Bruce Meechan visits Bristol to hear how local residents are being given ultra modern heating systems
Despite having two long established league clubs, football fans in Bristol rarely get the chance these days to watch top players perform the pyrotechnics seen on Premiership pitches. Over the past year, however, local residents have been having their lives enriched by a group of artisans who have proved they can “Bend it like Beckham”.
For what Bristol City Council’s Technical Investment Manager, John Long, describes as a successful partnership has seen Plumb Center supplying Connaught with not only high performance Vaillant and Worcester Bosch boilers, but also Uponor’s very versatile MLCP - or multi-layer composite pipe - plumbing system for upgrading the heating in a thousand homes.
A dozen pairs of engineers are each taking an average of just two and a half working days to completely rip out and replace the old cast iron boilers; together with all the radiators, pipework and controls: replacing them with advanced installations destined to save significant sums on future gas bills for tenants; many of whom are in fuel poverty.
But the benefits of using the Uponor composite pipework extend far beyond energy efficiency and are simplifying the whole installation process, as John Long explains. He states: “What we are finding is that tenants are very enthusiastic about the system because it is self-finished, but there are a lot of positives for us as well. The MLCP pipework is not getting stolen as copper often is; it is easier to install, far lighter and the engineers like it because it is clean to use. Also tenants cannot do alterations themselves. “These are all attributes which are drawing a lot of attention from other councils and housing associations. Since we started installations last March we have not had one leak. I believe it was the right move for us. “We currently have 600 out of our total of 28,500 homes which do not come up to the Decent Homes standard for heating; but we have no concerns we will finish the upgrades well before March 2011, along with other aspects of the programme: such as kitchen and bathroom replacements.”
Adrian Armstrong, Connaught’s Gas Manager on the project, adds: “It is interesting that after initially being opposed to the changeover, none of the installers would want to go back to the old practices now. Uponor’s MLCP pipework is cleaner and much easier to install. MLCP offers us many of the benefits of plastic plumbing systems, as well as the strength of copper, and if someone does manage to drive a nail through a pipe, repair is simpler as well because you have that bit of give in the pipes to put in a fitting.”
The only hiccup in the changeover that any of the partners could identify was in getting the inventories right for the different property types, because all of the installers were using the system for the first time and did not have the normal ‘stock’ of fittings you will find in the back of most engineers’ vans.
There had been an initial trial of four very different sizes of flats and houses, with the inevitable learning process for all involved. The team then went back through these pilot projects to determine exactly what had been used and fine-tuned the kits accordingly.
Critical though, to the way Uponor’s MLCP system can be installed is the makeup of the pipe itself and the equipment provided.
Connaught is being supplied with both coils and straight lengths of the pipe which features a polyethylene core, overlaid by a longitudinally welded, aluminium ‘safety overlap,’ which is what allows the composite to be bent to virtually any radius. Another PE layer provides the distinctive white overlay that is so attractive to building occupants.
It is very easy to create a tight knuckle bend with your hands – or even – a U-shape – and still be able to slide the bending spring back and forth freely. So although fittings are dearer, you need far fewer of them.
Although the heating engineers are employing a handful of conventional solder fittings to come off the boiler tails, the rest of the installation is done using Uponor’s ultra rapid rechargeable pressing tool. An inspection window in the fitting verifies the pipe is inserted correctly before the interchangeable jaws of the compact tool effortlessly complete the pressing operation. A special stop ring breaks into pieces and falls away to indicate a successful joint.
The absence of flux from this process makes power-flushing the system far faster while the fact the fittings seal on the inside of the pipe offer extra confidence in its integrity.