The need for installing all-copper fire sprinkler systems when renovating high-value residential and commercial properties was underscored at a seminar held recently at the Restoration & Renovation Conference in Baltimore. Invited speakers from the Copper Development Association cited numerous reasons why copper systems are critical for remodeling or restoring structures with historic value and for buildings that contain furnishings or collections that cannot be replaced following a disastrous fire.

"Copper is not just the preferred material for fire sprinkler systems in structures with particular importance, it's often the only plumbing material that should be used," explained Andrew Kireta, Jr., CDA's national program manager for Tube, Pipe & Fittings. "Copper is flexible and lightweight, so it's less intrusive than steel pipe systems, which are ugly to look at, difficult to work with and can result in considerable structural and interior damage during installation. And when fires do happen, copper systems deliver clean water, even if the system has never been flushed-unlike the rusty, sometimes black water from steel pipe systems that can ruin interiors and furnishings . For valuable or historic buildings or museums, that can be a disaster in itself."

Kireta also stressed another copper advantage, noting that it is not vulnerable to open flame and will not emit toxic fumes as many plastics do when exposed to fire. All-copper systems can withstand heat up to 2,000 degrees, and copper has a longstanding record of reliability in commercial and industrial fire safety, he added.

Dale Powell, CDA's Northeast regional manager, accompanied Kireta at the seminar and described the many landmark institutions and residences in his region that installed all-copper fire sprinkler systems during their renovations, including Independence Hall and the Bishop White House in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"Many of this country's greatest historical landmarks have installed all-copper fire sprinkler systems," Powell said. "If our most treasured institutions are worth this level of precaution, other valued structures also should be worth it. Sprinkler systems made with copper tubing offer that protection."

Following the talk, CDA provided literature regarding installation, restoration, renovation and design using copper tubing. This included a handbook, "Copper-Fire Sprinkler Systems Selection Guide," an application data sheet on Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems, and the manufacturer's limited warranty on residential copper plumbing products. (Professional installers and contractors may obtain copies by contacting the Copper Development Association, 260 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, or call toll-free 800-741-6823). These and other CDA resources also can be found at the association's Web site,

The Restoration & Renovation seminar included a discussion on basic tools and installation practices for installing copper fire sprinkler systems, as well as alternate installation techniques to aid in restoration, renovation and retrofit work. Such items as flameless electric soldering tools, the proper use of heat-blocks to protect building elements during installation, and grooved-pipe joining methods were examined and displayed to the audience. The CDA guest speakers also explained how copper fire protection systems can be both practical and affordable due to many unique properties of copper tube and fittings, such as universal parts availability, smaller size fittings and the paintability of copper tube.

"Copper is, and will always be, the quality choice for automatic fire sprinkler systems because of its durability and how well it performs," said Kireta. "Human safety comes first, of course, but with structures of special value you want to be sure you have the best fire protection system available. Only copper systems provide this kind of security."

Copper's Quality Advantage

According to the Copper Development Association, copper is the preferred tube and fittings material for automatic fire sprinkler systems because it offers several advantages over steel or plastic tube systems. These include:

  • Fire resistance--Although fire temperatures can easily reach 1,500 degrees F, copper has a melting point of nearly 2,000 degrees F. Copper even maintains system pressure when subjected to extreme heat. In the event of a fire, copper does not burn, support combustion or give off toxic fumes. Unlike plastic sprinkler system materials, copper tubing will not transport fire through floors, walls and ceilings.

  • Aesthetics--In exposed locations, copper's slim profile, smaller fittings and fewer required support brackets provide an aesthetically pleasing appearance, bare or painted. For environmentally sensitive "green" building projects, copper's 100% recyclability is a distinct advantage. Copper tube and fittings contain a high amount of recycled copper without affecting the purity of the products.

  • Superior flow--Copper's superior resistance to corrosion prevents capacity loss over time and maximizes a system's life. A naturally forming oxide film protects the tubing's inner surface. Because this film does not flake off, frequent system flushing to prevent clogging and corrosion buildup is eliminated-unlike steel pipe systems which corrode internally, resulting in rust flakes that can clog sprinkler heads and other system components.

  • Ease of installation--With copper's clean installation procedures, space occupancy is often uninterrupted as work proceeds. And copper's light weight, ductility and rigidity help get the job done quickly, from initial delivery to installation of the last sprinkler head. Shipping, storing and handling copper offer none of the problems associated with other materials, such as the heaviness of steel or fragility of plastic system components.

  • Versatility--The attributes described above make copper systems easier to design and install, offering more flexibility to suit different applications. Soldered or brazed copper joints are permanent, leak-free and durable, and quickly executed. Because all copper fittings and tubing are manufactured in universal sizes, repair or retrofit compatibility is never a problem.

  • Affordability--Copper plumbing materials have been widely available for 75 years, so material costs are stable and comparatively low. The compatibility of copper materials also allows separate systems such as heating, cooling, and fire protection to be combined. This, along with fewer joints and support requirements, virtually no maintenance and longer system life, make copper competitive in cost and the material of choice for fire sprinkler systems in buildings young or old.