Soaring scrap metal prices have prompted a huge increase in the theft of metal tools and materials, drawing attention to the problems of using metal piping on today's buildings. Polypipe Terrain's Adam Turk (right), takes a look at the situation and examines the alternatives
ONE of the most worrying effects of the soaring price of scrap metal is the rapid rise in the number of thefts from construction sites. Organised gangs steal metal construction materials to be melted down and shipped abroad.
Metal pipes waiting on site to be installed (or even those that have already been installed) represent easy pickings. The fact that some police forces have set up task forces specifically to tackle this problem suggests that it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
This trend has, in part, been prompted by the rising price of the raw metals, something that has also been reflected in the current prices of metal piping systems.
Plastic is one obvious answer. When you look at modern plastic piping systems, many benefits other than non-volatile prices and the virtually non-existent threat of theft rapidly start to emerge.
Plastic pipe manufacturers often highlight speed of installation as a significant factor in favour of their products. Being plastic, they are lighter than the alternatives. This makes them easier to handle and reduces the labour cost.
The bespoke jointing systems offered by modern plastic systems also reduce the skill levels needed for installation. This could be seen as a plus when faced with the construction industry skills shortage.
Creating the specific piping configuration required for any project is a relatively simple task, and as a lightweight and inherently non-hazardous product plastic pipes also provide numerous health and safety benefits.
Removing metal pipes from the equation eliminates the potentially dangerous tools and techniques needed to cut and work them. In the past, buildings have caught fire because of the hot works associated with metal pipes. And this is a particularly sensitive issue with refurbishment projects on buildings which have any historical value.
Permits may be required to carry out this type of work, and there is sometimes a need to finish the piping work early each day so that the hot works tools can be allowed to cool down before the site is locked for the evening. Eliminating these drawbacks by using plastic piping reduces the time needed to complete the installation.
Plastic pipes can also allow a high degree of prefabrication work to be done off site. This means that, even where a project requires a maze of piping, they can be assembled off site and delivered ready for installation. The pre-assembly work can be done in controlled conditions that allow better quality control. Again this helps to reduce the time and costs associated with the on-site installation phase.
Once the pipes are in the building, reliability and performance become the key factors. Plastic pipes will go on providing excellent service for many years ahead. This makes them suitable for projects such as those carried out under PFI initiatives where guaranteeing the work for anything up to 25 years may be required.
During the life of the building, thoughts will eventually turn to any maintenance requirements that the installed pipes may have. Rust and corrosion problems do not exist with plastic pipes and they do not need repeated painting either. This makes life easier for the occupier and also generates savings in the whole-life cost of the building.
The ease with which plastic pipes can be worked also means that replacing any components that become damaged is often a quicker and easier task too.
Plastic does not transmit sound in the same way that metal does. This allows plastic pipe manufacturers to offer acoustically damped piping systems that prevent noise being transmitted between rooms in multi-occupancy buildings such as hotels, offices and apartment blocks.
Before reliable plastic pipe systems were developed, engineers and builders had little choice but to use metal. But perhaps the time has now come for more specifiers and contractors to move away from traditional materials and start thinking more about the many benefits that the modern alternative offers.
T: 01709 770000