Copper Plumbing: Benefits and Drawbacks

Jun 16 2016


Copper is a very useful and historically widespread plumbing material. Copper is a valuable commodity metal that consistently commands a high retail price. For plumbing, copper tubing is commonly used as both a hot and cold water line, and as a refrigerant line in HVAC systems. In fact, until the 1970s, copper tubing and galvanized pipes were the standard for hot and cold water supplies. Now, there are other options to copper tubing, such as PVC and PEX pipe. These are a cheaper and equally effective alternative, but copper is still widely represented despite its much higher cost per inch.

Advantages of Copper

Copper plumbing has withstood the test of time as a plumbing material precisely because of its long term benefits. While copper tubing involves a larger short term investment, the long term resilience of copper can be greater than galvanized or plastic tubing. Copper is impermeable, resistant to temperature changes, and can effectively keep contaminants out. Copper tubing is largely maintenance free as it is not welded along the length of the pipe, and can last beyond the life of your home. Copper tubing is typically fitted with soldered fittings to keep out leaks and resist abrasion and corrosion over time.

Because of this dependability, copper tubing can even contribute to the resale value of the house. From a safety and health standpoint, copper also has notable advantages. As a natural and impermeable material, copper is resistant to accumulation of harmful bacteria and contaminants. It is an ideal thermal conductor, rigid, and can easily handle temperature extremes. This same resilience enables copper to withstand high pressure–as much as one thousand pounds per square inch. This resistance to heat and pressure makes copper an ideal material for fire sprinkler systems.

Potential Drawbacks

Though a highly corrosion resistant material that can last many decades reliably, copper is subject to problems over time, like any material. Improper installation is a prime cause of problems, though contamination can occur from certain causes. Cold water pitting occurs when the pipe’s interior becomes contaminated, for example. Corrosion can happen from consistent, high, turbulent water flow through the pipes.

Improper bonding or grounding can also cause pinhole leaks in the pipe. In extremely cold environments, copper may not be the ideal plumbing material since it can burst in extreme cold, but this is somewhat of an exception. In environments with acidic water, as well, copper may not be an ideal material as it can corrode and accumulate mineral deposits that resist water flow. Plastic tubing may be more suited for plumbing needs in certain environments.

This type of pipe as become more popular for its lower costs and reliability as a material, but copper is still very much a standard. Because of the lasting nature of copper, many plumbing contractors may prefer copper, but labor costs can be higher since it takes longer to install. Copper tubing, however, can involve minimal maintenance over time and is often worth the higher price tag for this reliability.

Need help with your plumbing or simply want more information? Call Superior Water & Air at 303-800-2410 or visit us online.