Copper use in the International Codes
A familiar material to those working in the electro-mechanical side of construction due to its prevalence in electrical wiring, copper is also widely used in heating systems given its great ability to conduct heat and electricity and its resistance to corrosion. Additionally, copper in construction has sustainability benefits beyond conduction. Advocates of the metal say a wider application of copper can save energy and reduce carbon emissions to complement the drive towards sustainability. Sixty-five percent of this is new or “refined” with the remaining 35 percent deriving from scrap. Copper also has one of the highest rates of recycling — partially offsetting the carbon footprint accrued by transportation from other parts of the world.
Neil A. Burning, CBO, vice president of technical resources for the International Code Council’s Government Relations division, answers questions regarding copper use in plumbing applications and its coverage within the International Codes.
Is copper is still used within plumbing applications?
The 2018 International Plumbing Code (IPC), International Mechanical Code (IMC), International Fuel Gas Code and International Residential Code are the most widely adopted codes in the United States and its territories. These codes offer a wide selection of materials allowed for use in water services and water distribution systems. There have been many tools throughout history that were developed that have helped trade professionals in the installation of plumbing. Until recently the plumber, fitter and welder have relied on welding, brazing and soldering to complete piping connections.
The mechanically formed tee-fitting appearance in the IPC and IMC advanced the use of copper even further. This joining technology has been used effectively for many years. It involves a hand tool designed to quickly pull tee connections and outlets from the run of the tube, thus reducing the number of tee fittings and soldered or brazed joints.
When did copper press fittings first appear?
Press fittings were first introduced to North America for potable water distribution systems back in 1999 and have continued to gain in popularity. Press fittings are now used in a multitude of applications for both metallic and plastic pipe joining. On average, over one million press fittings are installed worldwide each day.
Standard ASME B16.51 for press-connect fittings for copper tubing and copper pipe was added in Section 605.14.5 and Table 605.5 of the 2015 IPC to provide an additional option for joining and connecting. These fittings have an internal O-ring that provides the sealing. The metal fitting is crimped onto the pipe or tube with a special tool designed for that purpose. Once crimped in position, the fitting cannot be removed, and the pipe cannot be rotated in the fitting.
Why is copper popular in construction?
The popularity of copper can be contributed to many factors. Its ability to adapt to the latest technologies and advancement in the plumbing and mechanical industry has helped to fill a gap in the workforce by reducing the time for installation of a pipe connection.
Are there regulations or requirements from construction companies and/or architects restricting the use of copper and/or brass in plumbing applications?
No, not necessarily. It all boils down to installation costs.
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