Water and waste runs through it – most of the time!

By Rory Macnamara and Terry Smith (Legacy Plumbing)

Imagine a client has spent thousands on a refurbished, state-of-the-art kitchen or bathroom, built by a contractor, but sadly the plumber only got the fittings part and a bit of pipework because the client thought replacing pipes was an additional and unnecessary cost because, “After all, no one sees the pipes!” 

Then, sometime later, an annoyed customer phones to complain about a gurgling noise from somewhere, or smelly stuff is coming up into the shower or bath or even worse the toilet is overflowing. One has seen it all and as soon as our contracting colleagues realise this, the better. The pipework is more important than the aesthetically pleasing items on top.

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Now you must tell the homeowner that all the beautiful ‘surface’ stuff must come out, be replaced or whatever because the pipes and fittings are about 50 years old. The builder allowed cement to get into the pipes and the kitchen contractor did not think about water leaks ruining the solid oak cupboards never mind the new solid wood floor!

Two things come out here – contracting colleagues should not interfere with the plumber’s work, and plumbers, how do we improve on our protocols especially with the expanded pipe/fitting availability.

What fittings go with what pipes, can they be interchangeable, how easily can these be repaired and what about availability? How environmentally-friendly are the materials – can they be reused or do they become part of the landfill?

There are lots of good CPD opportunities for plumbers if they handle the environmental aspect sensibly. And lots to think about in terms of environment. For this feature a matrix was produced which addresses most of the issues. Terry suggested including price range and price fluctuations and such. In discussion with some suppliers this was considered a potential bomb as The Competitions Commission discourages any type of price mention, especially when there may only be two suppliers as we have in copper for example.
Instead, we put a couple of questions to industry bodies and two merchants just to obtain an overview, and allowed the matrix to speak for itself when it came to manufacturers/suppliers.

Download Matrix here

We approached two official bodies representing manufacturers and two plumbing merchant groups to get a feel for the state of the pipes and fittings market.
As regards any noticeable trend in pipe choice, the feeling was not any noticeable shift. (This excludes pipe that is required in the compulsory standards.)

The issue of price has seen great movement, the CDAA remarked, “The copper price has increased dramatically over the last year which has an effect on the selling price.” SAPPMA commented, “Polymer prices, and particularly PVC, had massive increases. By way of illustration, the SAPPMA index for PVC increased from 109 April 2020 to 201 April 2021.”

One merchant put it directly, “There have been significant price increases over the last year.”

All agreed that supply of raw material was an issue both locally and internationally. Merchants were comfortable that they had managed their stocks well enough through this period but added that there has been a “dramatic impact in both supply and pricing since Covid -19.”

The question was put to all about any increase in complaints on pipe quality during this period and the response was a clear no regarding their members and merchants maintain their usual suppliers, so no change beyond the normal complaints which are few. The question was important in that a few non-compliant manufacturers are around. One even claiming they have a SABS test report to a specific standard. Not, under any circumstances, anywhere near obtaining the Mark.

Our final question was what should technical publications, like Plumbing Africa, be doing to add to the ongoing education of all professionals and trades in our industry?
CDAA – “The SABS standards should be finalised, reinforced, and advertised.”
SAPPMA – “Adopt the long-term view rather than the short-term gain – cannot be over-emphasised.”
ON TAP – “Do not substitute quality for price. The end user needs to be educated about the importance of what is going into the ground.”

Standards*- why do we have them?

Correctly stated, standards are a set of rules that outline specifications of dimensions, design of operations, materials, and performance, or describe quality of materials, products, or systems. These standards should cover the performance expectations for applications, as well as, in the case of drinking water contact, the chemicals that may be leached from the product into the water. The intent of standards is to provide at least – minimum quality, safety, and performance for particular applications. They reduce the risk of error by installers and provide assurance to the plumbing system owner. Standards also provide direction to the manufacturers in respect to the expectations of the products they produce.
The existence of a standard does not always ensure that all available products meet a specific standard.

To be confident of uniformity in a product there must be checks and balances. This is accomplished by assessment conformity. Simply stated, it means that a product, material, or device has been tested and verified to meet the specification that has been developed. Assessment conformity, by any other name, means that a product, service, material, system, device, or component has underground testing to ensure it meets the intended standard for such product, material, system, device, or component. There are several organisations that perform assessment conformity and, in most cases, if a specific product, material, system, device or component meets a designated standard, the organisation may allow the placement of a mark or logo to certify that the relevant standard was successfully met.”

Download Matrix here

The South African situation

We have a body, over 75 years old, the South Africa Bureau of Standard (SABS), who have been developing standards in all sectors. Notwithstanding a serious wobbly some years ago when this body suffered some body blows, which placed most industries in difficult positions vis-à-vis expiry of certificates and was just one mess. The consequence of this resulted in some manufacturers/suppliers seeking alternatives in both the testing and certification arenas. We now have four certification bodies, including SABS, able to perform this essential function of certifying to South African National Standards (SANS). We have several test centres who may be used by above bodies to test, and they will all be accredited by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) which is the only national body responsible for carrying out accreditations in respect of conformity assessment.

We also have the SA Watermark which is a register of plumbing components that complies to the relevant national SANS standard for that product.

Agrement SA which has just celebrated its 50 anniversary offers certification in the areas where SABS does not have a mark and where the product is ‘fit-for-purpose’ as opposed ‘deemed to satisfy.’

So why then do we settle for less?

JASWIC was formed some decades ago by a group of municipal engineers to address the issue of water leaks arising from taps, mixers, fittings and such, and has carried on this acceptance scheme adapting to the changed circumstances as mentioned above, but still allowing for test only. Today, with four certification bodies and Agrément SA there should be no reason to accept a test only.

*Extracted from the WHO Standards for materials used in plumbing systems, Chapter 10, Health Aspects of Plumbing, a World Plumbing Council publication. Published in conjunction with the World Health Organisation.

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A3PlumbingAfrica September 2021 Pipe and fittings


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