Happier than a pig in mud

A happy sow is a better sow. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, the people who need to know it do. They also know that a hydronic system using polypropylene-random (PP-R) pipe can help make sows and humans alike very happy. 

Those who are unfamiliar with hog farming may never stop to think where their bacon is coming from, but it is a major business in some areas, and the indoor environment in a hog barn can be harsh. The ammonia and other chemicals (both man-made and hog-made) in the air can quickly attack and corrode some types of pipe. That makes PP-R pipe an ideal choice for these applications. 

At the Boekhorst Farm in Arkona, Ont., Mid-Lam Heating & Cooling ran more than 1,500 feet of Aquatherm Blue Pipe for a heating and cooling system moving 1.2 million BTUH in a 64,000-sq-ft pig barn. In addition to providing space heating and cooling, the system also feeds individual heating pads for the sows. And, as you now know, a happy sow is a better sow. 

Challenge: Provide an extensive heating and cooling piping system that would hold up well in the highly corrosive indoor environment of a pig barn.

Solution: Polypropylene-random (PP-R) pipe that is virtually impervious to corrosive airborne chemicals and is easy to clean and maintain.

Bringing heat to the hogs
To build an HVAC system that would live up to the challenging demands of a working pig farm, Mid-Lam Heating & Cooling owner Kent McLellan and his team turned to polypropylene-random pipe, based on their previous experiences with the product. 

Other types of pipe were not even a consideration, in his mind, because, as McLellan puts it, “There’s too much risk of corrosion.” 

The system design for the project, crafted by Brendon Yadu of Hydronic Solutions Inc., called for 120 13-foot lengths of SDR 11 pipe. At the headers, 2-1/2” pipe was used, with 4” pipe in the mechanical room and the barn itself. 

Other key components of the system included five 399,000 BTUH Triangle Tube condensing boilers, a Caleffi low-loss header and mixing valves, and pumps from Wilo. 

The piping installation took place over three months using Ritmo fusion tools and support from Hydronic Solutions. 

The system was not complicated, but it was extensive. A large hot water (180°F) circulation loop runs the length of the barn. This loop is split by system pumps to go into the barn’s two wings, and from there additional pumps and mixing valves allow the water temperature to be modulated for various purposes. 

“For example,” Yadu explains, “the sows in the farrowing rooms have hydronic heating pads that slowly raise and lower the animal when they stand up and lie back down. That helps ensure that little piggys don’t get trapped underneath the heavy sow.” 

Mid-Lam has been able to scale this type of system for similar projects as well. 

“Kent has been working with us for a number of years as he has been growing his business,” Yadu says. “Recently, 

Kent did a project similar to this but much smaller. It was two boilers instead of five, but it was based on the same idea of providing pad heaters for the pigs and unit heaters in the barn. 

“It had a very similar setup, and the customer was really thrilled. So we all had a lot of confidence going into this project.”

Putting the BTUs where you want them
According to McLellan, several factors were important when it came to the choice of pipe for this pig farm. 

The biggest factors were resistance to environmental chemicals and the installed pipe’s ease of maintenance, but also a consideration was that the pipe used gives off so little heat. 

“That’s important when you have a 1.2 million BTUH mechanical room,” McLellan said. “Even when it’s not insulated, Aquatherm doesn’t radiate heat. The BTUs are actually going where you want them to.” 

Also important were environmental friendliness, and the fact that no open flames are needed. 

Keeping a big project moving
Compared to some of the other residential and agricultural projects Mid-Lam has successfully completed in its long history, the size of this project might have been considered daunting. The ability to break the project down by zones, however, enabled McLellan’s team to handle it without being overwhelmed, says the company owner. 

“When you look at the big picture of 1.2 million BTUs and a large amount of HVAC equipment, it can be easy to become bogged down,” he said. “In cases like this, I’ve found it’s best to approach the job in segments. In this barn we were lucky that we had different zones and that’s what we focused on. 

“We knew what the end game was, but we just stayed focused on the tasks at hand and checked off the zones as we completed them.” 

To help keep the project moving, many assemblies were prepped in advance. Any that could not be pre-made were custom fit and built on the spot with heat fusion tools. 

He advises companies just discovering heat- fused PP-R pipe to train anyone who has the interest and potential. 

“There’s no downside to having people trained on heat fusion, and the more people who know it the better,” McLellan said. “It makes them care and it makes the project go well.” 

A tough environment
“Air quality is a huge issue in pig barns,” says Yadu. “You’ve probably never been to a pig barn, and if you don’t have to go into one, don’t. They are probably the most difficult type of barn in my opinion. If you spend a few hours in there, your lungs begin to feel as if they’re burning. It’s probably the ammonia from the manure that creates such a corrosive environment. But we all like bacon, don’t we?” 

Ron Rajecki is the marketing content specialist at Aquatherm, a manufacturer of PP-R pipe for the heating, cooling and plumbing sectors. He can be reached at [email protected]