Copper "Tops" Plastic Plumbing For New Homes or Remodeling

August 15, 2002


NEW YORK, NY— Professional home builders and remodelers know there are a thousand and one—or more—decisions that have to be made between the start and finish of any project.

While it's usually the contractor who handles most of these decisions, homeowners should take an active role in selecting the products and materials that will be installed. This includes choosing "behind the walls" items that are largely unseen when the remodeling is completed, but which can make a big difference in the long-term success of any project.

Consider today's choices in plumbing pipe. Plastic tubing for hot and cold water lines is now approved for use in most, but not all, areas of the country. Its low cost makes it attractive to contractors who want to keep their prices down, and to homeowners who feel that—because it's only plumbing and out of sight—it doesn't have to be top quality.

However, this kind of reasoning is shortsighted. And, like many decisions based on cost alone, it can come back to haunt unwary homeowners in years to come.

"It's important to remember that plastic plumbing is a relatively recent innovation," cautions Andrew Kireta, Sr., president of the Copper Development Association. "When it comes to home water-supply systems, plastic is still viewed as an alternative to copper, which is considered the quality standard by most contractors, homeowners and building inspectors."

There are other, equally important reasons to choose copper over plastic for new homes and remodeling projects. Copper plumbing meets or exceeds building code standards in all 50 states. Copper plumbing and fittings simply don't wear out, and they require no maintenance. There is also a health consideration for choosing copper: Contaminants can't penetrate it, and its naturally biostatic surface can actually inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

Copper can also withstand temperature extremes from freezing to well above boiling, without becoming brittle, rupturing or melting. This minimizes the chance of pipe bursts and water damage, a costly and often uninsured problem when it occurs in a home. And copper can take the heat—up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit without melting—while plastics burn or fail at far lower temperatures. Unlike many plastics, copper also doesn't emit toxic fumes when exposed to flame. For these and other reasons, copper has long been a preferred material for automatic fire sprinkler systems and is the required material for virtually all commercial water systems.

There's another, more practical, reason for using copper: When it comes to retrofitting or adding onto an existing water-supply system, remodelers are far more likely to encounter copper than plastic. Because all copper pipe, tube and fitting sizes conform to one universal standard, tie-ins are routine and finding materials to match is never a problem. Too often, this is not the case with less-widely-used plastic systems. Incompatibility among different types of plastic systems impacts job cost, parts availability and product warranties.

Homebuyers and home remodelers also should be aware that, in the long run, the cost of copper plumbing is competitive with plastic when repairs over the life of the materials and higher home-sale prices are factored in. Real estate agents will attest that a copper plumbing system can actually add to the resale value of a home. Surveys show that copper has a higher perceived value than plastic, and copper is more-often requested by homeowners and buyers. Plumbing contractors prefer it, too—nearly 90 percent of all plumbers nationwide have copper plumbing in their own homes.

To learn more about how using copper can improve your next home or home-remodeling project, a wealth of information is available on our site , and on our all-new " Copper In Your Home" section.

Editors Note: Please also see: How Dependable is Your Home's Plumbing?