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Water Piping In Your Home Pt. 1: Copper Pipe

We’re going to go the educational route on today’s episode of “How Not to Call the Plumber”! This week, we’re going to start a 3-part series, to learn about the different types of water piping in your home – Copper, PEX (Cross-linked PolyEthylene), and the dreaded Kitec!

I know that many of you have probably spent hours upon hours at dinner parties debating what the superior piping system is. Don’t worry; we’re going to settle the score once and for all over the next few weeks.

Let’s start with Copper, the most common of the piping materials used in our older homes. Copper piping was first installed in the 1930’s and continued as the main method of water piping right up to the early 2000’s, when PEX was introduced in North America. Taking over from galvanized steel and even lead piping that was used previous to this, over the last 90 years of use, we have learned that there are both pros and cons to the pipe. However, even though many of you traditionalists don’t want to hear it, copper is no longer the superior piping system!

The biggest advantage to copper piping is its ability to stand the test of time. Copper will last between 50-70 years, depending on the quality of the water running through it. While it will degrade over time, it takes the cake for longevity, especially when compared to more modern piping methods. Things like highly acidic water will cause copper pipes to fail sooner, but most of us who are on a municipal water supply won’t have that issue!

Another advantage is the volume of water that it can hold – when compared to PEX, the inside diameter of the fittings used to connect the pipe is about 25% greater. This means more water is able to get to the fixtures. However, there is another side to the coin on this; since copper piping is rigid and can’t be bent around corners, many more fittings are used in construction when compared to PEX piping. Many of you will see this as a loss of “pressure” on the second or third levels of your home. An increased number of fittings causes friction in the piping system, and subsequently the “Flow Rate” of the water to lessen. Getting technical, copper piping has a Flow Rate for cold water of 2.4 m/s (metres per second), while PEX has a flow rate of 3 m/s.

As there are some advantages, there are also some disadvantages to copper piping. The biggest disadvantage we see is how prone it is to burst after a freeze. Because of it’s rigidity, copper piping is not able to expand when frozen when compared to PEX. This will cause a burst in the wall of the pipe and subsequent flooding! As I’m sure many of you have dealt with, a burst pipe is not fun – it often leads to the need for major repair to not only the water pipe, but of course to the flooded area as well.

Another disadvantage to copper is it’s cost. Copper does not only have a higher material cost, but also a much higher installation cost. When redoing the water piping in a home, you should expect to pay at least twice the amount to redo piping in copper. Rigidity, the need to solder fittings, and the number of fittings that must be used all lead to this higher labour cost.

That’s all for this week’s lesson on the copper pipes in your home! Next week, we’re going to be talking about copper piping’s younger sibling: PEX.



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