Beating the threat of metal thefts

Durapipe - Des Dolan
Overdue acknowledgement of the valid alternative that plastic pipework systems provide — Des Dolan.

The benefits of plastic pipework systems should be even more attractive to the building-services industry than metal is to thieves — believes Des Dolan.

Metal thefts on building sites dominated the headlines in 2008. Despite recent price drops, the price of copper is still high, meaning the issue remains a threat; the cost to the UK construction industry is estimated at £360 million per year. Despite the warnings, many developers and contractors continue to use metal pipework systems, but Durapipe UK is urging everyone involved in the construction industry to consider viable plastic alternative options to reduce these risks.

Copper pipework is set to remain a prime target for stripping from building sites for the foreseeable future, whilst the value of scrap metal remains so high. In recent months, more and more contractors have realised the very real risks as their project costs spiral. Investing in extra security on-site as a preventive measure or replacing pipework that has been stolen incurs additional, unplanned expenses — driving up the final project cost.

Metal pipework is traditionally the primary choice for the conveyance of water within modern buildings, but it is not the only option. Plastic pipework systems can provide equal, if not higher, performance levels compared with metal systems, whilst offering the added benefit of completely eradicating thefts of pipework on-site and reducing installed project costs through numerous installation benefits.

The benefits of plastics over metals during the installation process are clear for anyone to see, especially on solvent cement jointed systems. The simple one-step jointing technique means that joints are made quickly and easily, reducing the labour time required. In addition, at one sixth the weight of metal products, plastic systems are much easier to handle on site. No hot works or specialist tools are required, meaning installation time can be significantly reduced, with the overall installed cost as much as 50% less.

The impressive installed cost savings are not the only advantages of plastics. Long-term performance benefits means the lifespan of a pipework system will contribute to significant life-cycle cost savings. Plastic materials do not suffer from limescale build-up, so the smooth bore of the pipe remains the same throughout its lifetime, maintaining consistent flow rates and improving efficiency. The corrosion-resistant properties of plastic also mean that there will be no material deterioration from soft water areas, avoiding costly maintenance and repair work.

The variety of plastic materials available ensures that there is a solution to meet all building services pipework needs. SuperFLO ABS, for example, is an extremely robust pipe system that remains tough and durable at temperatures as low as -40°C, making it ideal for chilled or boosted cold-water applications. Vulcathene is a purpose-designed chemical drainage system, offering safe chemical waste conveyance for a variety of laboratory applications in schools, hospitals, universities and research facilities. The Friatherm hot and cold water system boasts a wide operational range from -0 to 90°C and coupled with speed of installation, it is a cost effective alternative to copper. Friaphon is a purpose-designed sound reducing drainage system that offers outstanding sound insulation properties, compared with traditional cast iron or lagged single wall plastic drainage, making it ideal for multi-occupancy developments.

Durapip - plastic pipework
Plastics pipework systems are available in a wide range of materials, as this collection of tee pieces in five materials demonstrates.

Durapipe UK experienced a significant increase in enquires throughout 2008 as contractors across the country started to look at alternatives to metal. Many new users of plastics have been amazed by the results and are becoming total converts to plastic systems. One such company is Cavendish, a contractor that has been converted to plastics after installing Durapipe SuperFLO as part of a refurbishment of the production site at Astrium, a global leader in aerospace and defence satellite services.

The pipework replaced an existing copper system and was required to transport chilled water for the air-conditioning system to cool offices, clean rooms and satellite products. Cavendish has traditionally opted for copper pipework systems but is now convinced by the performance and benefits of plastic as a viable alternative for pipework. Project manager from Cavendish, Steve Allen, comments: ‘For the Astrium project we knew we needed pipework that was lightweight, but it was still a steep learning curve for many in the company who had not had experience of using plastic pipework before. The company has now been won over by plastics. The lightweight material was easy to install and joint, which cut out the timely task of welding sections together and enabled the company to provide an efficient and productive service for Astrium.’

Other contractors are following this lead. There will always be a need for metal pipework systems because of the current legal requirement for gas conveyance and also to meet particular high-pressure requirements of certain applications. However, for building-services needs, plastic solutions meet and exceed performance requirements, as well as offering additional benefits.

Despite this, there are still many who are suffering the effects of metal thefts on site. Perhaps a complete industry shift is needed, as well as an overdue acknowledgement of the valid alternative that plastic pipework systems provide.


Des Dolan is building-services brand manager with Durapipe UK.

Durapipe system
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