Press-fit valves: faster, safer, stronger


Valves are an often-overlooked part of a building services system. But in recent years, valve technology has advanced in response to challenges faced by engineers and installers.
Darren Baxter explains.

Valves have a low profile in the world of building services specification. However, their impact on the efficient and effective operation of hydronic systems should not be underestimated. Without correctly specified, installed and commissioned valves, today’s heating, cooling and water systems could not operate.

Hydronic systems, in which water is the medium that carries heat around a building, must be kept in constant balance. A poorly-performing hydronic system can mean that heat is not delivered to some areas of a building, for example, causing discomfort for occupants and issues for the facilities management team. What’s more, an imbalanced hydronic system will also use more energy than it should, leading to higher building operating costs.

Valve technology has been advancing over the past few years. It has developed to help engineers and installers meet challenges such as the growing number of high rise developments, minimal spaces for plant rooms and the need to complete projects to ever-tighter deadlines. For specifiers, the humble valve is a product that can help to make design and delivery of efficient systems for buildings much more straightforward.

Recent valve evolution includes the pressure independent control valve (PICV), or the fixed orifice double regulating valve (FODRV). However, one of the most significant advances in valve fitting technology has been the introduction of the press-installation method. Press-fit valves offer a faster, safer and more reliable solution for installers.

Press-fit works by joining pipes together using mechanically-pressed fittings. Pressing tools consist of pressing machine and pressing jaws or collars. All metallic press-fit systems have a pressing profile on the press fittings which matches the pressing collars. It is essential to ensure that your pressing tool and fittings are compatible.

One of the reasons press-fit has gained a foothold in the sector is that they meet the requirements for fast but accurate work in today’s construction sector. Press-fit technology facilitates connections that can be made in a fraction of the time it takes to weld or solder pipes. The ease of press-fit also means fewer errors are made during the installation process, reducing the likelihood of call-backs to a site. Industry estimates are that press fitting can be completed in around half the time of other installation methods.

A further advantage of press-fit is that no hot works are required for installation, which means better on-site safety. What’s more, less safety equipment is needed to work with press tools, which provides further cost savings. This also means that significantly less training is required to operate a press tool compared to welding, brazing or soldering, making press-fit an excellent, labour- and cost-saving solution for projects with large-scale pipe systems.

Of course, speed is only one aspect of the installation process. The result must be a robust and reliable hydronic system that supports good HVAC system operation. Press-fit connections are designed to be secure. If the pipe is prepared correctly according to the press tool system manufacturer instructions, the connection is as strong as a welded or soldered connection.

Many electro-hydraulic press tools have an auto-cycle feature that only shuts off when the connection is complete, so there is no guessing if the pipe is fully joined or not. This secure fitting makes loosening caused by vibration or movement much less likely than with other pipe connection methods.

Albion offers a range of press-fit valves that focus on providing all of these benefits for the installer and building maintenance teams. For example, Albion’s whole press valve range is suitable for M profile systems, with the exception of the ART 55PRS which offers both dedicated M and V profiles. These can be fitted without the need for solder or thread sealant.

Many installers may opt to add press adaptors to valves on-site to benefit from the advantages that press-fit brings, however by using Albion’s press range, this is not required. Albion’s press valves are assembled and pressure-tested (with the ends in place) in the factory before being sent out, saving time on-site and providing peace-of-mind for installers that it is a secure connection.

The exception to this is Albion’s DZR brass press ball valve – the ART 55PRS – in which the press ends are an integral part of the valve’s body, i.e. adaptor fittings are not used. This approach reduces leak points, when compared to valves that use adaptor fittings, a significant benefit for large-scale projects where hundreds of valves may be fitted.

A key strength of using press-fit is that they make long-term system maintenance more manageable and less disruptive. With the press-fit approach, repairs can be made quickly and with minimal disruption to building users.

Even if the pipe system is wet, press-fit connections can still be completed. Therefore, press fittings are highly suited to application in commercial and industrial facilities because there is no need to shut down a pipe system to perform maintenance, so operations don’t have to be interrupted.

For specifiers, the ability to use press-fit systems with a range of pipe materials is critical. Press-fit valves can be used on a variety of pipe materials such as, copper, stainless steel and carbon steel, regardless of the material of the valve.

Albion recognises the merits of the press-fitting approach for installers and contractors and has grown the number of its press valve products to eight. Seven of these ranges are available in brass or DZR (dezincification-resistant) brass (which also offer a five-year warranty). And Albion also recently introduced a press ball valve in stainless steel. The aim is to make the press-fit option available to a wide range of projects.

Stainless steel fittings are becoming more popular with installers, possibly because the price differential between carbon and stainless steel is shrinking. Stainless steel is more often specified for buildings such as hospitals, due to its hygienic properties, which is a primary market for the construction sector. But the architectural trend towards exposed pipework may also be driving demand for stainless steel which is more aesthetically pleasing.

Brass and DZR brass continue to be staples in the market, offering a range of benefits. Both are excellent options for potable water systems, and DZR is corrosion-resistant (making it useful for hard water areas, for example). Brass is durable while also being lightweight, making it suitable for a range of pipework projects including those that involve high-temperature water. It is also a cost-effective material that stands the test of time.

Designers and installers must have a choice of materials for HVAC pipework. Building technologies are constantly changing, posing a challenge for those who have to deliver them. A range of press-fit valves that will work across a breadth of projects is an asset that can save time and capital cost in the short term. It will also provide peace-of-mind for building owners and managers since press-fit valves can be updated without the need to shut down a whole pipe system.

Valves may not be the largest piece of equipment to be specified for a building, but they are important enough to consider carefully. Valve technology has advanced to embrace a range of materials, fitting methods and functions, focusing on supporting quick and efficient installation. Our advice at Albion Valves is to speak to us about your project so that they can offer technical advice to achieve the best long-term outcomes.

For further information about the press-fit range that Albion can offer visit www.albionvalvesuk.com or call 01226 729900.