Copper Fuel-Gas Tubing Cuts Florida Utility Costs

February 8, 2002


ATLANTA - The homebuilding boom along southwest Florida's Gulf Coast offered an unprecedented growth opportunity in the 1990s to newly-merged utility TECO/Peoples Gas. But because local gas installers were having a difficult time matching the lower cost of electrical hookups, it looked as though the utility might miss out on a major portion of this potential new business.

"Builders and installers told us that gas installation costs weren't competitive with electricity," said Mike Romano, senior engineer for TECO/Peoples Gas. At the time, area contractors relied on conventional galvanized and black pipe or corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) for gas hookups. "We had to find a way to work smarter, cheaper and quicker."

The utility began researching other industry practices and discovered the cost benefits of copper fuel-gas delivery systems. According to Romano, "We found that with a 2-lb copper system, you can install ½"- or 3/8"-diameter copper tube instead of ¾" or 1" rigid black pipe. The fact that copper is available in long, flexible rolls reduces labor costs tremendously."

With help from the Copper Development Association, which held training seminars for architects and developers, and hands-on installation instruction for builders and gas installers, the utility created a TECO/Peoples Gas Advantage Dealer program. Described as "a partnership with developers and contractor-installers" to promote gas service for new houses, this program provides information, training, sales support materials, consumer information on the benefits of a gas home, and rebates on gas-appliance installations.

"We contacted the Copper Development Association and asked, 'What kind of support can you give?'" said Romano. "CDA has taken an interest in our needs and providedtraining, assistance with code issues, product knowledge and technical expertise. It's a good fit for the gas industry."

As a result of these efforts, natural-gas usage in the region grew from 6 percent to 11 percent of area households within a five-year period. Local installers who switched to the 2-lb copper tube system have reported savings of up to $100 per installation in materials alone over iron or steel pipe systems. Labor savings have also increased, in some cases doubling the number of residential installations builders can do in a day.

Brent Lipham, operations manager for the utility's Lakeland and Avon Park facilities, explained that, "In the long term, we needed something more economical than CSST and easier to install than black pipe. Copper is perceived as an easy-to-use material, familiar, cost-friendly, and," Lipham points out, "the same plumber that does the water system can do the gas piping.

"To gain share from electric and promote gas through builders and installers, we needed a quality material that could give plumbers an acceptable margin. With copper, we can tell the plumber he'll get volume and margin."