Why Is Copper Pipes Bad? (9 Major Disadvantages of Copper Plumbing)

Allow me to paint a picture for you. Your dream home is finally complete, but you subsequently find out that the copper pipes that run through your walls and under your feet might not be your best ally.

With its propensity for corrosion, the requirement for maintenance, and potential health effects, copper plumbing may not be your plumbing knight in shining armor.

Why are copper pipes bad?

Copper pipes are not inherently bad, but they do have certain drawbacks.

One main concern is that copper pipes can corrode over time, leading to leaks and potential water damage.

Certain water characteristics, such as high acidity or alkalinity, as well as the presence of chemicals or minerals in the water supply, can speed up corrosion.

Also, copper pipes can be prone to pinhole leaks caused by pitting corrosion.

While copper is a common choice for plumbing due to its durability and antimicrobial properties, it is important to properly monitor and maintain copper pipes to prevent potential issues and ensure their longevity.

9 disadvantages of copper plumbing

1. Corrosion

Copper pipes can corrode over time, especially in water with high acidity or alkalinity.

Corrosion can lead to leaks, reduced water flow, and potential water damage to the surrounding area.

Regular inspections and maintenance are necessary to mitigate this issue.

2. Cost

Copper plumbing systems can be more expensive compared to alternative materials like plastic.

The cost of copper pipes, fittings, and installation can add up significantly, making it less affordable for some homeowners or builders.

3. Theft risk

Copper pipes have value in the scrap metal market, making them an attractive target for thieves.

This can be a concern for unoccupied or vacant properties, resulting in additional security measures and potential repair expenses.

4. Water hammer

Copper pipes can contribute to water hammer, which is the loud banging noise heard when water flow is suddenly stopped or redirected.

This phenomenon can cause stress on the plumbing system, leading to pipe damage or the loosening of fittings.

5. Limited flexibility

Copper pipes are relatively rigid and less flexible compared to plastic pipes.

This can make installation more challenging, especially in complex or tight spaces, requiring additional fittings and joints.

6. Thermal conductivity

Copper has high thermal conductivity, meaning it transfers heat quickly.

This can lead to heat loss from hot water pipes and increased energy consumption for maintaining water temperature. Insulating copper pipes can help reduce this issue.

7. Water chemistry compatibility

Copper pipes can be incompatible with certain water chemistries, which can result in accelerated corrosion or deterioration.

Factors such as pH, mineral content, and chemical additives in the water supply need to be considered when using copper plumbing systems.

8. Pinhole leaks

Copper pipes are susceptible to pinhole leaks caused by pitting corrosion.

This localized corrosion occurs on the interior surface of the pipe and can lead to tiny holes that cause water leakage.

Regular maintenance and monitoring are necessary to prevent and address such leaks.

9. Environmental concerns

The production of copper pipes involves mining and processing, which can have negative environmental impacts.

Also, the disposal of old or damaged copper pipes may contribute to landfill waste.

Choosing alternative plumbing materials with lower environmental footprints, such as PEX or PVC, may be a more sustainable option.

What are the alternatives to using copper pipes for plumbing?

  • PEX (cross-linked polyethylene): PEX pipes offer greater flexibility and easier installation compared to rigid copper pipes. They are resistant to freezing and can expand to accommodate freezing water without bursting, which is an advantage over copper pipes. However, PEX pipes may have a slightly shorter lifespan compared to copper pipes and can be more susceptible to damage from UV exposure.
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride): PVC pipes are a lightweight and affordable alternative to copper pipes. They are resistant to corrosion and chemicals, making them a durable choice for drainage systems. However, PVC pipes are not suitable for hot water applications, which is a limitation compared to copper pipes that can handle both hot and cold water.
  • CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride): CPVC pipes are specifically designed for hot water applications, making them a suitable alternative to copper pipes in terms of handling high water temperatures. They offer similar corrosion resistance to copper pipes. However, CPVC pipes may require special tools and techniques for installation, unlike the soldering used for copper pipes.
  • PPR (polypropylene random): PPR pipes provide durability, high-temperature resistance, and easy installation, making them a reliable alternative to copper pipes. They offer comparable longevity and are suitable for both hot and cold water supply systems. However, PPR pipes may have a larger diameter compared to copper pipes, potentially requiring adjustments in fittings and fixtures.
  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel pipes share some advantages with copper pipes, such as corrosion resistance and durability. They are commonly used for water supply lines in commercial and industrial settings. However, stainless steel pipes can be more expensive than copper pipes and may require specialized tools for installation, making them less common in residential applications.
  • HDPE (high-density polyethylene): HDPE pipes offer excellent durability, flexibility, and resistance to corrosion. They are particularly suitable for underground water supply lines and have similar longevity to copper pipes. However, HDPE pipes may have a larger diameter than copper pipes, requiring adjustments to fittings and fixtures during installation.

What causes corrosion in copper pipes?

  • Water chemistry: The chemistry of the water flowing through copper pipes plays a significant role in corrosion. Water with high acidity or alkalinity can cause the protective oxide layer on the inner surface of the copper pipe to dissolve, leading to corrosion. Additionally, high chloride or sulfate levels in the water can accelerate corrosion processes.
  • Dissolved oxygen: The presence of dissolved oxygen in water can promote corrosion in copper pipes. Oxygen reacts with the copper surface, causing the formation of copper oxide and eventually leading to corrosion.
  • Chemicals and contaminants: Certain chemicals and contaminants present in the water supply can contribute to copper pipe corrosion. For example, exposure to high levels of chlorine, chloramines, or other disinfectants used in water treatment can accelerate corrosion processes.
  • Galvanic corrosion: When copper pipes come into contact with other metals in the plumbing system, such as iron or steel, a galvanic reaction can occur, leading to corrosion. This occurs due to the difference in electrical potentials between the metals, resulting in the accelerated corrosion of the less noble metal (in this case, copper).
  • Stray electrical currents: Stray electrical currents caused by faulty electrical systems or nearby power sources can induce corrosion in copper pipes. These currents can create an electrochemical reaction that leads to the breakdown of the copper surface.
  • Microbial influenced corrosion (MIC): Certain microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi, can contribute to the corrosion of copper pipes. These microorganisms can produce metabolic byproducts that are corrosive to copper and facilitate the deterioration of the pipe material.

What are the effects of copper plumbing pipes on my health?

Copper’s antimicrobial properties

Copper has natural antimicrobial properties, meaning it has the ability to inhibit the growth and spread of certain microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

This can be beneficial for reducing the risk of waterborne illnesses and maintaining a clean and safe water supply.

Copper leaching

While copper pipes are relatively stable and do not release significant amounts of copper into the water, there can be minimal leaching of copper ions into the water supply, particularly when the water has an extended contact time with the pipes.

The level of copper in drinking water from copper plumbing is well within the allowable limits set by regulatory standards, and it is not considered a significant health concern for most individuals.

Potential sensitivity

Some individuals may be more sensitive to copper than others. In rare cases, individuals with a specific genetic condition called Wilson’s disease, which affects copper metabolism, may be more susceptible to the accumulation of copper in their bodies.

For these individuals, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate measures to reduce copper exposure.

Water quality factors

The quality of the water supply itself, including factors such as pH, mineral content, and chemical additives, can influence the potential effects of copper plumbing on health.

You should understand that the water supply is regularly tested and meets the recommended standards to minimize any potential risks.

Can you safely drink from copper plumbing?

It is generally safe to drink water from copper plumbing. Copper plumbing pipes have been used for decades and are approved for use in residential and commercial plumbing systems.

Copper’s natural antimicrobial properties help inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, contributing to the overall safety of the water supply.

While there may be minimal leaching of copper into the water, the levels are typically within acceptable limits set by regulatory standards, posing no significant health risks for the majority of individuals.

How long do copper pipes last?

Copper pipes are known for their durability and long lifespan. When properly installed and maintained, copper pipes can last for several decades.

On average, copper pipes have a life expectancy of 50 to 70 years or even more.

The exact lifespan of copper pipes can vary depending on factors such as water chemistry, installation quality, maintenance practices, and environmental conditions.

How often should I inspect my copper plumbing pipes?

It is generally recommended to inspect copper plumbing pipes periodically to ensure their continued integrity and identify any potential issues.

The frequency of inspections can depend on various factors, such as the age of the plumbing system, water quality, and environmental conditions.

As a general guideline, conducting a thorough inspection every 2 to 5 years is a good practice.

During the inspection, look for signs of corrosion, leaks, or discoloration on the pipes, as well as check fittings, joints, and valves for any abnormalities.

Also, monitor water pressure, flow, and quality regularly.

Timely inspections and prompt repairs can help prevent major plumbing issues and extend the lifespan of your copper pipes.

How do I know if I need to replace my copper plumbing pipes?

Determining whether or not to replace copper plumbing pipes depends on various factors.

Some signs that may indicate the need for replacement include frequent leaks, visible signs of corrosion or discoloration, low water pressure, or a significant decrease in water flow.

If your copper pipes are approaching or have exceeded their expected lifespan of 50 to 70 years, it may be wise to consider replacement.

What is the easiest way to repair a leaking copper pipe?

The easiest way to repair a leaking copper pipe is by using a compression fitting or a push-fit fitting.

These fittings do not require soldering or specialized tools.

Start by turning off the water supply to the affected area and draining any remaining water.

Then, cut out the damaged section of the copper pipe using a pipe cutter. Next, prepare the ends of the cut pipe by cleaning and deburring them.

Slide the compression or push-fit fitting onto the pipe ends and tighten the fitting according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Finally, turn on the water supply to check for any leaks and make sure the repair is secure.

How can I tell if I have a pinhole leak in my copper pipes?

Detecting a pinhole leak in copper pipes can be challenging as they are often small and may not result in visible water damage.

However, there are a few signs to look out for. Keep an eye on your water bill for any unexplained increases, as pinhole leaks can cause a gradual but consistent water loss.

Listen for the sound of running water when no fixtures are in use, as this could indicate a hidden leak.

Also, if you notice any sudden drops in water pressure or see discolored or stained areas on walls, ceilings, or floors near the plumbing lines, it may be an indication of a pinhole leak.

What can I do to prevent the corrosion of copper pipes?

  • Water testing: Regularly test the pH, mineral content, and chemical composition of your water supply. If the water is highly acidic or alkaline, you may need to install a neutralizing filter or use water treatment methods to balance the pH and reduce the corrosive potential.
  • Water softening: If your water supply has high mineral content, especially high levels of calcium and magnesium (known as hard water), consider installing a water softener. Softening the water helps reduce the formation of mineral deposits on the inner surface of the copper pipes, which can contribute to corrosion.
  • Adequate grounding: Ensure that the electrical grounding in your home or building is properly installed and does not cause stray electrical currents that can accelerate corrosion. Faulty electrical systems or improper grounding can lead to galvanic corrosion in copper pipes.
  • Avoid excessive velocity: Excessively high water velocity can cause erosion and corrosion of copper pipes over time. Ensure that the water pressure is within the recommended range for your plumbing system. Installing pressure regulators or flow restrictors can help control water velocity and minimize the risk of corrosion.
  • Cathodic protection: In areas with aggressive water conditions, cathodic protection methods can be employed to provide an external source of electrical current that helps protect the copper pipes from corrosion. This can be achieved through the installation of sacrificial anodes or imprinted current systems.
  • Regular inspections prevent maintenance: Conduct periodic inspections of your copper plumbing system to identify any signs of corrosion or damage. Address any issues promptly, such as repairing leaks or replacing corroded sections of pipe. Regular maintenance, including cleaning and flushing the system, can help prolong the lifespan of the copper pipes.

What type of pipe is most corrosion-resistant?

Among commonly used plumbing pipe materials, stainless steel is generally considered to be the most corrosion-resistant.

Water, chemicals, and other environmental factors do not easily cause corrosion to stainless steel pipes.

They have a chromium-rich composition that forms a passive oxide layer on the surface, providing excellent protection against corrosion.

Stainless steel pipes are often used in demanding environments, such as coastal areas or industrial settings, where corrosion resistance is crucial.

Other interesting articles:

Author: Logan

I help people connect with businesses