John Guest: Working with Plastic (Part One)

John Guest: Working with Plastic (Part One)

Nigel Sanger, Technical Manager at JG Speedfit discusses why plastic fittings are becoming the primary choice for many plumbers.

Having worked in the plumbing industry for several decades, it’s fair to say that a lot has changed. At the start of my career, everybody I worked with used copper – it was simply the done thing.

In recent times, however, we’ve seen the popularity of plastic continue to grow as part of a wider trend that looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future. While some people are quicker to adapt to change than others, the fact remains that plastic fittings are a worthy alternative to copper ones, for reasons outlined below.

Housing designs

One of the most significant changes in modern housing centres on the use of joists. 25 years ago, solid wood was used to create the joists used to provide support between the floors.

The problem with this came when the supply of wood was no longer able to meet demand, prompting housebuilders to explore fast-growing wood as a replacement, a solution which was wholly inadequate since the wood wasn’t strong enough, resulting in bendy ceilings and creaking floorboards.

As plumbers were expected to stand on top of joists to lay pipes, the risk of injury to plumbers from falling between joists meant this approach was no longer suitable.

This resulted in the introduction of engineered joists, the main drawback of which was the need to install them and fix the sheet flooring at the same time.

This meant plumbers had to work from underneath the joists, threading pipes through like cabling systems. The highly flexible lay-flat pipe makes the installation significantly easier as plumbers can thread a single coil through the joists.

Electrical faults

Unlike copper, plastic is a poor conductor of electricity, greatly reducing the risk of electric shock and structural fires. Given the growing emphasis on health and safety, these factors can only add to the appeal of plastic.

Expansion/thermal properties

Plastic pipework will absorb heat more slowly than copper, meaning that hot water will get to the tap sooner as it is not wasted in heating up the pipe as is the case with copper.

Because of constant fluctuations in temperature, both materials, copper in particular, are liable to expand and contract. Unlike plastic, expanding copper results in unwanted noise and vibration, both of which are disruptive to the homeowner’s enjoyment of their property.

This makes plastic a more effective choice to eliminate such concerns.

Material of choice

The reality is that, for a lot of plumbers, the association with plastic is often a negative one.

In fact, the use of the word plastic is, in itself, quite misleading since the actual material used for pipework is cross-linked polyethylene, and polybutylene, a specially-engineered material which has been specifically designed to ensure robustness over extended periods. The same applies for push-fit connection technology.

By looking at applications, which use O-ring seals, such as car brakes and fuel systems, there can be little doubt as to the suitability of this material. If we trust this material for other critical applications, it makes sense that we should do the same in the plumbing industry.

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