The efficient use of construction materials is beneficial for contractors and their clients in many ways. Waste reduction lowers both disposal costs and material purchasing costs. It also helps meet client requirements with respect to recycling and reuse. Finally, the efficient use of materials improves the reputation and corporate image of contractors.
Our previous article on this topic covered bricklaying, carpentry and plastering. This second part covers plumbing and electrical system, which tend to generate plenty of waste in many projects.
Optimize your building design and save materials.
Plumbing fixtures and equipment are usually made of valuable materials like copper, steel and iron. Plumbers also install expensive equipment such as boilers and pumps. The energy consumption of these devices adds to the environmental impact and emissions of buildings.
During the installation of plumbing systems, there are many opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of a building. If you are a plumbing contractor, consider using leftover materials from other jobs, as long as they are in good condition. For example, if you are left with several feet of unused piping from one project, they may be useful in another one. This reduces disposal costs and overall waste.
- Be smart with material orders: over-ordering increases costs, and potentially waste.
- Identify the types of waste produced during the job, and determine which of them must be handled as hazardous waste.
- Metals can be recycled: Pay attention to any copper, steel ,cast iron and aluminum waste that is in good condition.
- Consider packaging when choosing plumbing materials: some pipework does not require packaging, and can be unloaded directly from the delivery vehicle. There are also manufacturers that provide returnable packaging, such as crates and pallets.
- Investigate about plumbing components with a high percentage of recycled material.
- Protect completed work, since redoing a job is a waste of valuable materials.
During the design process, analyze the best and most efficient routes for pipework. Sometimes there are shorter routes that can be taken with equal performance as long routes, saving plenty of materials. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is very useful when optimizing the layout of building systems, including plumbing lines.
Prefabrication is a very useful strategy to reduce waste in construction, and this applies for plumbing installations. Learn about prefabricated pipework and consider adding it to the project design. This reduces the amount of waste generated on site, and labor costs are also lowered thanks to the easy and quick installation.
Be careful with your storage areas: Having inadequate conditions can damage materials, leading to a large amount of waste. Make sure you keep storage units secure, dry and organized. Carefully plan and schedule your delivery dates, to optimize the storage space available. Materials are more likely to get damaged when stored for long periods of time.
When plumbing installations are designed to conserve water, they also reduce the corresponding pumping and water heating costs. This reduces the environmental impact of buildings in the long run:
- Promote the use of water efficient appliances and fixtures, such as dual flush toilets, aerated shower heads, washing machines and dishwashers.
- Insulate pipework to prevent heat loss and frost damage.
Explain the benefits of efficient appliances and fixtures to your customers. Also teach them how to use the installations properly, while leaving manuals and maintenance instructions.
Electrical installations also involve many activities that generate waste. For example, when conduit and wiring are cut to install electric circuits, the process leaves many offcuts that are too small to use. Materials damaged due to improper storage and handling also become waste, and consider that electric materials tend to use plenty of packaging. In the case of electrical work, materials can also be damaged if an incorrect installation causes a fault.
- Estimate the amount of waste that will be produced, and plan its handling and disposal.
- Avoid over-ordering: Try to purchase just the right amount of each material for the job.
- Never discard electrical fixtures and fittings: You can keep them for another job, or return them to the supplier in exchange for a refund.
- There are plenty or charities that accept construction material donations for their own use and repairs.
- Some suppliers offer arrangements to sell back or return unopened materials. Always ask if this option is available.
- Check for packaging options, and minimize the use of packaging when possible. Look for suppliers that use returnable packaging such as pallets, cable drums and crates.
- Double-check that all materials are of the right size and according to specifications before ordering.
- Pay attention when materials are being delivered on site: Make sure they are properly handled and stored carefully to avoid damage.
- Arrange storage space in different categories to know where everything is located at all times.
The electrical design stage provides many opportunities to optimize material costs. Just like in the case of plumbing, BIM is a powerful tool for this task. Inside buildings, consider using standard cable rather than armored cable, to weight and the number of support fittings. Minimise cutoff from cable and conduit, with proper planning and by finding the shorter routes. The length of cable terminations is often exaggerated, so make sure your instruct the electricians to leave a reasonable length.
To minimize the energy consumption of electrical systems in the long run, suggest energy efficient appliances. For example, LED lighting offers a much lower power consumption and a much longer service life than older lighting systems. Also provide clear instructions on how to handle hazardous waste, such a fluorescent light tubes. You client should follow any local regulations that apply when handling hazardous waste.
Plumbing and electrical installations can produce plenty of waste if their planning is poor, even if the final product meets all the requirements. A smart design can drastically reduce the materials used, and BIM is a very useful tool to accomplish this.
When designing and installing MEP systems, there is also a great chance to reduce water and energy consumption in the long run. Make sure you specify equipment and appliances that conserve water and energy. This saves thousands of dollars on utility bills, while reducing the environmental impact of the building.