Copper Pipes Still Going Strong, After All These Years

October 27, 2004


In service nearly seven decades, Indiana home's original copper plumbing continues to perform-long after other home components have failed

NEW YORK, NY— In its search for the nation's oldest surviving copper plumbing system-a quest prompted by the historic fact that copper tubing was introduced some 75 years ago-the Copper Development Association (CDA) sent its inspectors into basements, bathrooms and boiler rooms across the continent, determined to flush out the absolute earliest example.

Photo of a house The original copper plumbing in this 1937 house in Fort Wayne, Indiana is still going strong - a fitting testimony to the longevity of copper pipe. Other uses for copper piping in homes today include fuel gas delivery, fire sprinkler systems and cutting-edge technologies like Direct Exchange Geothermal heating and cooling.

At first, the task seemed easy. Many people came forth with tales of ancient plumbing, but most were false leads-homes that had been remodeled using newer copper pipe, or homes with even earlier brass water pipe (close, but not the innovative drawn and soldered copper tube that led the indoor plumbing revolution).

Undaunted, the CDA sleuths kept looking, but it wasn't until a plumber in Fort Wayne, Indiana, alerted Andy Kireta Jr., head of the association's tube, pipe and fittings group, that a home in his area had what appeared to be its original plumbing-and it was still in excellent working condition even though it had been installed almost 70 years ago.

"We found plenty of old houses with their original copper plumbing," said Kireta, who lives not far from the home in Indianapolis. "After all, billions of feet of copper tubing have been installed in this country since it was first produced, and copper doesn't really wear out. But this is the best, and certainly the oldest, authentic example we've discovered, so far."

On Oct. 1, the CDA announced that the Fort Wayne residence is the first-of what they hope will be many more-to be designated "A Copper Quality Home" in recognition of its antique yet fully functional copper plumbing system.

Built in 1937, the home's original copper plumbing is still going strong years after other building products such as windows, electrical wiring and major appliances have been replaced, according to Ken Geremia, CDA's communications manager.

"Many of these antique copper plumbing systems continue to get the job done, long after the plumbers of that era are gone," says Geremia. "No other plumbing system can rival copper for its durability and performance. This home gives testimony to the longevity of copper pipe."

Two years ago, CDA announced its search to find the oldest residential copper plumbing installations in the USA. Records from manufacturers of that time show that copper tube was installed in homes as early as 1927, a "watershed" era for many exciting technological advances, including the first motion picture with sound ("The Jazz Singer"), the first all-electronic television, and Charles Lindbergh's famous solo air crossing over the Atlantic.

Although times have changed, copper continues to be the preferred material for residential plumbing and new construction-by a substantial margin. To date, more than 5.7 million miles of copper tubing have been installed in homes and other buildings across the country.

Meanwhile, uses for copper piping in the home continue to grow.

For example, gas companies throughout the U.S. have discovered the economic value of copper tubing for residential fuel gas distribution. There also is growing interest among homeowners and municipalities for residential fire sprinkler systems using copper tubing, which offer many advantages over other pipe systems on the market.

A high-profile copper fire sprinkler system was recently installed to safeguard the United States Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which houses 103 million historic books, artwork and documents in its collection, including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence.

As for homes with historic plumbing, Kireta says the CDA will keep searching for the oldest copper system in existence, but for now he is proud of the example they have found. "We're certain there are older houses with antique, but still functioning, copper plumbing out there somewhere," he insists. "Maybe the announcement of this award will bring them to our attention. We hope so."

Meanwhile, the development of newer energy-saving devices like solar and geothermal heat pump technology guarantee that copper will continue to be used in homes for years to come. These systems rely on copper's superior thermal-transfer capabilities to convey energy from the sun or earth for use as an economical heating/cooling source in homes.

For more information on copper tube, pipe and fitting applications, visit CDA's Tube, Pipe & Fitings section or contact the Copper Development Association at 260 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, 212-251-7200.