Managing Stress in Piping Systems

by Marty Rogin, PE

Learn how to take advantage of flexibility in building services piping to overcome thermal expansion.
Materials expand when heated and contract when cooled. It’s a property of nearly all construction materials, and it is as unavoidable as gravity. Pipes are not immune to the laws of physics: They will expand and contract with varying temperature. Like all laws of nature, we can choose to deal with this problem during the design phase or during the construction phase of a project. It is preferable to address nature’s laws during the design phase, because it most likely will be more expensive to address them later in the project.

This article introduces the basics of stresses induced by thermal expansion. Specifically, it looks at stresses induced by expansion of a restrained, straight pipe and why this arrangement should be avoided. The final section demonstrates how to take advantage of the natural flexibility of a piping system and when to consider using expansion devices.

The piping materials in building systems exhibit linear expansion with temperature or very closely approximate this behavior. As the temperature increases, the material expands at a rate proportional to the temperature rise. The same is true as the temperature decreases, and the material contracts at a rate proportional to the temperature decrease. The rate of thermal expansion and contraction is characterized by the coefficient of thermal expansion, α, which is measured in units of inch/(inch-°F). The change in dimensions of an object is expressed by Equation 1:1 ε = α(T2–T1) where ε = Strain (inch/inch) α = Coefficient of thermal expansion (inch/inch-°F) T2 = Final temperature (°F) T1 = Starting temperature (°F) If the object is a straight bar or pipe, the more familiar form of this equation is Equation 2: ΔL = αLo(T2–T1) 30 Plumbing Systems & Design

where ΔL = Change in length (inches) Lo = Initial length of pipe (inches) When using these equations, note that the coefficient of thermal expansion varies with ambient temperature. For this article, a mean value averaged from 0 to 375°F will be used. The pipe diameter also changes with temperature. To simplify the examples, the diameter change is assumed to be negligible. Finally, several sources have tabulated the expansion for common pipe materials in units of inches per 100 feet at different temperatures, which makes this calculation much quicker. However, for this example, we’ll do it the hard way. Consider a 6-inch-diameter steel (ASTM A53) pipe, 100 feet long, anchored at one end. The pipe is empty, and the inside is at atmospheric pressure. The temperature is increased 200°F above ambient. Using Equation 2, the expansion of the pipe can be calculated as follows: ΔL = (6.33x10-6 inch/inch-°F) (1,200 inches)(270–70°F) = 1.52 inches where α = 6.33x10-6 inch/inch-°F Lo = 1,200 inches T2 = 270 °F T1 = 70 °F Thus, if the pipe is installed at an ambient temperature of 70°F, and the temperature of the pipe increases to 270°F, you can expect about 1.5 inches of expansion in the 100-foot run. Assuming



315 lbf/5. the anchor loads are also dependent on the pipe section dimensions.5 4. The material properties tell us how much force and stress will build in the pipe.815 34.5 5.875 3./in.075 square inches.75E+07 2.5 x 106 lbf/in.2) Since the length change is known. the stresses still would exceed the ASME allowable limit. but there are no external forces acting on it (static indeterminacy). and the resulting axial stress would be the same.300 5.700 194.815 34.815 34.067 2. The result likely will be failed anchors. you can solve for the reaction force in Equation 3.049 1.266E-03 1.410 59.330E-06 6.330E-06 6.75E+07 2.584 110.399 11.908 34.) e (psi) α (in.981 10. If the pipe is now anchored at both ends and subjected to the same conditions. as well as combine Equations 2 and 3 to directly solve for F in Equation 4: F = AEα(T2–T1) Thus.75E+07 2.469 3. 34.330E-06 6.581 in.266E-03 1.625 10.38 1. a buckled pipe.61 2.833 37.275 27.625 8. In this example.815 34.315 292. however.05 1.75E+07 2. however./in.2 = 34.174 4.068 4. see Figure 1) where A = 5.327 77.266E-03 1.581 in.) oD (in.315 lbf (anchor load. the stresses will remain well below the yield point of the steel.table 1 Comparison of the anchor forces for different pipe diameters (Schedule 40 carbon steel straight pipe only) section Area (in.5 x 106 lbf/in2 α = 6.330E-06 6. the reaction force would be 37.75 0. the area would be 1. the anchor loads still may be unacceptable at 83.815 34.815 34./in.66 1. Consider that the allowable stress.026 5.315 1.330E-06 6. you would need a maximum temperature rise of 86 degrees to stay within the ASME-allowable stress limit. Even if the temperature rise were 100 degrees. the stresses in the pipe will increase significantly because the anchors prevent the pipe from expanding during the temperature rise.02 1.333 0.410 pounds. This simple example demonstrates why a straight pipe run should have some means of stress relief— unless the conditions are evaluated thoroughly. F = (5.075 1.266E-03 1.330E-06 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 1./in.799 1. according to ASME B31. The pipe is in static equilibrium. for the 100-foot pipe restrained by the anchors.375 2.815 34.) ¾ 1 1¼ 1½ 2 2½ 3 4 5 6 8 10 2.330E-06 6.669 0.581 8.9: Building Services Piping.815 pounds per square inch (psi) If the pipe was 2 inches in diameter.75E+07 2. 31 OCTOBER 2009 Plumbing Systems & Design .75E+07 2.330E-06 6.52” 1. This is expressed as Equation 3: ΔL = FLo/AE where ΔL = Change in length (inches) F = Force required to extend or contract the pipe through the distance ΔL (pounds per foot) Lo = Initial length (inches) A = Cross-sectional area of pipe (in.581 17.75E+07 2.704 2.587 ∆T = 200°F 1.2)(6.228 3. The stress in this simple case depends only on the material properties and the temperature change.2)(27.266E-03 1.194 23.266E-03 1.-F°) Δt (°F) ε (in.75E+07 6.266E-03 1.815 34.563 6.-°F T2 = 270°F T1 = 70°F The stress along the longitudinal axis of the pipe is then: S = F/A = 194.065 7.494 0.2) Longitudinal expansion stress (psi) Anchor Forces (lb) nPs (in.581 in.266E-03 1.2) E = Modulus of elasticity (pounds per foot per in.75E+07 2.75E+07 2.815 34.815 11.330E-06 6.266E-03 1.815 34.000 psi.047 6. is 15.815 34.33x10-6 in.330E-06 6.2 E = 27. The reaction force of the anchor must equal the amount of force needed to contract the pipe by 1.52” 194.75E+07 2.600 pounds for the 6-inch pipe.504 149.75E+07 2.-°F) (270–70 °F) = 194.9 2.330E-06 6.266E-03 1.315 lb heat Figure 1 The force in an anchored 6-inch pipe with some heat the pipe is properly supported along its length. An expansion device or pipe loop should be considered for this pipe run.33 x 10-6 in.5 inches (the amount of thermal expansion). or both.420 414.266E-03 0.) ID (in.824 1.266E-03 1.330E-06 6.815 psi (see Table 1).

it’s probably going to be flexible enough to not need any expansion devices. the thermal expansion is: OCTOBER 2009 WWW.PSDMAGAZINE. paper. Let’s look at the previous case. and the denominator of Equation 5 is zero. which will provide a greater appreciation for today’s computational tools. and does not have too many anchors. • The segment being analyzed has no more than two anchors and no intermediate restraints.38/(70–50)2 = 0.33x10-6 in.5. but timeconsuming. to put all piping layouts into a program and have confidence that a particular layout will be within the stress limits. The goal was to confirm that the stresses in a given piping system were below the allowable limits and to determine the anchor loads. The results were put into charts and tables to (somewhat) speed up the process. One of those unwritten design guidelines that nobody will confess saying is: “If a piping layout has some elbows. The bad news is that stress analysis becomes more complex as soon as bends are added between the pipe anchors. The difference between ambient and operating temperature is 100°F.” But it can work! ASME B31. consider the simple L bend shown in Figure 2. The limitations are: • Metallic pipe is used. • The segment has no more than two different pipe sizes differing by one standard size. before the advent of powerful personal computers. Using Equation 5. the 6-inch steel pipe./in. The pipe is 4-inch ASTM A53 steel.S. The legs are 40 feet and 30 feet./ft)(100°F) = 0. aside from inspection.4 Bring lots of erasers if you attempt it.2/ft2 where D = 4 inches U = 50 feet L = 70 feet Y = (6. several analytical methods were devised using pencil.03. This immediately would indicate that formal analysis is required. It would be easy. anchored at each end. and the distance between the anchors is 50 feet. is made of small pipe. by allowing the pipe to bend (or flex) in predetermined locations. In this example.38 in. It is worth the effort to go through some of these analyses on a relatively simple expansion loop.2.004 is less than 0. the thermal expansion is: DY/(L–U)2 = 4*0.ORG . to determine if a particular layout between anchors requires further evaluation. There is a way. indicating that no formal stress analysis is required. 0. with no elbows and anchored at each end. Consider the example in Figure 3.-°F)(50 ft)(12 in. Software packages allow engineers and designers to analyze nearly any piping configuration. There is no assurance that end reactions will be acceptably low.004 in.3. using the distance U 15’ as the length (inches) L = Total length of the pipe run between anchors (feet) U = 46’-3” U = Straight-line distance between the anchors (feet) straight-line anchor-to-anchor distance 10’ There are limitations on the use of this equation. • The system is of ductile material (no cast iron fittings). ASME B31. but the pipe stresses likely will be within acceptable limits.9 includes a simplified analysis that allows users to determine if a given pipe run has enough flexibility to preclude formal analysis. In a bygone era. You still don’t know the anchor loads. and slide rule.” For example. For this. especially for nearly straight sawtooth segments or for unequal leg U-bends where L/U is more than 2. L=U. 12’ 8’ The thermal expansion satisfies Equation 5: DY/(L–U)2 ≤ 0.Managing Stress in Piping Systems 40’ 30’ 50’ Figure 2 L bend example Figure 3 Example pipe run with several joints between two anchors RELIEVING THE STRESS BY BUILDING FLEXIBILITY INTO THE PIPE LAYOUT The good news is that something as simple as a pipe bend can relieve the stresses in a given pipe run. 32 Plumbing Systems & Design • The least nominal wall thickness is no less than 75 percent of the greatest wall thickness. ASME B31. customary units) where D = Nominal diameter (inches) 35’ 20’ Y = Thermal expansion between anchors.03 (U.9 provides some guidance on the subject.9 includes the following caution to the user: “There is no assurance that [this equation] is always accurate or conservative. In Figure 3. Equation 5 is valid for a pipe run with several joints between two anchors.

If not laid out correctly. Tube Turns. If the pipe is in a long. For example. maRty ROgin. or ground loads. Additional stresses in pipes will result from the system pressure and weights of the pipe.35/(100–46. piping systems may be subject to enormous anchor loads and high stresses. 2. Piping Engineering. Pe. common-sense rules: no straight runs between anchors without an expansion joint or add a few bends to the pipe. ASME International. the result indicates that no formal analysis is required. McGraw-Hill. Sixth Edition.0007 in2/ft2 where D = 6 inches L = 100 feet U = 46. straight run.16 Y = (6. seismic.25 feet L/U = 2. Volume 4: Plumbing Components and Equipment. consider adding either a hard-pipe loop or an expansion joint to allow the pipe to move as the temperature changes. CONCLUSION The examples in this article focused only on stresses induced by thermal Stress in Piping Systems DY/(L–U)2 = 6*0. OCTOBER 2009 Plumbing Systems & Design 33 . and so will your clients. Second Edition. 1943.33x10-6 in/in-°F)(46. e-mail articles@psdmagazine. is Engineering Manager at The Metraflex Company in Chicago. ASPE. Your anchors will appreciate the extra effort. Piping also may be subject to transient. S. The real world of pipe stress analysis is much more involved. fluid.25 ft)(12 in/ft)(100°F) = 0. McGraw-Hill. Equipment attached to pipes will induce stresses through movement and vibration. and insulation. ASME B31. Crandall. It all goes back to those mostly unwritten. REFERENCES 1. any bend in the pipe will result in bending moments along the pipe and at the supports. Piping Stress Calculations Simplified. Inc. His 22 years of experience in engineering include HVAC and plumbing systems design and product design and development.9-2004: Building Services Piping. wind. An Introduction to the Mechanics of Solids. 2008. Dahl and Lardner. Spielvogel. 4. 1972.35 inches Again.25)2 = 0. However. W. 1986. 5. His e-mail address is martyr@metraflex. it is possible to take advantage of a system’s natural flexibility to reduce the pipe stresses in a given layout to acceptable levels. 3. To comment on this article. the anchor reactions still may be a concern due to the 6-inch pipe diameter. ASPE Plumbing Engineering Design Handbook. For many HVAC and plumbing piping systems. First Edition.

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