The age of steel
Unlike its European counterparts, UK buildings rarely feature anything other than PVC guttering systems. With changing weather patterns, shrinking budgets and a stronger push towards sustainability, steel rainwater systems are moving into the limelight.
Plastic currently makes up 85% of the market and for good reason. PVC is a cost effective rainwater solution and has the benefit of being lightweight, easy to cut and simple for contactors to fit. However, this cost effectiveness comes at the expense of durability, which is making many specifiers and contractors look for alternatives, such as steel.
The reality of choosing plastic for a rainwater system is that it requires regular maintenance due to the common occurrence of cracking, broken joints or snapped brackets. The additional weight due to moss or other debris can make the guttering unstable whilst blockages can also damage brickwork and cause internal leaks.
What’s more, PVC can also suffer from the effect of hotter UK summers with thermal movement resulting in unstable and unsafe guttering. As a cost-effective alternative, it is often used on domestic residences as the preferred option and is the traditional choice for quick DIY fixes. However, on larger commercial buildings, the effect of problems such as cracking or snapped brackets can have serious implications for overall maintenance costs.
Traditionally, a steel guttering solution was a more expensive option, but we are now seeing a number of solutions at reasonable prices. With a number of benefits that plastic can’t provide, steel might soon become a popular rainwater option. In the past, contractors have voiced concerns over the weight of metallic solutions, including concerns over ease of installation and its propensity to rust when bolted onto period properties.
This is certainly no longer the case. A number of steel rainwater systems consist of high build polyester coated pieces. The steel core is so strong that it can withstand impact from ladders and climbing, in addition to heavy rainfall or extreme weather such as the snow experienced at the end of 2010. Various coatings can also be applied to steel with a layer of zinc making it rustproof. It also seals itself along any edge if it is scratched or cut and this innovative self-healing coating is ideal for buildings such as schools, prisons or hospitals where regular painting or maintenance means major disruption and cost.
Long term costs to upkeep rainwater systems are a pressing concern, especially for local authorities. The coating applied to modern steel systems makes them resistant to fading or cracking and less likely to need repair or replacement, ensuring they remain efficient. It also means that the only maintenance is an occasional inspection to make sure that debris isn’t causing a blockage, which doesn’t require a skilled worker to be called in.
As a much more secure and stable system, steel guttering also has the added benefit of being less prone to vandalism and theft, another financial plus for housing associations or local authorities that are under increasing budgetary constraints.
Crucially, as an emerging product, manufacturers offering steel systems often include warranties to provide added security and insurance against any problems in the future. Typically, a steel system comes with a 15 year warranty and could last in situ for thirty years or more.
Sustainable or environmentally friendly credentials continue to become a serious consideration for modern surveyors and architects. Steel rainwater systems are commonly made from an average of 30% recycled scrap metal and can be 100% recycled for future use. Steel also has a lifespan of up to 70 years which again demonstrates how its use can dramatically reduce repair and replacement costs.
Ultimately, whilst PVC is expected to remain the market leader, there are clear reasons why steel is an up and coming guttering material. Plastic systems suffer from movement and leaks, meaning major repairs or replacement on a regular basis with the old product ending up in a landfill. Meanwhile, aluminium is not as strong and cast iron relies on specialist and expensive fitting.
Steel can now compete on cost and equates in price to a mid-range PVC system, in addition to being 100% recyclable and reliable for many years. European regions such as Scandinavia have embraced these systems for a number of years because of their strength and durability and its looks like the UK market is set to follow suit.