How long do copper pipes last? Lifespan Explained

Copper is one of the best materials for water pipes, as it has a low rate of corrosion. When copper and galvanized steel are used in plumbing, these metals can last several decades and even up to 50 years before requiring replacement. While copper is a durable material when it’s installed properly, improper installation can lead to leaks or breaks that lead to extensive water damage. Copper pipes should be properly sized.


Copper for water pipes

Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is soft, malleable, ductile, and has high tensile strength. Copper is used in many alloys because of its low melting point. It is quite easy to spot a copper pipe in a house as it has a red/brown color. Steel is often grey whereas PEX is white and can have a red or blue cover around it. 

Copper can corrode over time and become brittle.

Copper has been used for several centuries in plumbing. It has proven its reliability over time. In order to ensure your copper pipes last as long as possible, you should install them correctly. Copper was first used as a plumbing material in ancient Rome. The Romans used copper because it was the best option available at the time and had a low rate of corrosion.

Copper pipes were also used during the medieval era. The discovery of how to solder copper pipes was a big step forward. This development led to an increase in the use of copper pipe materials for both homes and industries.

 Copper pipes can also have several thicknesses. Sometimes the copper is combined with other materials to make it last longer. Cheaper copper pipes will not last as long as higher-quality pipes. Generally, plumbers will use straight and rolled-up copper. Both work great but straight copper is harder to transport. 

The main reason why it is used less often is that it is an expensive material, especially after the building boom in Asia, and PEX is a lot cheaper.  

Why copper lasts a long time: what is the lifespan?

Example of copper pipes and a faucet. Image by PlumbingInstantFix. All rights reserved.

Copper pipes are less prone to leaks and breaks as it is a strong material that can resist a lot of elements. Furthermore, copper is an environmentally friendly material that doesn’t release chemicals into the water.

Copper can also hot water as it doesn’t retain the heat but keeps it in the water. Some materials would hold the heat and cool down the water. 

Copper pipes are also quite easy to bend close to their ends without compromising their structural integrity.

 It also has a lot of industrial applications as it is able to withstand a lot of heat and materials.

Why copper breaks down

Copper pipes are expected to last a long time, but they do have some cons.  Copper is a heavy metal that can be difficult to transport and therefore increases the cost of installation. In addition, it’s not as easy as PVC or CPVC pipes to install. A lot of plumbers install it in the wrong way. A lot of mistakes were made as one improper fitting could create a leak. Nowadays there are machines that will clip a fitting on the copper. This makes it a lot easier to work with as you don’t have to heat the material. 

Copper also expands quite a lot. Therefore it has to be installed properly or it can make noises when it is in use. It needs quite a lot of support as it is a heavy material. The pipes shouldn’t bend as they can break if you do this. In the past people used to weld copper.

Furthermore, copper can affect the steel pipes behind them in the installation and break them down over time. Steel can also affect copper.

 Copper can also corrode if it is exposed to high levels of sulfuric acid or salts. For example, water that is close to the ocean or sea can affect copper. This degradation can cause breakage and leaks, which leads to extensive water damage and property loss. Copper is durable when it is installed properly, but improper installation can lead to corrosion. 

 To prevent this from happening, flush your plumbing system with clean water every six months. This will remove any trace amounts of salt that may be present in your water and prevent corrosion from occurring.

Standing water can also affect copper after a few months.

Salt can clog a copper pipe. This can greatly reduce the water pressure. This is why a water softener is commonly installed. A water filter can also be used if there is dirt or sand in the water. This can also slow the water down. 

Photo by Ra Dragon on Unsplash

Why pex replaces copper in plumbing

PEX, a type of plastic, is a cheaper alternative to copper. Pex has a lower rate of corrosion and does not corrode when it’s installed properly. Comparing the lifespan of copper pipes with that of PEX pipes reveals that PEX materials have a shorter lifespan. It has to be noted that most people renovate their home every 20-25 years so there is a limit to how long plumbing materials have to last. Copper and PEX are often recycled.

It is often possible to reuse copper after you have renovated a house. Most plumbers will replace the copper though as PEX makes it easier to install new faucets as it is more flexible to work with and cheaper. Copper is created in a closed circuit and this makes it harder to add new faucets as you need wider pipes for this. A manifold is commonly used with PEX. This makes it easier to add new faucets later on as the water is distributed over the house from one central point.  

Some plumbers prefer to use copper around a water heater as this looks nice and offers a more sturdy installation. 

It is important to consult a plumber if your copper pipes become discolored. It can indicate a water leak. Using a copper pipe cleaner on the discoloration can sometimes make it worse, so you should have the problem fixed by a professional in order to prevent any further damage.

Copper in water heaters

Some water heaters have a tank to store hot water. This is mainly done if the house needs quite a lot of hot water. Quite a lot of water heaters use copper in their tanks. This makes them last a long time. Water heaters have to deal with a lot of pressure and high temperatures. Copper is able to deal with these and make sure that the tank doesn’t leak or burst. These tanks are often more expensive but they will last a long time. 

Copper in sewage systems and natural gas

Copper is not often used in sewage systems nowadays. We use plastics such as PVC or PE for this. These pipes have to be quite wide and copper would be too expensive for this. Furthermore, the sewage might affect the copper over time and this would make it less long than if it only had to deal with clean water. In the sixties, they have used copper for the sewage system. 

Copper is also not often used for natural gas lines. While there are some types of copper that can be used, other materials such as steel are more common as these materials are thicker.

Copper can also be used for rain pipes. This sends the water from the roof to the garden.

To conclude, we can state that copper generally lasts a long time in plumbing systems. It is used less often than in the past but still can be used. It is a great material overall but has some limitations such as cost and can break when it is exposed to salt. 

Copper is a very durable material that can withstand a lot. It is more expensive than PEX though and this is why it has become less popular in newer installations.

Copper pipes can be painted or covered with plaster.