Buy quality and breathe easier

ADCAS, Association of Ductwork Contractors & Allied Services, ductwork, ventilation, air conditioning
The risks of trying to save cost — Malcolm Moss.

Malcom Moss explains why cost should not be the only consideration when specifying ductwork for ventilation systems, because it will only cost more in the long-term.

Tighter budgets and the pursuit of savings have seen many sectors of the construction industry undergo squeezed profit margins in these straitened times. The ductwork sector is no different, and is facing major challenges to convince clients to move away from a price-first approach when selecting a ductwork contractor

The challenges of one sector are unlikely to cut much ice with clients or contractors who are themselves under pressure to secure the best deal on offer. However, there are several factors other than price that should be considered when appointing a contractor.

Safety, for one, is an increasingly important factor that requires serious consideration. A host of legislation exists that specifiers, contractors and building owners need to grasp. Clients who have broader considerations than price will be more likely to have peace-of-mind that their ductwork complies with the latest legislation.

‘We employ our own company health and safety manager, and that comes at a cost,’ says Simon Roxburgh, managing director of ductwork manufacturer Boyd & Co. He says that this is a cost that is not borne by some companies who offer lower prices.

‘We may be up against a man in a shed who just buys ductwork from whoever is cheapest. He hasn’t got his own factory, yet will suddenly win a job on price. He might be 15% cheaper than us, but he hasn’t got the expertise we have,’ says Roxburgh.

Poor-quality ductwork poorly installed can lead to poor performance of air-movement systems. The guiding document in this area is DW144, which is recognised as the default specification for manufacture and installation of sheet-metal ductwork.

Bryan Welch, commercial director of ductwork specialist ASM Engineering, says. ‘It is very easy for less-robust manufacturers to pass off poor-quality ductwork as fit-for-purpose. It may look right, but unless someone has taken the trouble to check the construction and thickness of galvanised coating, you will have no idea whether it is compliant or not.’

While galvanising may not seem crucial to non-experts, it will have a considerable effect on life-time performance of the system, and can lead to a requirement for early replacement. This would be a major cost for the building owner.

These are not the only matters to consider when appointing a contractor. Low prices are often linked to low quality in the overall ductwork manufacturing process. Issues include use of lighter-gauge steel, incorrect gaskets between joints, incorrect joint spacings and inadequate stiffening or supports. It is these problems that have long-term negative effects on the performance of ventilation systems primarily because they cause air leakage. This adds to the cost of the ventilation system every day that it operates.

This is an important point to bear in mind, as the property sector is now facing the likelihood that buildings below an F or G rating on their Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) will not be permitted to be sold or let. Poorly performing ductwork would therefore have a direct impact on the value of a building.

When considering a cost-first approach to selecting a ductwork contractor, it is not only manufactured quality that should be considered. Companies that make very low bids for work must reduce their own costs by using cheaper materials, but they are also more prone to less robust business processes — a situation which can cause problems during the construction phase.

As Simon Roxburgh asks, ‘How much does it cost the client, in the end, to manage a company that’s not performing?’

Bryan Welch agrees, ‘People with a poor track record, be it commercial, health and safety or quality, consistently win work because their prices are the most attractive. However, it creates a risk in the contract chain because more client resources are needed to manage that poor performance and rectify non-compliance. That’s a future and often hidden costs clients just don’t seem to recognise they are incurring.’

Whether it’s a small installation in a takeaway kitchen or a large-scale project, the simple fact is that ductwork performs the role of a building’s lungs. Viewed as such, it seems counter-intuitive that clients and main contractors with an eye on their own good standing should be satisfied with the cheapest option.

It’s a choice that may see their building beginning to wheeze and splutter later in its lifetime — and cause their wallets to feel a good deal lighter in the process.

Malcolm Moss is the president of the Association of Ductwork Contractors & Allied Services. He is also managing director of Doby Verrolec.

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