Green From the Top Down

Nov. 21, 2003
Copper Makes It Possible
The roof is a top consideration for all buildings. It’s where you have the most potential liabilities, the highest potential maintenance costs, and, of course, it’s the crown of your public image. Despite this age of “value engineering,” it’s not a place to shortchange your building’s life or luster.If the roof is sloped, metal is often looked at as a first choice when long-term considerations are a primary factor: A metal roof can look good, perform well, and last longer than most alternatives. Among the roofing metals, there’s a wide range of choices, including stainless steel; aluminum; zinc; painted, galvanized, or tin-coated steel or aluminum; and copper – natural, prepatinated, lead coated, or tin-zinc coated. All offer color alternatives. All perform differently. All require good judgment related to your needs.If you’re considering copper as a first choice, there are several considerations to make. Today, environmental friendliness, sustainability, or greenness is one of the first. (We’ll put cost last but not least.) Compare the following to your possible alternatives: Only 12 percent of known copper ores have been mined to-date. Copper is one of man’s most recycled and recyclable of materials. Architectural products may contain 80 percent or more recycled, pure material. Copper is one of the least energy-intensive metals to mine and fabricate. And, upon installation, presents no threat to the environment.Next, consider longevity. A properly installed copper architectural system will last for decades. Copper’s corrosion resistance is legendary. Many architectural copper systems have been performing quite well for centuries.Due to copper’s malleability and multi-finish options, it can be specified in a large array of applications from roofs, flashing, parapets, gutters and scuppers, wall claddings, and more. The family of copper alloys (brasses, bronzes, and copper-nickels) allow the building team extraordinary freedom of design and options for colors, textures, and finishes.We said we’d talk about cost: Copper’s initial cost may be a bit more than some alternatives; however, its total cost of ownership (TCA) is usually less. TCA includes initial materials cost, installation, maintenance, and recovery. Using a qualified contractor, installation should actually cost less than that of many other types of systems (see The Real World, below). Due to its malleability and ductility, copper installation methods are simple, quick, and often permit designs that would be more costly, if not impossible, using other metals. Most sheet metal tools and equipment used for steel and aluminum may be used for copper installations. And, by the way, when was the last time anyone ever had to pay to have copper construction scrap cleaned up and removed from the building site? Maintenance costs can do you in. Copper systems need virtually no maintenance. Periodic inspection is always important, regardless of the system chosen. Copper’s protective patina provides a very durable surface for the life of the system.Recovery is the cost of replacement or removal of the original material at the end of its lifetime. There’s no cost if you don’t have to replace it. And, with copper, its recycled value can run 80 percent or more of its current market value.Daniel Sternthal is national program manager, Architectural Products at Copper Development Association (, New York City.

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