Although craftsmanship and artisan skills are much to be admired and in most cases encouraged, maintained and preserved, there are times when efficiency has to over-ride sentimentality.
Copper and steel have long been the choices of piping used by gas installers. It is easy to see why. Both are durable and relatively easy to work with once the skill of doing so has been mastered.
There is an alternative that has been rapidly gaining popularity in the U.K, firstly in industrial installations, and more recently in domestic environments.
This material is produced in the U.K. under the trademark name of TracPipe.
It is not that TracPipe has been around for only a short time. It was developed to be used in areas subjected to earthquake risk, notably Japan, and has been tried and tested all around the world since its first emergence on the market over thirty years ago.
TracPipe is composed of a flexible corrugated stainless steel tube (CSST) encased a 0.5 mm thick yellow polyethylene protective cover. This cover contains flame spread and smoke density inhibitors and is resistant to corrosion from moisture and the degrading factors of UV light.
TracPipe can be used for LPG, butane and natural gas, and the use of stainless steel as the core of the pipe offers a greater degree of protection against corrosion than can be expected from conventional materials.
There are considerable advantages to be gained by using TracPipe for gas installations. The flexibility of the material ensures that it can be easily bent and manipulated by hand without restricting the diameter of the internal core. This means that the pipe can be run continuously over long irregular angled distances without the need for cutting and joining or the insertion of joints around obstacles.
TracPipe comes in a variety of diameters ranging through 12, 15, 22, 28, 32, 40 and 50mm. It is supplied on reels of up to 90 meters, which is ideal for long unbroken runs of pipe-work. There are also kits available with shorter lengths of 5, 10 and 15 metres designed for smaller domestic installation jobs, typically the replacement of undersized pipe-work when installing a new boiler.
Where cutting and joining is required, this can be accomplished using a wheeled tube cutter with a stainless steel cutter blade. The polyethylene coating has to be pared back 25 mm from the cut end to allow the attachment of a dedicated fitting.
These special fittings, called AutoFlare, create a gas-tight metal-to-metal seal when fitted to Tracpipe ends or the connecting appliances. The couplings must be aligned correctly and tightened with a spanner or wrench. The connections are made without any need for jointing compounds or tapes, although any exposed stainless steel core should be covered with self-bonded silicone tape. The AutoFlare fittings can be used to couple TracPipe directly to a meter so long as the meter is securely and independently attached to a wall or rigid structure.
Although TracPipe is very light compared with conventional gas pipe-work it should still be supported in accordance with relevant installation standards but the size of clip required will be determined by the internal diameter of Tracpipe as opposed to the external diameter of copper pipe.
TracPipe can be laid externally in trenches without the need for extra protection. It is better suited to withstand post-installation ground settlement than conventional pipe-work. It is essential to thoroughly inspect the TracPipe for any sign of damage or weakness prior to laying. It can be laid in concrete or behind screed and plaster, however where TracPipe is laid through a wall, floor or standing it must be contained in a special plastic sleeve. The sleeve itself must sealed with flexible fire resistant sealant at one end only to ensure any leaking gas can escape from the sleeve. The sleeve must be attached to the structure using cement mortar. Wherever TracPipe is laid externally, the correct installation standards must be adhered to. Pipe-work carrying gas must not have joints buried externally.
The benefits of using TracPipe are considerable. It is quick to install, typically reducing installation time by up to 70% when compared with copper or steel pipe installations. No brazing or soldering is required and the need for pipe bending and threading equipment is eliminated. The material is lightweight and easy to transport yet also extremely durable and designed to last for the same period as the fabric of the property into which it is installed.
There are few unfavourable elements that would influence the substitution of conventional gas pipe installations with TracPipe, although cost might be a factor. TracPipe and in particular the AutoFlare fittings can be a little on the expensive side, but they can usually be offset by the considerable savings in time and labour.
In domestic settings, TracPipe can be used alongside more traditional pipe fittings and each material should be utilised to its best advantage.
A great plus for TracPipe is that it does not hold the same attraction to metal thieves as its copper counterpart and as such removes much of the security problems associated with vacant and renovation properties.
Always consult H.S.E. Gas Safety (Installations and Use) Regulations 1998 and any other statutory requirements in relation to gas installations.