What Are Copper Pipes and How Long Will They Last?
Currently, CPVC, cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), galvanized steel pipes, and copper pipes are the top four pipe materials for a water supply line.
Compared to other pipe materials, such as cast iron and lead pipes that were also popular in the 20th century, copper water pipes don’t contaminate the water flowing through them with harmful chemicals as bad as the other mentioned materials. Copper does, however, leach copper and contaminants into the water.
Despite some of its challenges, copper has also grown in popularity and usage due to its long shelf life.
But how long is long?
In this article, we’ll cover the types of copper pipes available on the market, the pros and cons, and signs your copper piping might need a check-up.
Types of copper pipes
Depending on the thickness of the pipes, there are three types of copper pipes: M-type, L-type, and K-type.
Each type comes in either rigid tubing or flexible rolls. To differentiate the three pipes, most manufacturers add color-coordinated markings on the pipe. Green markings are reserved for type K pipes, blue for type L pipes, and red for type M pipes.
Type M Copper Pipes
Type M copper pipes are the one with the thinnest walls, which means that it has the shortest life expectancy when compared to its counterparts. Type M copper pipes are expected to be usable for 20-50 years if kept in top shape and ideal conditions.
A thinner wall also means that type M copper pipes are the easiest type to work with. It’s also lighter than the other two.
While it’s the cheapest option of copper pipes available on the market, type M copper pipes may not be an effective use of your money as it’s not as durable as type L copper pipes. Depending on where you live, type M copper pipes may also not be up to the standard of your local building codes.
If you’re considering using type M copper pipes, make sure to confirm with local authorities as some states no longer allow type M copper pipes.
Type L Copper Pipes
In comparison to M-type pipes, L-type copper pipes are thicker but also more expensive. L-type copper pipes have a life expectancy of up to 50 years and it’s the favored choice for most residential buildings.
While there’s a slight price gap when compared to M-type copper pipes, the reliability of L-type copper pipes is worth the price.
L-type copper pipes are also the type that most city regulations recommend; they’re even mandatory in some states, thanks to their durability. Type L copper pipes are often used for underground and outdoor installations since they can withstand environmental factors better than type M pipes.
Type K Copper Pipes
The last option for copper pipes is K-type pipes. It’s the thickest, most expensive, and most durable option of the three. However, its price point makes it a little more challenging to use for residential buildings.
K-type pipes are primarily used for underground water mains or industrial settings, such as channeling cooling water for generators, HVAC systems, or waste disposal systems. K-type pipes can last over 50 years or beyond in the ideal environment.
While you can expect copper pipes to serve you well for a handful of years, there are various factors that affect the condition of your pipes.
Regardless of the type, many home and property owners have seen failures in their copper piping system in as little as 5 years; it’s common to have a visit from your plumber within 5-10 years.
Pros and Cons of Copper Pipes
Copper pipes are still widely used in residential and commercial buildings. But does that make it usable for your use case? Here are a few reasons why you should consider using a copper pipe and why you shouldn’t.
|Lightweight and flexible. Copper pipes are one of the lightest and most flexible types of pipe on the market. It’s also available as rigid tubing or flexible rolls. Thanks to its thinner material, copper pipes are relatively easy to work with.||Labor-intensive installation and repairs. You still need a torch and a considerable amount of skill to solder copper pipes during installation. Unlike PEX pipes which allow connectors and DIY applications, installing copper pipes is best left to the professionals.|
|Sustainable. Copper pipes are 100% recyclable, and you might even be able to sell scrap copper. Recycled copper pipes are often melted together and reformed into other copper-based equipment, such as cables or new pipes.||Expensive. Copper pipes are much more expensive when compared to PEX and PVC pipes. At Home Depot, a half-inch diameter and 10-feet long type M copper pipe is approximately $15.|
|Lots of industry experience/most common piping material. Copper pipes have been used for centuries, dating back to 2500 BC in Egyptian plumbing systems. Since its rise in popularity in the 1970s, copper pipes have amassed a reputation as a reliable channel to supply hot water, cold water, and drinking water safely to residential and commercial buildings.||Can add a metallic flavor to drinking water. The metal contamination will be especially strong when you have old copper pipes installed. Consider calling a professional or using ePIPE’s epoxy coating to prevent lead and copper from seeping into your water from the pipes.|
|Naturally corrosion-resistant material. Copper is a noble material, making it naturally more resistant to corrosion caused by interactions with the environment.||Susceptible to interior corrosion from water chemistry. While copper is a naturally anti-corrosive material, acidic water and a high content of minerals in your water flow can still easily corrode your copper pipe.|
Do Copper Pipes Need to Be Replaced?
While copper pipes have a life expectancy of anywhere between 5-50 years, many factors affect their realistic lifetime. Maintaining an ideal environment, such as controlling the water pressure and doing regular maintenance, will help you get the most of the copper pipes in your home.
Here are a few things that might affect the lifespan of your copper pipes:
- Chloramines in the water
- Acid water and high sediment content
- Contact with other metals
- Water pressure above what’s allowed by plumbing codes
- Improper electrical connections
If you’re repiping your home or property and considering copper pipes, check the acidity and chloramine content of your well water or water supply. While chloramines are used to treat drinking water, it’s also harmful to copper plumbing systems.
Restore Your Pipes Today with ePIPE’s Epoxy
Copper pipes are a popular choice for homeowners and professionals. The thickness of the pipes and environmental factors affect the lifespan of your copper pipes. While it’s naturally sturdy, the state of the water flowing through your copper pipes can easily prompt pinhole leaks and corrosion.
Check the pH level flowing through your pipes and ensure that it has sufficient water pressure. If you can see leaks, corrosion, or discoloration from the water, call a plumber to inspect your copper pipes.
To ensure that you get the most out of your copper pipes, consider using ePIPE to protect your plumbing pipes. Our patented ePIPE process cleans the inside of your pipe and coats it with a NSF-approved epoxy barrier coating that restores your pipes “in-place”!
Get a free estimate to see if ePIPE’s epoxy coating is the right fit for your home or property!