Copper maintains its appeal

Published:  14 April, 2006

copper
Compared with steel pipework, copper enables significant savings to be made in installation time across a wide range of pipe sizes. The use of press fittings, shown here, avoids the use of flames on site.

PETER MARSH highlights research that emphasise the technical and commercial benefits of copper for pipework systems.

Pipework installations are the arteries and veins of any building, and their correct and efficient functioning are essential. It is vital that appropriate materials are selected for the installations and that the selection criteria includes performance, quality of material and installation costs.

The UK Copper Board runs regular independent surveys to monitor the perception of copper and its position in the installation market. The results have consistently highlighted that copper’s qualities speak for themselves, with installers noting that copper is a reliable and good-quality product that can be used in any installation. Plumbers also recognise that copper gives value for money and offers a neat and professional appearance.

Innovation

To complement the advantages offered by the natural properties of copper plumbing systems, the copper industry has developed innovative and forward-looking products that help installers save time and money.

To keep pace with developments in the construction industry, we have seen the introduction of push-fit and press fittings. These flame-free systems are simple and quick to use, which means that the actual time spent on site is reduced. As a result, productivity and profitability are increased, and tight schedules are more easily achieved. Some push-fit fittings can be de-mounted and re-used, allowing last minute changes to the design to be incorporated.

Copper’s qualities make it an excellent material for use in both commercial and residential sprinkler systems. The criteria set by the new European Standard for commercial fire-sprinkler systems, EN 12845, gives copper a vital role to play in combating fires in schools, museums, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, offices, dairies, bakeries and breweries. The inclusion of copper in the standard as an appropriate material for fire-suppression systems is due to copper’s unique properties. Copper tube’s smooth bore, corrosion resistance, light weight, ease of fabrication, bending and jointing make it not only an easy material to install but also ensure that it retains its strength and shape in rising temperatures. Copper capillary fittings to the appropriate standard, BS EN 1254, as required by the new fire sprinkler standard, are widely available.

In the residential market, the copper industry has worked alongside organisations such as the Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering and the Fire Sprinkler Association within BSI Standards Committees to establish BS 9251, the Code of Practice for domestic fire sprinkler systems. When the Studley Green housing estate was refurbished, domestic sprinklers were installed in 212 of the properties, making the project the first large-scale installation of residential sprinklers in social housing in Europe. Copper was chosen, as it allowed the installers to fit the pipework quickly and neatly in confined spaces. It also offers excellent corrosion resistance, leading to a long maintenance-free installation life.

Value for money

For the installer, a direct benefit of copper systems is that a professionally installed high-quality system minimises return calls from clients, which strengthens the installer’s reputation. In addition, copper also offers installers value for money. Research commissioned by the UK Copper Board in November 2005 into the installation costs of non-domestic plumbing and heating systems, has found that copper gives a saving of 33% compared to steel. The results support a similar study completed in 2002, which also found copper to be more competitive on installed cost than steel.

The research was carried out by Davis Langdon Management Consulting and evaluated the costs for installing copper and steel pipes with diameters up to 108 mm. It found that a significant saving can be achieved across a ‘sample’ installation of mixed pipe sizes using a range of pipe sizes and fittings. A steel installation would have cost £15 487. The equivalent copper installation using capillary fittings would cost £10 401, a saving of a third over the steel installation. Similar installations using copper compression fittings would also save installers 31% and a press-fittings installation would save 29% on the overall installation cost.

The research also looked at the cost of single-size pipe installations. There was a total saving across all sizes from 45% when using 22 mm copper pipe to 7% for 67 mm pipe against the steel pipe equivalents. In addition, the time to install copper pipe is on average about 15% less than for steel, with the time difference increasing to 23% for the smallest 15 mm bores and 47% for the largest 108 mm bores. This, in turn, saves labour cost and time spent on site and helps tight project programmes to be met.

Compatible

An important benefit of copper systems is that the copper industry has ensured, through European Standards for copper tube and copper alloy fittings, that its products are compatible between manufacturers. Products in competing materials, on the other hand, often have to be sourced from a single manufacturer, restricting material options.

Overall, in both heating and plumbing installations and sprinkler systems, copper offers installers cost savings and consistently high quality, together with the latest installation technology, making copper a truly cost-effective modern material for building services.

Peter Marsh is chairman of the UK Copper Board,1 Brunel Court, Corner Hall, Hemel Hempstead HP3 9XX



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