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The Case for Copper Piping in Green Building

February 24th, 2010

Dale PowellBy Dale Powell, Copper Development Association, Project Manager and Piping Applications Specialist

Dale Powell provides information for a wide range of industries regarding copper plumbing, pipefitting and process piping applications.  Prior to joining CDA 15 years ago, he was a UA Pipefitter and Master Plumber as well as an Estimator/Project Manager for a large mechanical contracting firm in Harrisburg, PA.   He received his education at Harrisburg Area Community College, Penn State and the University of Kentucky. 

When specifying materials for a project, contractors have to weigh the issues of affordability versus quality.  Copper costs more than many other materials to start with, but its advantages are significant, especially when you look at them in light of the move toward what most people call “green” building.  A contractor pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification will find lots of benefits to using copper piping. 

Figure 25 SolderingCopper has some phenomenally great characteristics for green building.  To begin with, it’s a 100% recyclable material.  The process for most of our tube and fitting manufacturers involves the use of scrap (roofing, wire, cable, strip plate, bar), which is commonly 99.96% copper.  In fact, about 85-90% of the copper tube put in today is from re-used scrap.  You hardly ever see copper tube or other copper products in a landfill or dump but often see plastic tubing going to the dump.  Another strong case for copper piping is that it’s extremely long-lasting.  You can reliably figure that the piping you put into a building will last longer than the building itself.  There again, the copper remains available and serviceable after many other materials have deteriorated.  It simply gets melted down and re-formed for other uses.  Copper doesn’t burn, so it can be installed in open plenums without adding to the smoke load.  Sun exposure isn’t an issue, either, so you can store the piping anywhere.  If you leave PVC or cross-link polyethylene PEX materials out in the sun, stacked at a building site, for example, they can be adversely affected by the sunlight. 

There are many green building projects throughout the United States, many of them award-winning.  And there will continue to be more and more as contractors understand that specifying copper is one of the smartest, greenest choices you can make.

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