A Pretty Penny

Men laying new hardwood flooring

Most homeowners know the common uses for copper throughout a house: copper plumbing pipes, as well as copper wiring in the electrical and telephone systems. Normally hidden behind walls and under floors, copper now is popping up in a variety of places, both in and outside the home. The metal offers a great way to combine both decorative and functional aspects to several design or building projects.

Covered up in copper
One of the most visual uses of copper, roofs, gutters, downspouts and bay tops (the roofing over a bay window) are showing up on many metro Atlanta homes today. More and more homeowners are deciding that a quality roof is just as important as any other component of the home construction or renovation process, says Harry B. Thompson IV, vice president of Conklin Metal Industries in Atlanta. In the case of a copper roof, it is the first part of a house that catches the eye, and unlike other parts of the home improvement processfrom landscaping to interior designa copper roof is guaranteed never to need maintenance or lose any of its value. Copper ages naturally along with the house it shelters. A metal roof also conserves energy better, offers protection that an asphalt roof cannot come close to and sounds better in the rain.

Thompson speaks from personal experience; he opted for a copper roof on his own home. The reason was simple. Copper is a sophisticated look for any application, Thompson says. The fact that you can install it as roofing and it will outlive the house is a great selling point. He also likes the color evolution of copper. As it ages, it gradually changes colors from a bright shiny appearance quickly to a dark brown appearance and then over a period of many years to a patina green, Thompson says. This weathered look is so popular that Revere Copper has recently come out with a product they call Evergreen, which provides the aesthetics of weathered copper without the years of waiting. It has been a fairly hot seller for them.

The green patina of copper actually protects the metal from corrosion, like a built-in self-defense mechanism. This change in color occurs due to oxidation from water on the metal. Heat also will affect the color. Because this is a natural process, homeowners do not have to worry about maintenance on a copper roof, gutter or downspout. However, Thompson does recommend a waterproofing material such as an ice and water shield in between the plywood and the metal roofing. It seals around any penetrations, like nails, he says.

While copper sounds like the ideal building material, homeowners should be prepared to pay for the investment. The cost for materials and installation of copper shingles is about $9.50 per square foot, compared to about $3 per square foot for asphalt. But Thompson points out that the lifespan of an asphalt roof is about 15 to 20 years, while a copper roof lasts more than 100 years. Gutters, downspouts and bay tops also can be costly. Copper gutters are three to four times more expensive than regular gutters, says Clark Harris, owner of Innovative Construction Inc. in Atlanta. Bay tops can run two times the cost of regular seam roofs. Apparently Harris believes the investment is worth the cost. He put copper gutters on his own home a year and a half ago. I really like the way it weathers, he says. I think its an elegant look.

Adding warmth inside
Most homeowners have seen copper used in a home. Maybe it was copper cookware in the kitchen or a copper magazine rack in the living room. However, todays homeowners are turning copper into a mainstream accent for kitchens, baths and bars. Some of the more cutting-edge uses for copper would probably be kitchen products, Thompson says. They are long lasting, easy to clean and probably the best anti-bacterial surface for food preparation.From cabinets, countertops and sinks to backsplashes, tiles and exhaust hoods, copper is covering every surface imaginable. I think a lot of people are going back to the basics and natural materials, says Dale Contant, owner of Atlanta Design & Build in Marietta. Copper is a really rich look thats timeless.

In fact, Contant just created a hammered copper exhaust hood for a client. It looks like an antique hood that you would see in a medieval kitchen, he says. Copper can be hammered, welded or brushed. There are many ways to give it an artistic appearance.Sherry Carasik, general manager of European Sink Atlanta in Kennesaw, likes the versatility of copper. I think its interesting because it has so much range, she says. The copper is a livin
g finish. It certainly adds warmth and color to a kitchen or a bath.

Choosing between the shiny original appearance and the aged, patina look of copper is up to the homeowner. Most copper products include a finishing technique such as waxing, antiquing, painting, coating and lacquering. Which technique used will depend on the look the homeowner wants.

Maintenance of interior copper surfaces depends on the look the homeowner wants. For the patina look, simply wash with soap and water, Carasik says. However, for a shiny copper finish, always use a copper cleaner, she says.

When selecting a sink, be aware of the gauge, or heavy-duty metal content, of the copper. A good gauge is 18 for a kitchen, Carasik says. The lower the number, the higher the quality.

Because coppers popularity is surging, Frigo Design Inc. of Brewerton, N.Y., now offers a wide range of copper products, including frames and panels for appliances, countertops, cabinet doors, wall and floor metal tiles, sinks, and vent hood covers. While these are very durable, the cost is higher than other materials. For example, countertops can cost $199 per linear foot, while cabinet doors can cost $159 each. Compare this to $65 to $110 per linear foot for solid surfaces such as Corian and cabinet doors as low as $28.50, depending on material and finish.

Use caution with copper
When shopping for copper products, do your research. Make sure you get it from a reputable dealer to ensure its a pure copper product, says Sam Portis, owner of Portis Building and Interiors in Atlanta. He cautions shoppers to know what they are buying, particularly if they are purchasing copper online. Many genuine copper products may actually have very little copper in them.

Caution also is recommended for copper installation. If a homeowner decides that copper or any other metal roofing is what they want for their home, select a roofer that has had experience with metal roofing, Thompson says. There are plenty of roofers around who can throw up an asphalt roof in a matter of days, whereas installing a metal shingle roofing like ours takes time. Contant also recommends hiring a qualified professional for interior installations. You have to hire someone who knows how to install it properly, someone with experience, he says.However, if a homeowner feels creative, Contant says working with copper could be done as a do-it-yourself project. It is something that homeowners can do if they want to take on the task and practice on a little piece and try to make something with copper, he says. Its definitely a possibility because I did it, and I had never worked with copper before. Even though Im very experienced with construction, it was something that was kind of new.

Copper Fun Facts
Think you know everything about copper?
Read these interesting tidbits on this versatile metal.

Known worldwide resources of copper are estimated at
nearly 5.8 trillion poundsonly about 0.7 trillion pounds
(12 percent) have been mined.

The average home today contains about 400 pounds of copper for electrical wiring, water pipes and appliances.

The Statue of Liberty contains 179,000 pounds of copper.

The United States is second only to Chile in copper production.

The average automobile contains about 50 pounds of copper.

Copper and copper alloy products used in building construction such as electrical wire and power cables, water pipes, plumbing fixtures, roofing materials, and brass furnishings account for 40 percent of the annual consumption of copper. Electric and electronic products account for 25 percent; industrial machinery and equipment account for 12 percent; transportation equipment uses 13 percent; and general products account for 10 percent.

In North America alone, approximately one half of the copper consumed annually comes from recycled material. Coppers recycle value is so great that premium-grade scrap has at least 95 percent of the value of primary copper from newly mined ore.

The new U.S. Golden Dollar featuring Sacagawea is more than 88 percent copper and contains no gold at all.

Copper is the only naturally occurring metal other than gold that has a distinctive color.

Pure coppers melting point is 1,981?????????? F (1,083?????????? C).

Sources: Copper Development Association, Northwest Mining Association

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