Plastic pipe or copper: Which one should I have at home?

As an architect you are examined very often by clients who frequently put our knowledge at test by asking relevant questions such as: shall we have plastic or copper piping? 

Here are the arguments for using one or another.

Both are lightweight, durable and affordable, however plastic has a lower thermal conductivity and better endures expansion cycles.

It is true that the most common household plumbing is copper and PVC. The former are used mainly for the water supply, while the latter are reserved for water drainage. However, both have very similar characteristics: they are lightweight, withstand the test of time and cost is not too high. Just differ in the mode of binding and resistance to cycles of expansion. Therefore, when choosing one kind or another pipe to install at home, the decision is not easy.


Polyethylene and PVC pipes.
Plastic is a
material that facilitates economic energy savings thanks to its "low weight, its great features and high insulating power." According to the Spanish Confederation of Plastic, these features make it a remarkable pipe used in public buildings, homes and workplaces. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene plastics are the most common because for its versatility. They are optimal for networks of water supply, sanitation, irrigation and drainage of wastewater and rainwater collection. Furthermore, polyethylene is suitable for gas, while polypropylene (other plastic) is used for non-pressure pipes.

The Spanish Association of Manufacturers of Plastic Pipes and Fittings, AseTUB highlights the "countless" Technical advances of this material, such as ease of installation, strength, flexibility, tightness, abrasion resistance, lack of scale (e.g. lime), consistency over time, resistance to chemical attack (acids, bases, salts and oxidants) and recyclability. Most of the plastic tubes can be reused in the manufacture of other tubes.

Not only that, plastic pipes are lightweight, making them easy to transport, handle, and storage, and require little maintenance. Nor transmit any taste or odor, withstand high pressures, are noncombustible (good fire behavior) and have a lower thermal conductivity than metal pipes, so little impact on the temperature of the fluids along them. As for the interior surfaces of the pipes are very smooth and reduce contact pressure loss (friction).

Other advantages of plastic pipe, according to Plastics Europe (European Association of Plastics Manufacturers) are the possibility of seamless pipes, which reduces the risk of leaks in under floor heating and cooling ceiling cooling involving the protection of underground cables in plastic pipe, "as the installation and removal of wires which is easily done without making holes on the walls.

However, despite all these features, there are doubts about the health risks that may involve materials such as PVC even if it is only used for drainage pipes. Some studies conclude that during its creation and incineration dioxins are generated while in use additives can release harmful to health and the environment.

From AseTUB manufacturers, meanwhile, ensures that the manufacturing processes "produce easily recyclable products, resulting in an industry that does not pollute" and remember that the laws and regulations related to water is "increasingly profuse and demanding" and also affects the manufacturers of plastic pipes. Therefore advocate the use of these for carrying drinking water, "approved by all relevant government and health agencies," they add.

Copper pipes.
is bit more expensive, also lightweight, durable, elastic, can be bent in cold, almost entirely recyclable and prevalent in plumbing, gas and heating. It is proven that it does not lose its qualities over time, even after being recycled. According to the Spanish Copper Information Center, "keeps intact its physico-chemical properties and the same performance" after reuse.

Like plastic, copper does not corrode, its inner walls are smooth, resists fire and high pressures, not deformed to extreme heat and offers a good protection against contaminants in domestic water supply, " inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi, helping to improve the quality of our drinking water, "says the Center.

In short, the peculiarities of copper are very similar to plastic, although proponents say that best stands the test of time and cycles of expansion uncompensated. Also, ensure that it is easier to detect copper pipes and joints by welding or accessories, are more stable and durable. As calcareous installations occur in both plastic pipes such as those of copper, making it necessary to use decalcifier in any installation.
Copper do not loses its qualities over time, even after being recycled.

Health protection.

To prevent the development of germs, copper minimizes the chances of legionella and produces water migration of harmful substances. The Spanish Royal Decree 140/2003, establishing the health criteria for water quality of human consumption, requires that the maximum legal amount of copper in the water from the tap has not more than 2 mg / l, the maximum amount of copper recommended to be had daily.

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