New trends are emerging in the pipes and fittings. John Constance, head of sales and marketing at BES - a mail order supplier of fittings to the trade - gives the low-down on the marketplace from his firm's perspective
Technological developments in pipes and fittings has made a raft of jobs quicker and more cost effective.
Broader choice for installers brings opportunities to step outside traditional areas and take on tasks previously considered too complex or specialist. With so much choice available, and so many products on offer to make life easier, there is reason for installation and maintenance engineers to take on more work than ever.
Although skilled trades people tend to be conservative in their approach to new products, BES says the variety of pipes and fittings it mails out every day is testament to changing attitudes.
It introduced TracPipe to its catalogue a couple of years ago. This is a stainless-steel, semi-rigid, corrugated gas pipe with a Polythene cover. And it is fire and smoke retardant. Although semi-rigid piping had been used for gas installations in the US for more than 15 years, and in Japan for 35 years, it had only just been launched in the UK.
The company now carries pipes and fittings made of plastic, copper, plastic-coated copper, brass, DZR brass, malleable-iron and stainless-steel. These are in sizes ranging from 4mm to 180mm, which reflects the variety of materials available.
Its fittings range from products for traditional installation to the latest push-fit designs. They include recently added notched washers that require a special tool to undo, so that they cannot accidentally be dislodged when installing through joists, floors or walls.
Customers make their selection of pipes and fittings to suit
both the application and their personal preferences. Price, availability and the speed with which the job needs to be done also play a part.
A few years ago, BES saw a significant rise in demand for
plastic pipes and fittings, because of their flexibility and the availability of push-fit fittings.
For a while it seemed copper would become a specialist product, used only for applications near to boilers and in circumstances where extreme heat or pressure might be expected. But the copper industry has risen to the challenge posed by the plastics industry, developing both push and press fit fittings.
There is no longer a need to apply heat during installation, which means a reduced fire hazard and makes life simpler for the installer who needs, or prefers, to use copper.
And there is no need to choose between traditional and modern methods. There are fittings available that enable flexible plastic - used to get around obstacles in a tight space, for example - to be attached to rigid copper or steel that has been in situ for many years and does not need to be replaced. So BES now has a steady demand for both materials, and has seen little change in patterns of purchase during the past year.
What the company has seen is an increase in demand for high-pressure hose, pipes, fittings and secondary meters for liquefied petroleum gas, because of the increasing popularity of light commercial units in rural areas.
Oil has remained a common alternative to mains gas in rural areas and, to meet demand, BES says it now stocks the widest range of Flare oil line fittings in the UK.
There has also been a marked increase in demand for under-floor heating and the company has expanded its range of specialist pipes, fittings and controls accordingly.
Air conditioning is becoming more usual in office space, BES has increased its specialist ranges of air conditioning and refrigeration fittings to support installers. In the past year, the company's most noticeable increase in demand has been for eco-friendly products. The latest additions to its range are eco-fill valves and infrared cistern and urinal flush valves.
Manufacturers are continually refining and developing products to make installers' and maintenance engineers' lives easier. Purchasing by mail order is another means of making life easier, and it is continuing to grow in popularity.
Mail order supply offers 24-hour ordering and delivery next day to wherever is most convenient. And it has become an important part of trades people's working lives. These days, professionals do not have the time to spend shopping around trying to source what they need.
BES does take orders via the internet, although telephone remains by far the most popular method of ordering. People still seem to prefer personal contact.
BES does not anticipate any major changes in the market for pipes and fittings in the coming year, but says it is always on the look out for possible trends or interesting new products.
For a copy of BES's latest catalogue or winter supplement, call 0800 80 10 90 or log on to www.bes.ltd.uk,/b>