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SAINT-GOBAIN - Above Ground Drainage Systems: Making The Right Choice Based On Installation Requirements

When specifying above ground drainage systems for large multi-storey commercial and residential projects, there are four main choices in terms of materials – cast iron, HDPE, PVC, and stainless steel.

The criteria for the choice of material are numerous and include purchase cost, maintenance costs, longevity, durability, fire resistance, acoustic qualities and recyclability at the end of the product’s life.

However, increasingly important, especially in projects where speed is of the essence, is the ease of installation of the drainage system and the associated time involved.

This is especially the case in buildings which are occupied and where it is therefore simply not acceptable for wastewater systems to be out of action for a protracted period, which would entail the costs of finding alternative temporary accommodation for residents or businesses.

Specifiers and installers therefore need to consider all aspects of cost at this stage – including product cost but also installation time, and ancillary products and equipment needed.

Developments in jointing systems

Traditionally, cast iron pipes have been jointed using two-piece ductile iron couplings assembled with nuts and bolts. Some installers – particularly those more familiar with plastic systems - have a perception that a higher level of skill is needed to assemble and further time added to test cast iron systems.

This perception – supported by recent research showed many plumbing installers would prefer to use cast iron if a simpler and more rapid jointing system were available –and has led to the development of a new innovative push-fit cast iron above ground drainage system. The system consists of socketed fittings and couplings, which do not require significant operator skill, and allow each joint to be made in a matter of a few seconds. Testing time allocated at the end of the installation is also greatly reduced.

HDPE systems are typically installed and jointed using fusion welded couplings while PVC pipes usually require solvents. These systems are generally reliable but are heavily reliant on operator skill and can be time-consuming. Furthermore, the testing of systems jointed with solvents can also take an extended time, almost certainly requiring at least 24 hours from initial jointing, therefore ruling it out as an option where interruptions to service are simply not allowable for legal or cost reasons.

By contrast, push-fit systems can be tested immediately after installation. This drainage system – very much an easy ‘fit and forget’ solution - also lends itself better to vertical stacks passing through many floors, where access may be an issue after installation.

A recent study at the Building Research Establishment involving an independent installer verified that a push-fit cast iron system was comparable in installation time to stainless steel, but was significantly quicker to install than HDPE systems jointed using fusion welding - and that this speed of installation can effectively bridge the gap with HDPE products in terms of material costs, allowing the supply of the most robust, durable, safe and sustainable solution at no additional cost.

Hidden costs down the line

A further issue with the installation of HDPE and PVC systems is the additional fire protection needed to approach the same level of safety offered by metal products. Plastic systems require fire collars on each floor to meet the requirements of BS EN1366-3 which is intended to prevent the fire from spreading to other floors. However, tests carried out at a German laboratory showed that this safety measure is flawed. Fire collars fitted in or under the floor slab on a vertical application will likely remain inactive below the fire compartment, and therefore can allow molten droplets from flammable systems such as HDPE to pass through to the floor below. On high rise buildings this becomes a potential risk to the building occupants. Fumes from burning plastic pipes are also highly toxic and are regarded as the biggest killer in any fire. All these ancillary products add further to cost and installation time – and still will not guarantee the same level of fire resistance offered by metal pipes, with cast iron being non-combustible and so requiring no special cladding or other safety measures.

HDPE pipes also require the fitting of expansion limiters, something which cannot be said of cast iron with its greater inherent strength. And in applications where the acoustic qualities of drainage systems are paramount – for example hospitals or residential buildings – the proven sound-deadening performance of cast iron means no additional insulation is required at installation stage. This is an area where plastic-based systems cannot compete.

HDPE and stainless steel above ground pipe systems require the use of specialist installation tools, entailing an additional hire cost. HDPE systems require a fusion welding machine, while a specialist cutting and bevelling equipment is needed for stainless steel pipes. For a project lasting a number of weeks, this cost can become significant, reaching thousands of pounds. All that is needed for cast iron pipes is a chopsaw which most installers will have available, and a low-cost jointing lubricant. Stack support systems are also available for cast iron products, allowing installers to work on several floors simultaneously if required, but these systems are not widely available for plastic systems.

For specifiers and installers wanting a quality product which delivers on performance, longevity, acoustics, safety and sustainability, cast iron has always been the number one choice. Now, the availability of push-fit systems is making the installation task easier and enabling faster turnaround on large and small projects alike, while delivering significant savings and so matching the cost of alternative materials while offering a longer-lasting, maintenance-free solution.

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Arundel Jones Associates Ltd Registered in England and Wales No. 07334149
Hill Farm, Linton Hill, Maidstone, Kent ME 17 4AL
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