Copper tube refrigerant refrigeration and air conditioning applications.
If there is one topic that divides plumbers it is the question of piping. Copper has been used by plumbers for almost a century. It is easy to work with, has natural antimicrobial properties, can be cut cleanly for repairs and welded together. It is largely considered to be the best option. Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) piping is growing in popularity, however, and the technology is almost 50 years old now.
Most plumbers are now happy to work with both copper and CPVC because both have their advantages.
Copper is ductile and malleable so it can be bent to allow continuous pipes to travel around obstructions without the need for additional fittings. In any pipework the fittings are usually the weakest point and the most likely location of leaks and corrosion in the future, so being able to lay a single piece of pipe is always preferable. Copper is also resistant to corrosion.
It is estimated that since 1963, 5.3 million miles of copper piping has been installed in buildings in America. This is an equivalent distance of going around the earth two hundred times. Over one billion feet of copper piping is installed every year.
Copper has built a solid reputation for long-term durability and it is estimated that the average copper piping will last for well over 100 years. Because of its great track record, copper piping is compliant with all major building codes.
CPVC is not universally compliant and some US states have restricted its use. Although it is a good material, many installers working on large projects refuse to use it because of the fear that the installation will fail sooner than might be expected and their business will suffer as a result.
Copper is more expensive than CPVC, but CPVC fittings are often expensive and more prone to breakage during installation and transportation. CPVC fittings also suffer from UV degradation so they must be stored away from sunlight, something that is not always easy on a large building site.
Copper might be more resistant to earth movements, including earthquakes, than CPVC because of its flexibility. CPVC is often brittle and prone to crack under strain.
Copper is also safer at high heat, it will not burn or carry fires along its length to other floors and rooms in a building.
One downside of copper is that it does not cope so well with hard water, soft acidic water or aggressive soil conditions. If it is buried in concrete it is likely to corrode and cause serious leaks.
Global metal prices have seen a huge increase in the price of copper and this has led to an increase in copper theft, as we reported last week. CPVC prices have remained steady over the last decade. Unlike copper, CPVC cannot be recycled easily, which means that there is also no black market in stolen piping.
CPVC piping has several advantages over copper. If pH levels are low, the quality of drinking water is still good.
Because CPVC comes with many fittings, labor costs are significantly reduced during installation and a solvent cement-bonding system means that welding is not required.
Many people assume that CPVC is cheap because it is plastic and there is a general view that plastic products are cheap and, therefore, of lower quality.
CPVC can be flexible so it is possible to thread it through conduits in walls and under floors. This does allow easier replacement of pipes, but only when a well-constructed conduit is made.
CPVC is also resistant to corrosion, so pinhole leaks are very unlikely. CPVC piping also has better thermal insulation properties than copper so less heat is wasted, making heating and hot water systems more efficient.
Often a plumber will install the products with which they are most familiar. Many established plumbers will already have all the equipment they need to manipulate and connect copper piping, a move to CPVC will be costly and they may need to undergo some training. For younger plumbers, CPVC is often the logical choice because it allows them to keep overheads down and work faster.
CPVC piping is becoming far more popular in the US. Plastic fittings without any bonding, often known as push fittings, are still under scrutiny and many plumbers prefer not to work with these.
Technology, however, is advancing and, coupled with the rising cost of copper, CPVC options are becoming more appealing. Its better insulation and corrosion resistant properties are also helping to make it more attractive to plumbers.
Whichever product you have installed, the quality of the plumbing is largely determined by the expertise of the installer. Copper and CPVC can both be poorly installed, leading to problems in the future. Always hire an experienced plumber who fully understands the pros and cons of both products for your plumbing jobs.