Pipe repairs cause a bust in the budget

by Amy Zoss

Repairs to the underground steam pipes on Simpson’s campus will exceed the $30,000 seasonal budget, according to Vice President for Business and Finance Ken Birkenholtz.

“We’re going to blow that out of the water,” said Birkenholtz. “We typically have two to three repairs during the winter season.” The break south of Brenton Student Center was the seventh this season.

According to Birkenholtz, the average repair costs for a broken steam pipe run from $5,000-$10,000. A bad break like the one in front of BSC can cost as much as $15,000.

Thin old pipes and the warm, dry weather are to blame for the increase in steam pipe breaks. The steam pipes come from the central boiler facility, which provides heat for about two-thirds of the campus.

Basic principles of physics and chemistry offer an explanation for breaking pipes. During a wet winter the ground expands with the extra volume of water and pushes against the outside walls of the pipes, providing extra support.

This winter, central Iowa is experiencing an unusual dry spell, up to 10 inches below normal precipitation levels. The parched ground has pulled away from the pipes, leaving airspace.

“With the warmer weather we’ve had,” said Birkenholtz. “The steam is at 300 degrees Farenheit. For every 100 feet of pipe, the pipe itself will expand to become add about one inch in length.”

On warm days the system is turned down, and in response the pipes contract.

Constant expansion and contraction, combined with the lack of support from the surrounding soil, puts a great deal of strain on the old pipes. The strain makes the pipes more susceptible to rupture.

To ward off problems in the future, the repair company uses pipes that are twice the thickness of the old pipes whenever they replace a section.

Birkenholtz said that the maintenance crews plan to test sections of the steam pipes this summer to look for weak spots.