Metal vs non-metal piping solutions: which is best?

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Keeping The Water Flowing

Brendan Hegerty, Global Director of Water Solutions at Oxford Flow, takes a closer look at the solutions for effective water

When it comes to piping solutions today, there are a few misconceptions about whether metal or plastic is better for optimal water distribution and applications. In the past, metal was considered the ‘stronger’ option, when the manufacturing of plastics was still in its infancy.

However, as technology advances and new highly engineered products, such as Polyethylene (PE) have become available, there is now no doubt that this is the superior option. As such, knowledge of the benefits of plastic piping systems can save vast amounts of money, time and environmental damage.

With this in mind, let’s address some of the myths surrounding plastic pipework systems, from their capabilities and characteristics to their lifespan and cost, as well as highlighting some of the main challenges that come with using metal pipes.

Fact or Fiction?

Plastic is the more expensive option 

FACT: Opting for plastic piping solutions can offer significant cost savings due to a few factors. The initial installation requires less transportation and labor due to its lightweight and flexible nature, unlike heavier metal options, saving time and money with quick installation. A pipe length can be 2 or 3 times greater than a rigid material, meaning far less fittings are required. Not only this, but each pipe fitting will take less time, it will require lower equipment costs and provide more versatile connection options.

Non-metal piping also requires less maintenance than traditional copper and steel, largely due to the issues that stem from corrosion with these materials. Frequent water testing is needed to ensure quality is not affected from this, as well as regular monitoring of the systems, whereas plastic systems do not rust, degrade or corrode in the same way, removing the need for regular maintenance and repair costs.

Plastics are not as durable as their metal counterparts 

FACT: Metal pipes are more prone to cracks and splits over time due to the effects of corrosion. Fluctuation in temperature, or ground movement can also cause these materials to split. However, plastics such as PVC or PE are extremely tough, able to withstand high temperatures and pressure, remaining ductile and flexible even in the most challenging of conditions. The rigidity of metal works against it in this sense, becoming more fragile as it rusts and deteriorates, affecting pipe pressure and flow rate as a consequence.

This inflexibility is also a challenge for businesses that want more customized solutions. Metal piping is more traditional and therefore can only offer standard options, whereas plastic systems can be purpose-designed for a specific application, offering better operational benefits long-term.

Plastics are not sustainable 

FACT: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face as an industry is the realignment of plastics as a viable sustainable alternative. Providing energy-efficient, environmentally friendly products has become a focus as technology has allowed for more innovation to create these custom solutions that encourage more responsible consumption and production.

As a result, plastic pipes now carry strong sustainability credentials throughout all stages of their lifespan. This is due to a rigorous process from inception, i.e., selecting the right raw materials, right through to manufacturing, product use and end-of-life disposal. Our polymer pipes, for example, guarantee the highest performance and durability whilst offering a lower product environment footprint. It is this selection and highly stringent testing process that has evolved over time to create solutions that are both performance-based and sustainable. 

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