By Warren Robertson

It can be tempting for developers to cut back on the products used for plumbing in an affordable home but industry experts warn it can be disastrous and end up costing much more in the long run.

One plumbing product looks like another and it all seems easy enough to install yourself – or is it?

Quality plumbing is one of the main factors considered by government when agreeing to support developers in the affordable housing sector. The right of access to basic water supply and sanitation is detailed in the Water Services Act (108 of 1997), which also provides for the setting of national standards and norms and standards for tariffs.

“To install quality and long-lasting plumbing and sanitation, quality products need to be considered,” explains the Department of Water and Sanitation director: media liaison and content development, Ratau Sputnik.

“Installation of quality products and the work of qualified artisans and plumbers enhance the quality of life of the end users. This is an obvious benefit not just for the good health of the homeowner, but also ensures longevity of the infrastructure where it is installed.”

Often costs savings may come from simple common sense adjustments that can be overlooked in the grand scheme of planning a development.

General manager of Calafrica Chris Kyle explains that the need for good quality plumbing supplies is mandatory even in lower cost developments, and that the risks of using non-compliant plumbing parts means that residents (and often rental companies) are liable for any repairs.

“The use of compliant materials and the fit-for-purpose materials cannot be overemphasised. Too often substandard non-compliant materials are specified and installed with dire consequences and high mechanical failure rates shortly after completion of the project,” he explains, adding that, “It should be strongly noted that, in order to meet compliance, only materials meeting the requirements of the applicable SABS standards as a minimum standard will be acceptable. Anything less, or the incorrect application of even compliant materials, will not be satisfactory to meet auditory requirements and will have to be removed and replaced with compliant materials before a valid Certificate of Compliance (COC) can be issued. The appointment of properly Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB) licensed installers is therefore also paramount in ensuring a high standard of workmanship and compliance. Remember, no COC, no occupation.”

A plumbing COC should be issued to the owner within five days of work being completed for any plumbing job done where the total value is larger than R1 500. A COC is also essential for the installation, replacement or relocation of any electric water heating systems, all individual and separate installations on site, and for the installation, construction or alteration for any above or below ground sanitary drains.

Kyle explains that often the failures when it comes to using plumbing materials are not malicious but are borne instead by a lack of knowledge on the part of either the developers or the installers.

“There are two essential reasons why sub-standard materials are used, the first one is driven by financial factors and the cheapest short term and irresponsible solution is opted for while the other is ignorance of the required and mandatory National Standards,” he says. Explaining that the SABS materials are available to ensure correct compliance with the requirements.

Sustainability is an important aspect when considering building affordable homes in Africa, particularly in the plumbing sector. Credit: Pixabay

“A few examples of material Specifications are SABS 226 for Taps, SABS 151 for Geysers, SABS 198 for Geyser Control Valves. Even with knowledge of the standards however, materials can still be misapplied. An example is the use of any form of piping material made of a plastic material externally where it will be subject to the outside environment, even though it is a SABS compliant- material,” he says.

Kyle explains that at the end of the day best practice dictates that developers must ensure there is long term accountability and responsibility held on their part and that water supply and drainage installations are compliant with national regulations and local by-laws.

“They must ensure that work done offers sustainability, longevity and low future maintenance and operating costs,” he says. He hastens to add that this does not necessarily mean things need to be that much more expensive.

One company that has taken up the challenge to offer quality plumbing products in the affordable housing sector seriously is Hans Grohe, which was recently awarded the ‘Sustainable Product of the Year for Africa’ award at the second Real Estate Development Awards in Ghana. Winners were picked based on a nominations process done by buyers and weighed against the number of projects completed and the ultimate sustainability of using the product in Africa.

Laurinda Marsh, Hansgrohe project sales manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, comments, “We specialise in offering consumers the best experience with water, and in Africa we are constantly reminded how valuable that resource is. Hansgrohe supplies most projects in Africa with EcoSmart solutions to save water and energy, as well as ensure return on investment.”

Sustainability is an important aspect when considering building affordable homes in Africa, particularly with regard to the plumbing sector, with water being such a scarce resource. It is therefore an important aspect to consider for any developer but concern in the industry is that taking the step to worry about sustainability may impact on the economic viability of a development.

This is not so, says Kyle, who states that knowledge of plumbing and the by-laws can ultimately result in savings in surprising places on a project, which can keep the costs down despite all the right things being done.

“When we refer to ‘affordable housing’ we are probably referring to a home that has the following fixtures: one toilet, one wash hand basin, one shower and one single bowl sink, which would result in a peak flow demand of roughly 20ℓ per minute if water efficient fittings are installed, such as a 10ℓ litre per minute shower rose and 5ℓ per minute taps.

“In today’s water strapped environment everyone should consider water efficiency in their homes. A flow-rate of 20ℓ per minute will result in a water velocity of around 2m per second which is perfectly acceptable in terms of the National Standards,” he says, adding, “Assuming the above stats, this means that the service pipe feeding the house and the balanced pressure system (mandatory) can be piped out using piping material and fittings that have an equivalent internal diameter of 15mm instead of 20mm. 15mm geyser pressure control valves can also be utilised resulting in a combined cost saving.”

Often costs savings also come from simple common-sense adjustments that can be overlooked in the grand scheme of planning a development.

“By keeping the groups of terminal fittings within close proximity of one another and positioning the geyser as close to the cluster of fittings the amount of piping needed can be substantially reduced as well as the length of dead legs, resulting in a more energy and water efficient system,” says Kyle.

“Careful planning and documentation of pipe routing can also result in substantially reducing the number of fittings and pipe lengths. All too often though one sees this being left in the hands of an incompetent installer,” he says.

Kyle insists that in the end it is all about careful planning and consulting with professionals who take the national regulations and the mandatory requirements and principles into account.

“By doing so there is a strong possibility that they can offer sustainable and manageable products to end users at a very similar or at least comparable cost to non-compliant and unacceptable ones,” concludes Kyle. “Achieving good and cost effective, sustainable results is all about accountability, careful planning and execution.”