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Plastic vs Copper

Chris Derrer - Tuesday, July 24, 2018

As plumbers, we’re a decisive bunch, aren’t we? We solve problems with logic, yes or no answers and simple black and white analogies…. But there has been one war within the plumbing community that has raged on since the first man applied a spanner to a valve; plastic, or copper fittings and connectors? We think the answer is very simple. Use both.

Okay that’s not a real answer and a bit of a copout answer actually.

But both do have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of properties, let’s look at the rounds where plastic and copper will go head to head:

 

Round 1: Longevity

In terms of endurance and how long the product can remain in use for before it fails to complete its purpose; you may expect copper to win… but a standard copper pipe would last a shorter amount of time in comparison to plastic one, because copper is mainly iron based and iron sadly reacts with water and will become subject to erosion. So plastic is the victor here in round one.

 

Winner of round 1: Plastic

 

Round 2: Leaking

This one is complicated because there are many reasons as to why a pipe would leak. Would it expand under heat and then split? Perhaps there is too much water pressure? Or maybe even we’re talking about general wear and tear? Well, as mentioned above copper wears and tears easier than plastic through erosion, but copper can take more pressure. Plastic can withstand 10 bars of water pressure, where as copper can take up to 25 bars of pressure (or so they say).  

 

Winner of round 2: Draw

 

Round 3: Heat Resistance

Although pipes don’t necessarily deal with blowtorch levels of heat, pipes that connect into or just outside of boilers, radiators and the like are best left to the copper variety. Plastic melts, not under hot water temperatures per-se, but certainly won’t last very long either. Water flowing through a plastic pipe should not exceed 70oc, as the melting point of plastic is just below 100 degrees and at this point, will cause warping and deformation. Copper however, will not start to deform till just under 1000oc. It seems excessive to have a material to withstand 1000oc to contain a liquid that won’t really exceed 100oc, but copper wins this round on a technicality.

 

Round 3 winner: Copper

Tie Break: Which is more convenient?

When we talk convenience we’re looking at several things: how available said material is, how much does it cost and how easy is it to fit? Well in terms of availability plastic and copper fittings are just as common as each other in the market so that isn’t an issue. When it comes down to cost, plastic is definitely cheaper and copper is always rising in price, even scrap copper is worth A LOT! But the biggest question is which is easier to fit? Well, if we take into account that plastic is more flexible and manufacturers of plastic pipes tend to put them in ready-made, easy-fit style kits a plastic speed-fit fitting can take 5 seconds by a professional, whereas copper can be 5 times longer.

Tie Break Winner: Plastic

So there we have it, plastic is technically better (but it was a split decision) even though both are pretty good at what they do, if you want the best then you’d better get yourself some from your nearest HPS Branch: http://www.hpsmerchant.co.uk/hps-branch-locator



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