Since the 1960s, copper has been the piping material of choice in the United States, for both homes and commercial businesses. There’s a good chance that your home’s plumbing is made of copper, which gives your home some distinct advantages. However, copper piping does have its share of issues. In this post we’ll look at the good and the bad sides of copper, and a few warning signs to watch for.
Pros of copper piping
The prevalence of copper plumbing is more than just a mid-century fad. It’s earned its popularity for several reasons:
It’s lightweight and easy to install. This is more of a pro for builders and contractors, but is also handy if you’re doing some home renovations. Its flexibility also makes it safer in earthquake-prone areas, since it’s less likely to rupture.
It’s more corrosion-resistant than steel. This is what initially made copper piping popular in the 60s, before CPVC piping was widely available. Copper doesn’t rust, and under the right conditions stays clean and shiny for decades.
It’s bacteria-resistant. Copper has been proven to be anti-microbial (unlike steel or PVC) and when it’s dry it can kill e. coli, the influenza virus, and fungal spores after two or so hours of direct contact. The effect isn’t quite as dramatic when it comes to water flowing through the pipe, but it still can make a positive difference in keeping nasties at bay.
Cons of copper piping
The quality of copper varies. Unfortunately, not all copper piping is created equal. Since the 2000s, there’s been an increase of builders who have used sub-par piping in an effort to save money. These pipes are much more likely to fail.
It’s sensitive to certain types of water. While copper is generally considered corrosion-resistant, it can react to water with high acidity, causing the insides of the pipes to corrode and deteriorate. This can not only add an unpleasant copper taste to your water, but left unchecked, the copper can corrode to the point of creating pinhole leaks—which can then lead to even worse failures.
It’s sensitive to pressure. Copper pipes are more vulnerable to high water pressure and can be physically damaged if the water velocity is too high.
Signs of trouble
Suddenly low water pressure. If your water pressure drops rather quickly, it could be a sign of a leak. You can check our blog, here, if you have low pressure. It will help you determine if you should call in a plumber or if it’s an easier fix.
Soggy carpets, ceiling stains, or other tell-tale signs of a leak. If you see any of these, shut off the water if you can, and call a plumber to prevent further damage.
Teal stains. If you notice a blue-green tinge to your shower or bathtub that isn’t mold, it could be a sign of pipe corrosion. Hot water, such as for a shower, tends to wash away built up corrosion in the pipe and dump it onto you. Not only is that unpleasant, it can be a sign of a systemic problem—after all, if it’s in your hot water pipes, it’s probably worse in your cold-water ones! (Why blue-green? Just as iron turns rusty as it oxidizes, copper gets a blue-green patina. It’s the same color as the Statue of Liberty, a once-red copper statue that turned green because of exposure to the elements.)
Known water stagnation. If you’ve left your home’s water off for a long period of time, or if you’ve got a basement bathroom that hardly ever gets used, stagnant water sitting in your pipes can more actively corrode the interior of the pipe than if it were moving. So if you’re going to be away for a few months, shut off the water and drain your pipes before leaving! (This can also protect your home from pipes bursting during freezing weather.)
There are a few things you should know if you do ever find yourself in a plumbing emergency. Check out our blog, here, to be prepared in the event of a leak or any other plumbing emergency. Once you have a handle of the situation, give us a call at 757-420-5488 to schedule with one of our seasoned plumbers. We are always available and offer warranties on almost all plumbing repairs made.