Whistle blown on pre-insulated pipework

An example of pre-insulated pipework installed within a building
An example of pre-insulated pipework installed within a building

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Thermal Insulation Contractors Association (TICA) have joined forces to question the suitability of pipework normally used for underground and buried applications, such as primary heating networks, now being deployed inside buildings.

They describe it as a “fundamental change in product application”, taking the products outside the scope of the quality standards normally applied to their performance. Given the current focus on fire safety in buildings, the two organisation want to draw attention to the issue.

They explained that building services pipe insulation specifications typically reflect the requirements of BS 5422 to ensure full compliance with Building Regulations. However, pre-insulated pipework systems typically use either polyurethane (PUR) cable or polyethylene (PE) insulants, which do not meet the fire performance criteria typically specified in building services applications. 

“In addition, the one-size-fits-all approach to insulation thickness typically undertaken by manufacturers of pre-insulated pipework simply does not allow for the required flexibility to meet individual specification requirements,” the joint statement said.

Both bodies are particularly concerned about the use of coiled flexible polyethylene insulated piping systems. “We have increasing evidence that these systems are being installed in high-risk buildings, such as large multi-residential buildings,” the said. 

The statement seeks to remind manufacturers, distributors, and installers of pre-insulated polyethylene pipework systems that they have a responsibility to provide evidence of the suitability of these products for the specific application specified.

Specifiers are also urged to check on the thermal performance of the polyethylene system and to ask the supplier how it would meet the heat loss/heat gain requirements of BS 5422 and Part L of the Building Regulations. The product in question is also required to have the appropriate Euroclass fire rating, they said.

Graeme Fox, BESA’s head of technical, said: “This is a critical fire safety issue and both bodies were determined to present a united front to help protect best practice in building services installations.

“One of the important lessons learned from the Grenfell tragedy was that products may have been tested and certified, but not necessarily for the particular application in question.

“We would, therefore, expect all responsible supply chain firms to be able to provide details of how the Euroclass fire rating of the PUR/PE system was achieved and the arrangement of the insulants in the test to determine their exposure to heat and flame. We would also expect them to be able to evidence compliance with BS 5422 heat loss/heat gain tables clearly.”

Chris Ridge, TICA’s technical policy manager, said that companies should be able to provide current Euroclass fire test certification for “the complete range of polyethylene pre-insulated pipework products”. 

He added: “Looking ahead, we seek to challenge the wider industry to ensure that all pre-insulated systems meet the required standards. This should not stop at pre-insulated pipework but should also include pre-insulated ductwork products.”

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