Making a case for multi-layer piping

Anthony Corbett
Anthony Corbett

Anthony Corbett, Product Applications Engineer at Geberit and a technical representative of the British Plastics Federation - Pipes Group, explores the benefits for installers and building managers.

Offering a flexible, single solution for a wide range of applications, multi-layer piping can combine the advantage of plastic and metal piping systems. With greater pressure on construction projects to be delivered on time and on budget in a challenging climate, it is arguably more important than ever to make the right decision on material choice first time.

We all know the pressure that construction projects are under in the current climate. Construction output prices continue to rise – up 6.2% in the 12 months to December 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics – and with rising costs, it becomes more important to deliver projects on-time and on-budget.  Consequently, getting it right first time is critical to help cut installation time and minimise project costs.

When it comes to supply piping systems, making the right choice can deliver a wide range of benefits. It will support building efficiency, help meet applicable regulations, minimise running costs and deliver a better environment for the end-user. It can also facilitate a more efficient installation, saving labour time and costs in the process.

Get it wrong however, and it can result in anything from faulty fittings and pipe bursts, to corrosion and hygiene issues such as limescale build-up or risk of Legionella. At a time when construction output prices continue to rise, such costly (yet completely avoidable) errors could be catastrophic.

Changing material trends

When it comes to hot and cold potable water supply systems, copper and flexible plastics have both proved their worth over the years, with copper used extensively since the 1940s (and particularly since the 1969 ban on lead piping) thanks to a number of benefits including inherent strength and stability, resistance to the effects of heat and pressure, not to mention hygiene properties. Flexible piping came to the fore in the 1980s and 1990s providing an inexpensive alternative to metal pipework systems.

Both remain popular, but there is another option which is becoming increasingly viable, combining the benefits of both plastic and metal in delivering a strong yet flexible solution.

Conscious of the need to make the right choice first time and driven by key factors such as cost, reliability and ease of installation, project teams are increasingly turning to this adaptable all-rounder – which is suitable for a broad scope of applications.

Strong and flexible multi-layer pipework

Multi-layer pipework is not a new solution. In fact, the first multi-layer composite pipes were introduced to the UK market over 40 years ago, but it has often been reserved for industrial applications. Now, with greater discussion over materials selection and increased awareness of the benefits, it is proving to be an effective all-rounder which can overcome many challenges faced by project teams.

Multi-layer piping is corrosion-resistant, hygienic and the aluminium layer offers a barrier to oxygen diffusion through the pipe wall. This minimises the risk of damage by oxygen corrosion elsewhere in the system. It offers reduced thermal expansion, is a poor heat conductor and has low intrinsic scrap value too, reducing the risk of theft from site which remains a concern for many in the industry.

Crucially, it can deliver a system which can be stronger and more durable than plastic piping, yet lighter and more flexible than metal options. It is a combination that can not only ensure a more efficient installation, but can also overcome many of the specification challenges that could lead to costly errors or faults later down the line. With new technologies including press-fit innovations constantly in development, the solution will only improve.

Educating the industry

I have seen the shift towards multi-layer piping first hand, including through the British Plastics Federation Pipes Group.

The BPF Pipes Group is a leading trade association of the UK plastic pipe and fittings industry. The five Technical Groups encompass the application areas in which plastic piping systems are utilised. The Groups offer a wide range of support and resources for the industry, from thought pieces and webinars, to guidance notes to information on correct standards for the manufacturing, supply and installation of plastic piping systems.

As a trade federation it is our responsibility to ensure that these standards are understood and updated in line with changing industry trends and we ensure multi-layer piping is included. The focus is on making sure multi-layer piping products and systems are correct for the marketplace and that installers are aware of how they can and should be using such products for various applications.

Ultimately, this is happening because multi-layer piping is a proven technology, here to stay and with a host of benefits for heating engineers and contractors across a wide range of projects. We need to promote the benefits to continue the shift.

Antony Corbett is product applications engineer at Geberit

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