Builder Gains Competitive Edge Using Copper Tube for Gas Distribution

January 14, 2000


Low Material Cost and Easier Installation Net Savings on Every Home

MONTGOMERY, AL— In today's rapidly expanding homebuilding market, builders need to find new ways to stay competitive. For those who construct more than 100 homes a year, like Lowder New Homes in Montgomery, Alabama, that means finding ways to keep building quality up while keeping costs down. One strategy that has proven successful for Lowder New Homes is installing gas-distribution systems with copper tube.

" The plumber brought the idea to the table," says Matt Lovo, senior estimator for Lowder New Homes. "He said that using copper for gas-distribution systems could save us money and provide an easier way to add on new copper lines in remodeling projects, which are also an important part of our business. We figured, why not give it a try?"

That was back in 1987, when copper was first approved for gas applications by the Standard Southern Building Code. Prior to that, Lowder used rigid black steel for its gas lines, which Lovo says costs more money, not to mention the numerous headaches it caused, especially for add-on installations.

" Often times we would have to pull out all of the iron pipe in an existing home to resize," said Lovo. "Sometimes we ended up having to cut through walls or having to knock out brick. It's a phenomenal amount of work."

In some cases, Lovo said that lines had to be run outside the house straight to the meter or even worse, inside the house along walls and ceilings, creating major eyesores.

But once Lowder switched to copper tube, all of this changed. Not only were add-ons easier, all installations were. New gas lines could be run in half the time with significant cost benefits. Carl Wade, the manager of Edwards Plumbing, the subcontractor for Lowder New Homes, said that the time and cost savings were evident immediately.

" With copper tube, workers save an average of three hours per single- family home," says Wade, comparing it to the amount of time it takes to install rigid black steel. "When you build 200 homes a year, like Lowder does, this reduction in labor adds up-we save about $100 per installation."

According to Wade, copper tube saves time because installers don't have to cut threads for joints, as required for black pipe installation. For gas-distribution systems, copper tube is joined with flare fittings and brazed connections. Wade says that copper tube saves labor and overhead costs. Edwards Plumbing uses Type K soft copper tube for gas distribution. Type K tube is flexible and comes in coils up to 100 feet in length.

" Copper tube is far more adaptable to any job site need," said Wade. "For example, when installing unit connections, a black pipe requires three to four bends-each requires nipples and fittings. With copper you can make the unit connection with just one bend. It holds up better and requires fewer joints, which means less chanc for leaks."

Wade says that copper's flexibility also results in significant material savings. "With copper there is practically no material wasted," says Wade. "We can cut any length we need from a coil without creating short, unusable cutoffs. With rigid pipe, there's generally about 60 percent waste."

With such wide-ranging benefits, Wade says that switching from black steel to copper was a "no-brainer." But he admits that he never really considered using it for gas systems until he became aware that copper was approved for gas distribution by the Southern Standard Code. "Copper tube distributors started approaching us," says Wade. "That's basically how we became aware of it."

Copper is also approved for gas distribution by the National Fuel Gas Code and was recently accepted by the IAPMO model code. Builders and subcontractors who wish to take advantage of copper's many benefits for gas distribution systems are advised to check with their local building officials and gas utility companies, and visit our Fuel Gas section.

" The future of black steel for gas systems is really diminishing," said Wade. "And I think it's only going to continue decreasing once more industry professionals realize that they have the option of copper."