Price versus performance

Metal pipework systems have traditionally been the material of choice for many working in the construction industry. However the life-cycle cost of a product is becoming more important in construction and increasingly the industry is considering whole life costings when deciding which products to specify. As a result the specification of plastic pipework systems has increased significantly over recent years, with around 15% of all pipework installations in building services applications now plastic. This is set to continue rising at a steady pace, especially with the cost of copper continuing to rise.
A rise in sales

Despite contractors and specifiers considering more innovative materials purely because of cost implications, the increase in Durapipe UK’s sales over the past two years would indicate that once people try plastics and realise the full range of benefits that they offer, they become committed converters.

The material price of copper has increased significantly over the past three years. With this constant rise in price, specifiers and contractors have been keen to look at alternative options that offer a more cost-effective solution. The exceptional price increases in copper now means that the difference in price between copper and plastic is now minimal. But as the labour cost to install plastic can be a third of metal alternatives, when looking at the overall installed figures, plastics offer a much more cost-effective solution.

Independent cost comparisons are available to the market. The BSRIA Innovative M&E Installations ACT5/2000 Datasheet 5.3, compares using thermoplastic pipework with traditional screwed steel pipe and clearly demonstrates the significant savings plastic pipework can offer over traditional methods. The study shows that overall installation cost can be reduced by as much as 43% over traditional methods, coupled with a 60% reduction in labour time.

The advantages

When considering pipework for chilled water systems or air conditioning applications, plastics, such as the recently launched Durapipe SuperFLO range, offer several advantages to installers and end users, both during the installation process and throughout the lifetime of the product. At half the weight of copper and one sixth the weight of steel pipework, plastic systems are much easier to handle on site. Plastic systems are easy to joint, with many systems being solvent welded, offering a quick and secure means of producing high integrity welded joints that will remain leak free throughout the lifetime of the system. Combining the lightweight material and fast and reliable jointing methods, plastic pipework can significantly reduce installation time. This is a big advantage for contractors, who can incur penalty clauses for over-running on the completion time of projects.

After the installation is complete, the consideration of on-going performance capabilities of the system are essential. The reliable containment and efficient movement of fluid in pipes is crucial to every air conditioning system, from a self contained packaged unit to a full scale central plant system. Plastic systems boast high performance qualities, ensuring the system retains optimum performance levels, but requires minimal maintenance, throughout the lifetime of the system. Plastic materials are totally resistant to corrosion from both the precipitation of condensate on the outer surface of the pipe and many of the aqueous solutions used by air conditioning systems, therefore limiting repair and replacement requirements throughout the lifetime of the system. Plastic pipework also boasts exceptional impact strength, making it more resistant to damage than many metal alternatives.

The level of savings that can be made vary from project to project depending on the individual development including the desired system, application and the size and type of building. As part of its technical support service, Durapipe UK offers a cost comparison analysis to all specifiers and contractors who are considering plastic systems to demonstrate the exact installation time and cost for that specific job if it was completed in plastic compared with a metal alternative.

Plastic in action

One project that has benefited from plastic pipework is Madeley Sports Centre in Telford. A selection of Durapipe pipework was installed to replace the original cast iron pipes for the swimming pool at the centre.

The pool’s distribution pipes, which are used to supply chlorinated water, comprise of 130metres of Durapipe ABS pipework. The pool is part of the Madeley Sports Centre leisure complex, which is on a joint site with Madeley Court School and houses a gymnasium, sports hall and tennis courts.

John Withington, Mechanical Engineer for Telford and Wrekin Council, who specified the system said: “The old cast iron piping was severely corroded and was beginning to cause us problems. We wanted to avoid the possibility of corrosion in the future and keep life cycle costs down and therefore, we decided that plastic pipework would be the ideal system for the swimming pool.

“It was very important that the work was conducted quickly as we wanted to make sure that the public wouldn’t be without the pool for too long. Also, the shell of the pool could be damaged if fully drained for a large amount of time. This is because the structure normally contains a large mass of water which exerts pressure on the pool walls. The loss of this pressure for extended periods can have detrimental effects on the structure that houses the water. Happily, the sub contractors found that Durapipe plastic pipework was quick and easy to install and the project was completed on time.”

The price factor

Price is always going to be an important factor in product specification, but it should not be the primary or sole consideration and whole life costings need to be considered as well as initial material costs. By ensuring the needs of the customer are fully understood and addressed at the specification stage, a pipework system can be installed to offer the best performance over its lifetime, ultimately reducing whole life-cycle costs.

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