Building Green With Copper

February 7, 2007


ORLANDO, FL— If you are looking for ways to "green" your next building project, consider the benefits of copper. Its durability, recyclability and excellent heat-transfer properties help builders meet NAHB green building guidelines while conserving energy, natural resources and the environment.

What "Red" Can Do For You
Green builders understand the importance of using recycled building materials whenever possible. Copper, one of the world's most useful natural resources, is 100 percent recyclable, as are its principal alloys like brass and bronze. Copper used for plumbing tube; sheet products such as cladding, flashing and roofing applications; heating and cooling systems; and the copper found in brass or bronze builders hardware and fixtures can be recycled over and over with no loss of its physical attributes. In fact, more than two-thirds of the copper used to make architectural, decorative and plumbing tube products is derived from recycled scrap.

"It is important for builders to realize that some systems benefit the environment by conserving energy use - and benefit the homeowner by reducing energy and repair bills significantly over the lifetime of the home," explains Andy Kireta Jr., national program manager of Building Construction, for the Copper Development Association.

"Systems that include or rely on copper components are typically more efficient and more environmentally beneficial than those using alternative materials that can't be recycled, or those made from petrochemicals, like plastics," Kireta adds. "And, because copper is so durable, copper products are usually more cost-efficient in the long run. Builders who spec products simply because they're cheaper to buy or install are really only offering their buyers a cheaper home and a less-valuable investment. Smart homebuilders know that it's better to sell a product on quality and value, not price alone."

Copper is a key component of many energy-saving technologies. For example, passive solar water heating systems employ copper to capture and convert sunlight into heat. Copper heat exchangers efficiently transfer the thermal energy absorbed by the solar collector to the home's hot water system. Sunlight is abundant, renewable and, even where it is not readily available, can supplement a home's hot water needs virtually cost-free once a system is installed.

Another option to consider for home heating is a Direct Exchange (DX) geothermal system, which uses a refrigerant directly circulating in underground copper tubing to extract or disperse heat. By exploiting the earth's constant temperature, DX systems efficiently heat and cool homes and commercial buildings, reducing and in many cases eliminating the need for standard air conditioning and heating. Keep in mind that even standard units benefit significantly as a result of the higher energy-efficiency performance they can derive from copper heat-exchange components.

Builders can also use copper to conserve energy through the installation of a heat exchanger for wastewater recovery. According to the Department of Energy, the equivalent of 350 billion kilowatt-hours of hot water is flushed down the drain each year, yet a large portion of this thermal energy is recoverable. This type of heat exchanger typically has a large-diameter copper pipe wrapped in thin-wall copper tubing. Warm wastewater flowing through the larger pipe transfers its heat to the outer coil carrying the home's domestic water, which in turn reduces the amount of electricity or gas needed to make hot water.

Homebuilding professionals seeking more information on ways copper can help them build green should visit the CDA website at