Copper Retains Market Share for Residential Plumbing

January 11, 1999


NEW YORK- Copper is the material of choice for plumbing tube for hot- and cold-water distribution piping in more than 85 percent of American homes, according to a recent survey conducted by the Copper Development Association. Leading contractors, engineers and their customers acknowledge that they benefit from the strength, dependability and long-term economy of copper for residential and commercial plumbing, heating and cooling; fire sprinkler systems; and gas gas-distribution piping. Copper has set the standard for more than 70 years.

With CPVC and PEX plastic tube products now competing with copper in many plumbing applications; construction professionals and consumers alike need to know how the materials compare in order to make sound choices. According to the Copper Development Association, a recent study indicates 90 percent of plumbing contractors chose copper for their own homes.a recent report in Reeves Journal, an influential trade publication, the vast majority of contractors still specify and install copper pipe. In a survey of Western builders conducted by the trade journal this year, 98 percent of the respondents picked copper over plastic materials.

Leading Professionals Prefer Copper

"We have designed and installed radiant heating, air-conditioning, and hot- and cold-water distribution systems for over 50 years, and we've never had one failure or complaint involving copper," said George Rusher, president of Rusher Air Conditioning, Inc., Torrance, California. Rusher Air Conditioning is now celebrating its 54 th anniversary. The company has supplied tubing in luxury homes for scores of actors, politicians, entertainers, manufacturers, architects, as well as facilities for federal agencies and the military throughout California and other Western states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and American Samoa. "Unlike other materials, copper's composition never changes," Rusher said.

"We're not even considering other materials, because the manufacturers won't accept liability," said Chuck Vershaw, president and owner of Cal-Coast Repiping, Inc., Brea, California. Vershaw has over 20 years of experience in the field. His company uses only copper to retrofit residential and commercial buildings.

Sarasota, Florida's Ace Plumbing Inc. has tried a CPVC plastic over the last three years and has decided to reject it. "That's because of all the failures in its fittings, not to speak of the difficulty of dealing with the suppliers," said Richard Baron, the company's president and a third-generation master plumber. "In a motel installation in our city, fittings failed on the cold side, where of course, there is no insulation. And they failed on the hot side, where we used three different insulation products. We had to replace the entire installation with copper."

"I think that builders use alternatives to copper for strictly monetary reasons-they want to save a couple of dollars," said Larry Seitsma, owner of Holiday Builders, headquartered in Melbourne, Florida. "Copper costs a shade more than plastic pipe, but it makes a huge difference down the road. I've found that if you offer rock-bottom cost at the expense of quality, you're going to have customers upset with you." With more than $85 million in gross sales in 1997, Holiday Builders ranked among the nation's top 100 volume builders.

Essential Advantages

Copper tube and fittings are preferred by builders and homebuyers alike for many reasons:

  • Easily Installed: Copper tube is rigid and relatively lightweight when compared to other materials used for piping systems, particularly those used in gas distribution systems. As a result, copper tube is easier to handle; it requires fewer support fittings takes up less space, reducing installation costs.Plumbers know how to install and test copper systems year-round, at virtually any temperature.
  • Easily formed: Because copper tube can be easily bent by an experienced professional, joints and elbows are frequently eliminated. Smooth bends let the tube follow contours and corners of almost any angle. Soft temper tube, especially suited to renovation or modernization projects, requires much less wall and ceiling space and eliminates the need for joints in inaccessible areas. Mechanically formed tee connections allow branches to be formed faster and usually result in a lower installed costs.
  • Easily Joined: Copper tube with capillary fittings yields smooth, neat, strong and leakproof joints. Because of copper's superior thermal conductivity, electrical resistance heating can be used for joining where the use of an open flame may be of concern. Properly made joint fittings don't break down or pull apart.
  • Dependability: Copper tube is governed by established product standards and marked with permanent identification. Contractors always know what the material is and which company made it. Copper is accepted by virtually all plumbing codes. And, copper is an environmentally friendly material that won't crack or crumble years after installation.
  • Corrosion Resistance: Copper's inherent resistance to corrosion and scaling assures trouble-free service-and satisfied customers-in almost the entire country. While in rare instances, aggressive waters may cause corrosion in copper pipe, water treatments remedies are readily available.
  • High performance in extreme environments: Copper can handle high pressure-more than 1,000 pounds per square inch-even though normal system pressure ranges from 50 to 80 psi. And it can withstand repeated freeze-thaw cycles, although, of course, no plumbing should be allowed to freeze. Easy, open-flame or electrical-resistance healing can be used not only for joining, but also to melt frozen water in copper tubing - because of copper's superior thermal conductivity.
  • Economical and value value-enhancing: The life-cycle costs of an all-copper plumbing system are lower than for other, less reliable materials. The long-term reliability of copper reduces the number of contractor call backs, virtually eliminating maintenance costs. Some experienced contractors report that the installed cost for a copper system can be lower than for comparable plastic piping. They say that easy handling, forming, and joining save installation costs. Real estate agents add that all-copper systems add value to the selling price of buildings, confirming the investment value of a copper plumbing system.
  • Inherent health benefits: Copper is impermeable and biostatic: contaminants cannot penetrate it, and it actually inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Safety: Copper's melting point is 2,000 F, higher than the temperatures achieved in a typical house fire. As plumbers know, it's virtually impossible to melt a soldered joint when there is with water in the system; copper systems maintain pressure when subjected to flames. Copper tube and fittings do not burn or give off toxic gases when exposed to fire. Copper will not or carry fire through floors, walls or ceilings. That's why it's copper tube is preferred for fire sprinkler systems.

    Installation of copper tube and fittings does not require solvents that contain volatile organic compounds. Workers are not exposed to potentially harmful chemicals.

The Bottom Line

Years of trouble-free service have proved that copper plumbing systems are unsurpassed in their fundamental value: They are light, strong, durable, easily formed and installed, economical and cost effective. Copper has a proven track record of more than 70 years.

When contractors and plumbing engineers take the prudent view, they consider what is tried and true for the number of years their customers must rely on their plumbing system. Nine out of ten times their choice is copper.