5 key considerations to take into account before specifying copper pipework

An article explaining key considerations housing developers and building owners must take into account before specifying pipework

Choosing the right pipe system for a commercial or domestic project is crucial. A balance must be struck between short term considerations i.e. installation time and costs and long term considerations i.e. client satisfaction and health and safety.

Overall, copper still remains a popular choice for pipework, however there may be some factors which you have not considered in the long term. We investigate these factors below, so housing developers and building owners can make the correct decision.

1. Drinking Water Quality

Is drinking out of copper safe? Copper corrosion is a serious threat to water quality in commercial and residential buildings within the long term. Sadly this recently came to light in a school in Scotland, where copper samples were found within the drinking water. According to the BBC, this led to a build-up of potentially hazardous “cloudy and blue water”.

The incident above is backed up by research conducted by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, who found that copper pipes are more susceptible to “blue water” proliferation which can have negative consequences such as nausea and stomach problems for those who consume it.

2. What If Your Installer Makes Mistakes?

Without the use of x-ray technology, it is very difficult to check whether a copper pipe has been soldered/crimped correctly to a fitting. Installers often mark a pipe after constructing a joint to show the depth of the connection, however this is not a scientific method of verification and is often “guesstimated”.

When considering how many joints there are on a commercial project, it can be very costly to check an install with x-ray technology. What’s more copper tubes and fittings are very thin, so a specialised low voltage x-ray will be required- added cost! This will take time to arrange and no work can take place while the checks are being undertaken.

Although some may say it’s unnecessary to conduct this check, the question should be whether the risk of a potentially hazardous leak due to an incorrectly installed fitting is worth taking?

3. Copper linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Research conducted at Iowa State University has found that copper-induced misfolding and clumping is associated with inflammation and damage to nerve cells in brain tissue based on an experiment conducted on mice. This pattern of misfolding has also been shown to have a link with other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimers.
Other research on mice has shown similar side effects. For example, a study conducted at the University of Rochester in New York  found that when mice where fed water with copper traces, it became harder for the brain to get rid of a protein called beta amyloid. Beta amyloid has been shown to have a strong association with Alzheimers Disease.

Its worth noting that research into this area is inconclusive, although recent findings would suggest a link may exist.

4. Hot work hazards and precautions

Uponor have spent time spent time recently speaking to contractors to gather their views on hot works on a construction site. The overall consensus from the research was that there is a hesitation to commission hot works onsite due to health and safety issues.

Indeed, this hesitation is fully justified as according to a study conducted by Zurich Insurance, hot works are responsible for 15% of all fires in commercial and domestic properties. That is alarmingly high and is a key factor to take into account considering soldering is still used as a common method by installers for putting together copper pipes.

5. Coppers’ environmental impact

Energy efficiency
Independent research has recently been conducted by The European Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (TEPPFA) on how copper pipes compare to plastic (PEX/MLCP) pipes across a whole lifecycle. The findings showed that PEX/MLCP pipes are less detrimental to the environment than copper because lighter-weight products (i.e., PEX) reduce manufacturing, transportation and disposal burdens.

What’s more, the process of extracting copper is far more energy intensive and it has a significantly shorter lifecycle in comparison to PEX/MLCP pipes.

Its worth not that Uponor’s PEX/MLCP pipes still offer a high degree of durability despite its low weight. This can be seen in the following videos below.

Conclusion: have you considered the alternatives to copper pipes?

Uponor S-Press
At Uponor we offer Multi-Layer Composite Pipes (MLCP) as an alternative to copper pipes. Our pipes overcome the issues identified in this article:

•    No need for x-rays, with the Uponor Joint Inspection Window- a connection can be fully reviewed via a joint inspection window on the Uponor fitting immediately after an install has taken place.      

Please refer to the Uponor brochure below to see an example of this

•    Drinking water quality- there is no risk of limescale formation within Uponor pipes, as  they are capped at  the manufacturing stage

•    Hot works- no hot works are required on any Uponor MLCP or PEX installation

•    No link to cognitive disorders- Uponor operates in over 50 countries around the world and there is no reported links between its pipework and  cognitive disorders  

If you would like to discuss a project, please email marketing.uk@uponor.com