Why Is Copper Used for Water Pipes?

Written by laura bramble
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Why Is Copper Used for Water Pipes?
Copper water pipes are in a large percentage of American homes. (plumbing image by Inger Anne Hulbækdal from Fotolia.com)

Copper is one of the most commonly used materials for water pipes in the United States and Europe. Copper is durable and recyclable, which means that using copper piping for water pipes will not deplete copper supplies and has a lower impact on the environment than some other choices, like PVC. While the initial cost of copper water pipes may be higher, its durability makes it an excellent long-term value.

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Considerations

Copper pipes are lightweight and very malleable, so they are easy for plumbers to work with. They also are easier to customise and fit onsite. Minimal tools are needed to fit copper pipe and it can be joined with simple solders. These factors make copper water pipe simpler and quicker to install.

Significance

In areas with neutral-pH water, copper pipes resist corrosion by forming a thin protective coating inside of the pipe and keep their structural integrity well. This allows for a smaller-diameter pipe with maximum consistent water flow. Thinner walls are also needed with copper pipe than other types of pipe. These factors help keep the cost of copper pipe lower and make it a better value.

Benefits

Copper pipe conducts heat well, so the pipes get warm during exposure to hot water and stay warm. This helps keep hot water at a consistent temperature as it travels through the house. Copper's conductivity makes it the perfect choice for radiant heating systems that pump hot water through the floors to heat a room.

Prevention/Solution

Copper has natural antimicrobial properties that help kill harmful bacteria and pathogens. Copper pipes also inhibit the growth of bacteria and slime inside the pipes that can lead to illness. Copper's prohibitive effects on diseases such as E-coli O157, polio virus, and Legionella pneumophilia (the cause of Legionnaire's disease), among other harmful bacteria, have all been tested. Unlike iron, lead and PVC pipes, copper pipes do not leech dangerous metals or toxins into drinking water under most conditions.

Warning

Copper pipes are safe unless the water in it is overly acidic or alkaline. Most municipal water has a balanced pH between 6.5 and 8, which is a safe range for copper pipes. Acidic or alkaline water may cause corrosion or leech copper from the pipes into the drinking water. Too much copper in the body can cause gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.

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