Last Updated: Sunday, 19th November 2023
Copper vs Plastic Pipes: Which One is Better for Plumbing?
When it comes to plumbing, one of the biggest decisions you will make is choosing between copper and plastic pipes. Both types of pipes have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the decision ultimately comes down to your individual needs and preferences. In this article, we will take a closer look at the differences between copper and plastic pipes, to help you make an informed decision on which one is right for you.
Copper pipes have been used for plumbing since the dawn of time. Used by the Egyptians to transport water, to this day it remains a popular choice, and for good reason. Copper is a durable and reliable material that can withstand high temperatures and pressures, making it a popular choice for both residential and commercial plumbing applications. Here are some of the advantages of using copper pipes:
Copper pipes are very durable and are said to last for up to 50 years or more, making them a great investment for any plumbing system. They are extremely resistant to high temperatures and pressures without cracking or corroding.
Resistance to Corrosion
Unlike other metals that tend to rust or corrode when exposed to moisture or chemicals, copper forms a protective layer on its surface that prevents corrosion from spreading. This feature makes copper pipes more durable and longer-lasting than their plastic or steel counterparts. Additionally, copper's corrosion resistance makes it an environmentally friendly option since it reduces the need for frequent replacements and repairs, which ultimately reduces waste and conserves resources.
Copper pipes can be joined using many different types of fittings, such as Compression Fittings, Capillary Fittings, Press Fittings or Push-Fit Fittings. All of these, particularly Capillary Fittings provide a strong and long-lasting joint.
Easy to Install
Their lightweight nature and malleability make them easy to handle and work with. Copper pipes can be cut and bent into various shapes to fit around obstacles.
Safe for Drinking Water
Copper is a safe material for transporting drinking water due to its antimicrobial properties. Copper has been shown to be effective in killing bacteria and viruses on contact, making it a popular choice for use in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Copper can also reduce the risk of waterborne illnesses, as it can kill harmful bacteria in water systems.
Copper can be recycled over and over again without losing its key properties. It can also be reused, which significantly reduces waste and environmental impact.
Despite these advantages, there are also some drawbacks to using copper pipes. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Copper pipes are more expensive than other options. This increased cost can make them a less attractive option, however, copper pipes may still be a wise investment in the long run due to their durability and potential energy savings.
Susceptibility to Freeze Damage
Copper pipes can be damaged by freezing temperatures, which can cause them to burst and leak. However, this is easily solvable by insulating your pipework.
Plastic pipes are a newer alternative to copper pipes, and have become increasingly popular in recent years. Here are some of the advantages of using plastic pipes:
Plastic pipes are less expensive than copper pipes, making them a popular choice for those on a tight budget.
Easy to Install
Plastic pipes are also lightweight, and flexible meaning they can be easily handled and threaded through complex obstacles. They are typically used with Push-Fit or Compression Fittings which are in turn quick and easy to use.
Resistant to Corrosion
Plastic systems generally offer good resistance to corrosion, from chemicals, acids and other corrosive fluids.
Safe For Drinking Water
So long as you're using a WRAS approved piping system, the pipes will be safe for use with drinking water. However, plastic doesn't have any natural properties that make them automatically safe for use with drinking water.
While plastic pipes have several advantages, there are also some disadvantages to keep in mind:
Plastic pipes are generally accepted to have a shorter lifespan than copper pipes and will need replacing sooner.
Plastic pipes can't survive higher temperatures as well as their metallic counterparts, and are generally not suitable for use in high-temperature applications.
Harder to Recycle
Whilst some plastic can be recycled, its not so clear cut about what can or what can't be recycled when you recover plastic parts or pipes from a system. For some installers, all plastic goes to landfill.
In summary, both copper and plastic pipes have their advantages and disadvantages. Copper systems are longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly, while plastic pipes offer more flexibility during the install, and are less expensive. The choice between them depends on various factors, such as complexity of the install and the specific needs of the homeowner or contractor.
Copper Alliance - Why Copper?
Copper Sustainability Partnership - Why are copper pipes a better alternative to plastic?
Installer Magazine - Copper Vs Plastic – An Installer's View
John Guest - How to choose the right pipe material
Frequently asked questions
What are the advantages of using copper pipes?
Copper pipes offer several advantages: - Durability and resistance to corrosion. - Strong connections. - Ease of installation. - Naturally safe for use with drinking water. - Recyclable.
What are the drawbacks of using copper pipes?
Copper pipes have a few drawbacks: - Higher cost compared to other options. - More susceptible to freezing than plastic systems.
What are the advantages of using plastic pipes?
Plastic pipes have their own advantages: - Lower cost. - Easy installation. - Corrosion resistance. - When WRAS approved, safe for use with drinking water.
What are the disadvantages of using plastic pipes?
Plastic pipes come with some disadvantages: - Generally need more frequent replacement than copper pipes. - Temperature limitations. - Recycling can be more challenging.
Which is better, copper or plastic pipes?
Copper pipes are environmentally friendly and long-lasting, but the choice depends on factors like installation complexity and specific needs.
Are copper pipes safe for drinking water?
Yes, copper is safe for drinking water due to its natural antimicrobial properties.
Are plastic pipes safe for drinking water?
Plastic systems, when WRAS approved, are safe for drinking water. Unlike copper, plastic doesn't have automatic antimicrobial properties.
Are copper pipes more environmentally friendly than plastic pipes?
Copper pipes are inherently more environmentally friendly as they can be reused and recycled repeatedly. While plastic systems can also be recyclable, uncertainty about recyclability may lead to landfill disposal.