A Conversation on Plumbing with Copper PipeJanuary 11, 2019
Since being blessed with the invention of indoor plumbing, the materials plumbers use have evolved over the years. We’ve gone through steel and cast-iron. Lead is no longer the material of choice for water pipes, and hollowed wood with metal joints has been tried, tested and shelved. But today, we have many highly developed products available to us, and still there are debates over which is simply, the best.
Out with the old, in with the new?
The debate between copper and plastic piping can become convoluted, as they are used for very different purposes. However, it is worthwhile considering the pros and cons of each material, especially if you are a DIYer.
It is also important to keep in mind how often you should have your pipes looked at and reviewed. Particularly water pipes, as the water travels under great pressure, and so a leaky pipe could cause huge damage to your home.
Don’t worry – sewer pipes are made from cast iron, which even if slightly rusty could survive the next ice age!
From the 1950’s until around the 2000’s copper was the most common choice for indoor plumbing. However, since then plastic piping has gradually come to be replace it. Plastic has been under constant development for nearly two decades and is as strong and resistant as ever.
For example, PVC pipe is ideal for carrying drinking water, as it is non-toxic and resistant to corrosion. It is also very flexible and easy to mould, making life easier for plumbers and installers. It is also far lighter to carry and transport than metal pipes.
Copper, in its element
However, there are some advantages to copper that should not be overlooked. If installed in your home, be confident that they will last for many decades. Extremely hard-wearing and ultra-resistant to corrosion, they have stood the test of time. Ideal, as replacing your water system can be costly.
In comparison, plastic plumbing hasn’t been around for as long, so we don’t know how it will fair long term. (Some plumbers have already come across degraded rubber in the connections and fittings of plastic pipe.)
Often used to supply hot and cold water, copper is non-permeable (it will not absorb other substances). So, being non-toxic it’s perfect for keeping contaminants out of drinking water.
It is also often uses as a refrigerant*. Fitted at the back of fridges, air conditioners and heaters, (HVC systems) copper can withstand extremely high and low temperatures.
*A refrigerant is a tube where liquid changes to gas, and then back from gas to liquid.
There are two types, rigid and soft copper. Soft copper is very flexible and so is often used for HVC system installations. However, this leads to some negatives…
For every high, there is a low
Soft copper is great for awkward installations but can be expensive. The general price of copper in has been on the up, so rigid copper (used for water supply) can also be pricey. However, when you consider the price of plastic elbows and fittings, along with the piping, it can come to a similar expense.
For DIY readers:
Rigid copper cannot be bent (hence the name) and so needs elbows and fittings to link everything and ensure the systems integrity. Copper will need a blowtorch and soldering, which requires a lot of skill and can be time consuming. However, if you are willing to give it the time and effort, there is no reason why a non-professional couldn’t tackle it!
Also, there is of course always the risk of pipes freezing, however this is not an issue individual to copper – read our
Finally, if a copper pipe isn’t correctly grounded or bonded, it can result in pin-hole leaks. To prevent this, ensure your piping is installed correctly. Also, you can use a copper bonding jumper cable which will connect the different sections of your pipe.
Copper, the Classic
Like all things it has downsides, but copper is undoubtedly reliable with the trust of plumbers and homeowners today. It can survive the hot, the cold, rust, corrosion, and is long-lasting – what more could you want from a pipe?