A Copper Alliance Member
Consumer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
You probably have some questions, a lot of people do. That's why we've chosen some of the most frequently asked questions, and answered them right here for you.
Because the more you learn about copper plumbing, the more you'll insist on having it in your home.
You can also find answers additional questions and more information about copper products and their benefits in CDA's informational brochures.
If you have a question that is not covered by the information you have seen in CDA's Web site, please click here to contact us with your question.
Is copper more expensive? What effect will the price of copper plumbing have on the overall cost of a house?
In most markets, copper tube is marginally more expensive than plastic pipe, but in a typical house the difference between choosing one type of material over another would not amount to more than a few hundred dollars—in other words, a very small percentage of the overall construction budget.
That is not to say that copper plumbing is always more expensive. For example, copper tube is actually the least expensive of all materials approved for gas-distribution piping. For home water distribution systems, some experts would argue that installing copper plumbing requires more skill and, therefore, higher labor expenses. Others say that the greater experience of copper installers and the faster timetable for testing copper lines actually speeds construction and lowers the builder's installation and financing costs.
The bottom line: Factors other than the type of plumbing tube used influence the essential cost and value of a home. Proximity to good jobs, schools and transportation are key factors—along with the cost of the land, the size of the house and the value of amenities provided by the builder. A builder of a particular home in a particular neighborhood will sell a house with a functional plumbing system at the price the market will bear.
If a buyer perceives that the builder may have cut his own costs by using less expensive materials, the buyer may ask the builder to pass those savings on during the price negotiations. But ultimately, even if the buyer were to pay a slight upcharge for copper plumbing, it could be viewed as an indemnity payment against future maintenance and repair costs that are likely with less-reliable materials.
How does copper withstand corrosion, pitting and scaling?
The ancient Egyptians may have been the first to recognize copper's inherent resistance to corrosion and used it for water distribution systems discovered virtually intact by modern archaeologists. In the 70 years since copper tube became the material of choice for potable water systems, it has generally outlasted the buildings in which it has been installed and is frequently recycled for new construction. Records show that corrosion failures of copper plumbing systems occur in less than 1 percent of all known installations.
Copper sometimes changes color when in contact with water containing certain minerals, but it rarely results in corrosion or weakening of tube walls or joints. Minerals borne by water in certain locales sometimes form a buildup on tube walls—called scaling—but there is little evidence that this leads to pipe failure or threatens water purity. In fact some experts believe that some oxidation and mineral coatings actually protect copper tube, enhancing its corrosion resistance. Scaling is generally attributable to the content of the water and not to the nature of copper.
Despite copper's well-documented resistance to corrosion in most situations, corrosion can occur in copper tube exposed to aggressive or highly acidic water. A highly localized concern, corrosion caused by aggressive waters occurs in less than 1 percent of residential installations of copper tube, according to currently available data. Where the problem exists, local builders and authorities generally know about it and are advised to seek remedies through readily available water treatment methods or the use of alternative plumbing materials.
What is copper's impact on health and the environment in general?
Copper is a naturally occurring mineral and a dietary requirement for humans and other animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Minimum Daily Recommendation for copper intake is 2 mg. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrition Center estimates that less than half of U.S. residents consume the minimum daily requirement of copper, which is found in a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, dried beans, nuts, meats, seafood, chocolate and drinking water. Instead of causing disease, copper can prevent it. Copper tube is known to be impermeable to dangerous pollutants present in some soils. Copper is also biostatic, which means that it does not support bacteria that can cause serious illnesses. Preliminary data from recent studies suggest that copper may actually kill E. coli, which occurs in water tainted by animal feces, and the bacteria linked to Legionnaire's Disease.
Copper is found in varying concentrations in soil and water all over the world, mostly as a result of natural processes. In most cases copper levels are benign, although extremely high concentrations may lead to some adverse health effects, such as nausea. In the United States and most other advanced societies, copper concentrations, along with other minerals and potential pollutants, are routinely monitored in areas where soil and water quality are critical for sustaining life. Currently available data reveal no areas in which copper levels are dangerously elevated and suggest that soil and water quality have generally improved during the last 10 years.
In areas where copper levels may be elevated, the source is not generally attributed to the use of copper tube. Instead, some experts believe it more likely that higher copper concentrations in soil and water are the result of natural occurrence or particles from automotive brake linings carried by rainwater runoff. Most important, there is little evidence that a problem of copper contamination threatening to human health or wildlife exists in any area where copper tube is widely used.
Is the manufacture of copper building products depleting precious natural reserves?
The known worldwide supply of copper is estimated at approximately 5.8 trillion pounds—only about 0.7 trillion pounds (12%) have been mined throughout history. Nearly all of the copper mined to date is still in circulation because copper's recycling rate is higher than that of any other engineering metal. There's no reason to suspect that we'll ever run out of copper.
The United States is virtually self-sufficient in supplying copper for various industrial needs, second only to Chile in production. Each year in the U.S.A., nearly as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is derived from newly mined ore. Excluding wire production, which generally uses newly refined copper, more than three-fourths of the material used to manufacture copper-based products comes from recycled scrap, such as discarded electrical cable, copper tube salvaged from demolition projects, junked automotive radiators, obsolete air-conditioning equipment and milling waste products.
A corollary benefit of copper's recyclability is that copper building products are rarely disposed of in landfills.
Are copper mining and tube manufacturing processes energy-intensive?
Less energy is used in manufacturing copper tube than in producing plastic alternatives, which, incidentally, are made from dwindling petroleum reserves. An analysis called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) reveals that copper pipe in no way contributes to higher utility bills. LCA takes into account energy expended in every stage of a product's life—from extracting the raw material from the earth to refining, manufacturing, shipping, installing, use and disposal. Results of LCA analyses show that copper tube requires about 10 percent less energy over its lifetime than CPVC pipe.
Does copper hot-water piping experience rapid heat loss, thus wasting energy and contributing to higher utility bills?
While heat will dissipate more rapidly from copper tube than plastic pipe, it does not result in higher utility bills. The fact of the matter is that both materials allow the energy in heated water to dissipate over time.
As a practical matter for homeowners, all hot-water piping should be wrapped with thermal insulation to prevent wasteful heat loss and to lower energy bills.
Does copper tube meet the NSF Standard 61, and do the solder joints contain lead, which could affect the quality of the water?
Copper tube and all materials routinely used to install water-supply piping qualify under NSF Standard 61 and all other widely used standards and codes. The Safe Drinking Water Act, as amended in 1986, set lead content limits for pipes, fittings, solders and plumbing fixtures under which they may be legally considered to be lead free. NSF Standard 61 was developed in response to that law. It sets industry standards for the amount of lead and other contaminants plumbing tube and related devices may contribute to drinking water. All manufacturers and installers of copper building products must comply with the standard or risk sanctions. The use of lead solder in potable water systems has not been allowed for more than a decade.
Isn't copper plumbing noisy and prone to water hammer?
The annoying problem of water hammer occurs when a valve or faucet in a pressurized system is abruptly shut off, sending a shock wave back through the pipes, which may rattle if they're not sufficiently strapped in place. In truth, copper tube is no more prone to water hammer than other types of pipe. In fact, copper tube is generally quieter because its greater rigidity results in less vibration. Plastic pipe requires more strapping to achieve the same rigidity. Moreover, copper tube is more likely to withstand the potentially damaging effects of vibration because it inherently withstands higher pressures and has more durable joints.
The most effective solution to water hammer is to add a capped air chamber or surge-arresting device to the system. Proper support of the piping should also eliminate most noise concerns.
Does condensation form more readily on copper tubes than on other types?
Condensation comes from the air, not from the pipe. Water droplets will form on any surface that is cooled to the dew point, which is based on its relationship to the air temperature and ambient humidity. As a simple illustration, consider that on a hot, humid day condensation forms on the outside of a plastic tumbler filled with an iced drink.
Is copper a modern, technologically advanced material?
Because copper has been in use as long as it has, its technological development is much further advanced than that of newer materials. The inherent properties of copper, its performance in various building applications and its effects on the environment have been studied with greater sophistication and depth than more recently developed materials. Research and development in copper technology continue today, bringing continual improvements in mining, manufacturing and technical applications. For example, recent findings in computer-industry R&D activities suggest that copper may soon become much more widely used for super-computer circuitry because of its superior electrical conductivity and heat transfer properties.
DIY Video Podcasts
Building & Architecture News
October '11: The Fall issue focuses on the benefits of copper at healthcare institutions. Read about a new copper HVAC system that makes AC systems more energy efficient; a medical campus that relies on copper for their state-of-the-art information network; copper trends in building and construction projects; how copper provides shielding for MRI systems to improve accuracy, and the importance of copper to ensure cleanliness, reliability and efficiency in medical gas systems.
Learn about copper's 50-year warranty program
CDA Tube, Pipe and Fittings Council members:
Industry News: Selection of recent copper tube, pipe and fittings industry developments, technology advances, etc to keep you up to date.
The entire Copper Tube Handbook can be downloaded in pdf format [6 Mb].