The big cover up – Casings for social housing

The ongoing process of routine maintenance, heating system upgrades and new boiler installations, together with the retro-fitting of fire sprinkler systems in high-rise social housing, all demand that the pipework is covered to give a decorative and consistent finish.

Pre-formed plywood casings are acknowledged as the preferred solution for social housing RMI and with more than 30 years manufacturing experience in the sector, Encasement Ltd estimates that more than 100,000 kilometres of its pipe-boxing have already been installed in social housing sites throughout the UK.

In any property, whether it’s a new build or a refurbishment project, there will inevitably be exposed pipework that will need covering for reasons of safety, aesthetics or as a deterrent from tampering, accidental damage or potential vandalism in the case of exterior pipework.

However, for housing associations and local authorities that often deal with older housing stock requiring heating system upgrades, retro-fitted fire sprinkler systems and annual maintenance, the large amounts of exposed pipework can present a number of challenges.

Due to the age of the properties and the nature of their construction, which predominantly uses concrete and brickwork, mechanical and electrical services, as well as pipework need to be surface mounted, as they can’t realistically be concealed during installation. This is particularly relevant for fire sprinkler systems.

As sprinklers need to be located within individual flats and communal areas to suppress fires and aid escape, incorporating them in new builds is comparatively simple, as they can be integrated at the building design stage and pipework can be hidden within risers and ceiling voids. However, for retro-fitted solutions, this is not an option and in most cases surface mounting is the only practical option.

One of the main advantages of surface mounted interior pipework, whether its for sprinklers, heating systems or boiler pipework, for example, is the simplicity and comparative speed with which it can be installed by skilled contractors, helping to keep costs under control.

As a result, it makes sense that the pipe boxing method chosen to conceal pipework is also quick and easy to install, as the time taken on site and the associated costs are essential considerations on any project of this type.

Consequently, these are key reasons why pre-formed and pre-finished casings, such as Encasement’s pipe and fire sprinkler boxing, have become the preferred solution for many social housing landlords.

Encasement’s range of pipe boxing and casing solutions continues to be in high demand with fire sprinkler installation, central heating upgrades and distributed heating system refurbishment projects all using its specialised products.

The company’s products are continually specified by HAs, LAs and their contractors to conceal interior pipework, while its ‘Arma’ range of tough, lightweight aluminium casings are used to cover and protect exterior services, such as gas supply pipes, electrical cabling and distributed heating pipework.

The plywood casings range, which includes Riva; Versa 5 and Versa 8 pipe and fire sprinkler boxing products, alongside its boiler pipe work casings, are all pre-finished in white melamine, which removes the need for on-site painting and helps save time and money on site.

Encasement was one of the first manufacturers and suppliers of decorative casings to achieve the FSC® Chain of Custody Certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council in 2010 and since then, the company has offered an FSC® certified option on its full range of pre-formed plywood casings to comply with customers’ sustainable procurement policies.

Martin Taylor, Encasement’s Managing Director, explained:

“From our experience of working with contractors on countless social housing projects where pipework needs to be concealed, we know that pipe and fire sprinkler boxing can be fitted in less than half the time of site made alternatives.”

For housing associations, local authorities and their contractors, this time saving provides a number of benefits. It helps ensure that heating systems, boilers and fire safety upgrades can be completed within shorter timescales. This minimises disruption for tenants and can also have a positive impact on improving maintenance and tenant satisfaction KPI’s.

Potentially the most important advantage is that the time taken to complete the projects can be reduced without compromising the quality or integrity of the installation, which can also help reduce costs.

While the ability to save money on-site by using pipe boxing and casing solutions that are quicker to install than site made alternatives is already attractive, pre-formed casings also enable further savings to be made. The ‘whole life’ costs for site made casings escalate significantly, when routine maintenance visits are factored in to the equation.

In the majority of cases, site made casings are damaged or destroyed during their removal, as the screw heads are filled and painted over, making them impossible or extremely time consuming to dismantle. Also, if mastic sealant has been used around the edges, it will also need to be removed.

Often, the complexities of managing routine maintenance and inspection increases when site made casings are used. In some cases a joiner is required to remove site made boxing in advance of the maintenance work being carried out by a service engineer. The joiner then has to revisit the property after the maintenance is complete to refit the casing or construct a new one.

With preformed pipe boxing solutions, it is usually a simple process of removing the securing screws and then the individual lengths of boxing can be removed and replaced quickly and easily.

For boiler pipe casings, this process is even simpler. As pre-formed casings are self-supporting and have no screws to hold them together, they can be easily removed and replaced in just a matter of seconds, dramatically decreasing the time that maintenance engineers need to be on site, with a corresponding reduction in associated cost.

Martin Taylor continued:

“From day one, we set out to manufacture and supply the most comprehensive range of pipe boxing and casing products for the social housing sector and we now offer more than 200 different products, profiles and sizes within our standard range.”

He added:

“Our Versa range of pre-formed pipe boxing has rapidly become a key solution for concealing retro-fitted fire sprinkler pipework in flats and communal areas, while the launch of our flame retardant Versa ‘FR’ boxing was a first for the market. Versa FR is also pre-finished in white, while our Arma aluminium casings can be specified and manufactured in any RAL colour.”