burden and then wrestling with the thankless task of splitting the cost equitably.
All of which is why Chase and Beddow opted for a rooftop installation of 22 commercial-grade tankless water heaters. No question, the up-front cost of a boiler system, even with two large storage tanks, would have been lower, compared with the extra gas and water lines, plus all those water meters, for the tankless setup. But the idea of individual gas bills for all those kitchen operations outweighed the cost and complexities of the tankless option.
Meanwhile, Crandall liked the idea as well, having done so much work with tankless on the residential side of his business. (He currently is averaging 10 tankless installs per month.)
Manufactured by Noritz America, the 22 units at 4th Street are all Model No. NC1991-OD-NG with a thermal efficiency of 84 percent, a maximum flow rate of 11.1 gpm and gas consumption from 16,000 to 199,900 BTU per hour. Measuring 23.6-inches high by 13.8-inches wide by 9.4-inches deep, up to 24 of these heaters can be quick-connected into a “multisystem.” At the 4th Street Market, those operations large enough to require multiple units had them linked together. The others are unlinked.
Beyond their diminutive size and weight (54 pounds apiece for the NC1991s) vs. a boiler and storage tank system, tankless also offers the key advantage of delivering hot water only when needed, thus saving on storage fuel costs.
This redundancy also offers a critical maintenance advantage for multiuser applications: If one unit needs servicing, it can be isolated and even removed, while the other 21 continue delivering as much hot water as needed so the whole building does not suffer.
Crandall and his four-person crew clustered the 22 water heaters into five small groups atop the roof. The incubator kitchens were assigned four, each with its own meter, while Electric City Butcher employs another two. The remaining 16 are divvied up among the other tenants, with a few operations sharing a unit.
“Because of the amount of piping required, it wasn’t practical for each vendor to have a dedicated, metered tankless unit,” he explains. “S&A did this system right.”
Crandall’s team found its greatest design/installation challenges in two areas:
Rooftop rack: Although seldom destructive, minor seismic activity is a routine fact of life in Southern California, which is why Crandall quickly concluded that “some rinky-dink, wooden structure to hold the tankless units would not have been a good idea.”
Instead, Crandall foreman Rolondo Jimenez and his team chose to build from scratch a Unistrut rack system that “worked phenomenally,” Crandall says, although not before a certain amount of trial and error.
“When something did not immediately work as we envisioned it, we improvised and adjusted,” he adds. “That was true of our work on the rack. We had never built a tankless rack before, so we had to figure it out — and we did.”
Pipe runs: This part of the job proved an even bigger challenge, Crandall notes. On the roof, his installers used copper tubing for the water lines and galvanized steel pipe for gas. All this piping, which covers approximately 4,000 square feet of roof space, runs to one of five chases leading from the roof, through the college on the second floor, to various vendors and kitchens on the first level.
Why five? Once again, because of the limited space in the building, in this case between the roof and ground level. Any more than five chases would have been unacceptably disruptive for the floor layout on both levels. Among the challenges with the chase-building work was observing specified clearances for head height in a building measuring only 10 feet from ground level to the bottom of the second-floor joists.
As in most commercial-rehab projects, fitting all the necessary infrastructure through the five chases was no easy chore, Crandall reports, based on personal experience.
“Coordinating the layouts of the different grease trap, HVAC, electrical lines, plumbing and gas — plus the installation schedules of their respective trades — was quite a chore,” he says. “Everything was very tight.”
Predictably, the path from the roof to the first level was not a straight vertical shot. If a copper water or black-iron gas line inside the chase did not wind up precisely where it was needed on the first floor, the Crandall team adjusted, jogging the line in whatever direction was required to make the final connection. As a result, piping distances varied from the original plan. In these instances, Crandall had the engineer resize the pipe to accommodate the variance.
Crandall says the tankless installation, including the rooftop lines, took his team roughly a week to complete. The five chase runs required another four weeks. “We did no prefabrication on this project because we are not a prefab shop,” he notes. “Everything had to be done in the field: We’d see a problem, put our heads together, sketch something out and then go for it.” l
Eric Manzano works as a product supervisor for Noritz America at the company’s headquarters in Fountain Valley, California.