Overview of “Piping Expansion Loop” on the piping system

Why do we need Piping Expansion Loops?

All piping engineers are well acquainted with expansion loops in the piping systems. Whenever thermal displacements are more than a certain value these expansion loops are added to absorb the displacement inside the expansion loop. These are mainly required in any piping system design to

  • Reduce system stress and
  • Limit thermal displacements

Fig 1 shows typical loops used in the piping system.

Expansion loops
Fig. 1: Typical Expansion loops

Functions of Piping Expansion Loops

Expansion loops serves various purposes as listed below:

  • Loops provide the necessary leg of piping in a perpendicular direction to absorb the thermal expansion. They are safe when compared with expansion joints but take more space.
  • Load due to axial expansion causes bending stresses to be developed, increasing upwards in the vertical pipes and becoming a maximum at the loop elbows.
  • That bending moment stays at that maximum bending moment level for the entire length of the top horizontal pipe until it gets to the next elbow and starts’ reducing until it reaches the bottom pipe on the other side of the loop.
  • As the loop gets higher, both axial resultant stress in the horizontal pipes and the bending moments in the loop are reduced.

Types of Piping Expansion Loops

Piping Expansion loops are categorized in different styles:

Symmetric loop vs Nonsymmetric loop (Fig. 2):

Ideally, loops shall be located centered between anchors with equal legs on either side of the anchor. Symmetrical loops are advantageous to absorb an equal amount of expansion from both directions.

When this isn’t practical make legs on either side of the anchor as equal as possible.

Friction Forces are determined by the number of pipes supports a line crosser. By making these legs equal, the forces at the anchor should remain nearly balanced.

Symmetric and non-symmetric loops
Fig. 2: Symmetric and non-symmetric loops

2-D vs 3-D Expansion Loops (Fig. 3)

Loops may be 2-D or 3-D types. Normally for steam lines, flare lines, condensate lines, etc 2-D loops are preferred. Otherwise, the 3-D loop can be provided.

2-D vs 3-D Loops.
Fig. 3: 2-D vs 3-D Loops.

Requirements of Multiple Expansion Loops

More than one loop may be required when:

  1. It is impossible to make branch connections flexible enough.
  2. Spacing between branches and neighboring lines or steel is limited.
  3. When the loop becomes too large to support or fit into space available.
  4. Anchor forces become too unbalanced and steel cannot be economically braced.
  5. More than one loop may be required when, the forces required to bend the loop are too great, and the anchors cannot be economically reinforced.
Multiple Expansion loops in a piping system
Fig. 4: Multiple Expansion loops in a piping system

Placing Expansion Loops/ Expansion Loop Placements

  1. Loop width should always be based on utilizing existing supports.
  2. Thermal expansion must be allowed for when spacing adjacent loops.
  3. Loop width does not have to be near 20 feet just because the loop nomographs happen to use that number. Loop width has only a secondary effect on results.
  4. Minimum loop height depends on the berthing of the line with respect to the location of the loop support.
  5. Loops cannot extend too far beyond existing support or the overhang will cause the loop to “lose its balance.” This sets the maximum allowable loop height.
  6. The first two points have more influence on loop design than stress formulas, from the piping point of view.
  7. Three-dimensional loops are widely used because this arrangement does not block the routing of low-temperature lines under the loop.
  8. Vertical loops are placed at road crossings and sometimes are nonsymmetrically located due to the location of the road

Method for Sizing Pipeway Expansion Loops

  1. Anchor lines near their center to determine which lines require loops by checking the allowable expansion at each end of the run. If each end will absorb the resulting expansion, no loop is required, usually. If the line spacing cannot be adjusted to take the movement, a loop is required.
  2. Determine which of the lines requiring loops need the largest loop, second largest, etc., by the following:
    • Multiply the total expansion of each line between its proposed anchors by the pipe’s moment of inertia (E). (The stiffness of a line is measured by its “Moment of inertia.”)
    • The line with the largest of these calculated numbers will require the largest loop, the next smaller number, the next smaller loop, etc.
    • The above rule does not check stress. This is checked after the loops are roughly dimensioned.
  3. Fit the loops between two pipes supports using the minimum spacing plus allowance for line expansion and bowing. Make the loops as wide as possible, but keep the height to a minimum. If stress or force is extremely high, check with stress engineer for the height of the loop.
  4. Send finished pipe way to stress for accurate calculation of anchor forces for transmittal to Structural and accurate evaluation of stresses in the piping.

Few more resources for you…

Expansion Loop and Rack Piping for a Piping Stress Engineer
Basics of Pipe Stress Analysis
Piping Design and Layout
Piping Materials
Piping Stress Analysis

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Anup Kumar Dey

I am a Mechanical Engineer turned into a Piping Engineer. Currently, I work in a reputed MNC as a Senior Piping Stress Engineer. I am very much passionate about blogging and always tried to do unique things. This website is my first venture into the world of blogging with the aim of connecting with other piping engineers around the world.

5 thoughts on “Overview of “Piping Expansion Loop” on the piping system

  1. Nice article on Expansion Loop.
    However please make a note on 2D loop applicability:

    – 2D loops can be provided for any services except for those required to maintain slope like flare headers which should be sloped towards KO drum. Hence Flare headers always will 2D loops (3D not allowed)

  2. I want to know that if there are some branches on the main pipe, then the angle of the branch would consider as a change of direction and there would be no need for expansion loop or offset. Or the length of the main pipeline is considered and the expansion loop is needed in between the branches?

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