I don't need a retirement plan; I've got copper plumbing
April 27, 2013 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Our house is entirely plumbed in copper. Even the ginormous pipe that leaves the house to go out to the sewer.. whenever people see the maze of pipes in our basement, they comment on how valuable it is. But really? I mean, besides all the work of tearing it out and dealing with the weight, etc etc, how would a normal person like me turn it into money???? [Not that I want to; I just ponder these things sometimes.]
posted by Tandem Affinity to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You would tear it out and take it to a scrap yard, where they generally pay by the pound. Random quick googling shows copper commanding high prices in Orlando, FL (and probably anywhere else you bother to look it up).
posted by axiom at 8:13 PM on April 27, 2013

My mom had a copper-lined hot water heater which, when sold, paid for a new one and the installation. So yeah, they can be valuable.
posted by xingcat at 8:17 PM on April 27, 2013

Scrap copper is valuable enough that thieves break into houses to steal it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:22 PM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: just to clarify, your stories are exactly the kind of things people say about our pipes, xingcat and GTW. I guess I was wondering mostly about logistics of going from having the copper to the part where I have the money for it.

But from axiom's answer, it sounds like it's as simple as taking it to the scrapyard. I'm also interested in things like your mom's water heater, xingcat -- does one just trade it in to the hot water people, or was there also the trip to the scrapyard involved?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:29 PM on April 27, 2013

You would tear your house down and rebuild it, because you were going to anyway, and make sure the plumbing went into a different bin than the other debris. That one goes to the scrapyard (look it up - there is a metal recycle r in every city).

Then, you would start going through your change, because the melt value of copper is $3.10 a pound, which makes 1959-1981 (and about half of 1982) pennies our most valuable circulating coins, at $.02 each (not including the lucky devils who still find a rare silver coin in their change from lunch, and wheaties aren't so common either).
posted by bensherman at 8:32 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It was the plumber who negotiated the trade. It's self-contained, so the removal was straightforward, but I assumed it was sold to a scrap buyer.
posted by xingcat at 8:38 PM on April 27, 2013

I wouldn't let the world know it was there. My husband works in real estate and one of the houses he has listed that is about to close just had ALL the copper pipes stolen out from under the house. So yep, scrap yard.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:57 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Definitely worth stealing - we had the toilet blocks at our rodeo ground cleaned out of all copper pipe/fittings a couple of years ago, only discovered a couple of weeks before the next event which caused quite a flurry of activity. There are some low characters around, proceeds go to the local community ...
posted by GeeEmm at 9:06 PM on April 27, 2013

You can estimate the weight of your pipe by length using this handy table. Unless it is crazy old, household copper pipe is normally Type L.
posted by Lame_username at 9:42 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You do not want to take out your copper piping and replace it.

Any plumber can cut it out and replace it with PEX stuff in a day. The benefit of PEX is that it's very easy to connect things and replace whatever. The downside of PEX it that it can fail, and often does catastrophically.

You have nice copper piping, it's been there for a long time I assume. It doesn't leak. It's fine for probably the next 50 years or so. If you were to "cash out" on it, you'd get a bit of money, but not much. And now you'd have PEX piping.

I work in forensic engineering, and part of what I do is investigating what we call a "water loss". This is when a valve or pipe or fitting or whatever fails. A stickler for Murphy's Law, a water loss generally seems to happen at the highest possible point, and leaks thousands of gallons of water all over every single thing below it. This is not a good thing.

Much of the work I do is from PEX. It seems really easy, just push this fitting on that pipe and that's that. But it's not. Most of these things are made in China, and often very poorly. I would say 1/3 of the time it's the installer's failure to do things exactly perfectly, and 2/3 it's the fitting being a cheap piece of shit. Either way your house gets soaked.

The problem with this is that your entire house is wet, even if it isn't. Sure your insurance company will pay you out, after consulting someone like me as to who to sue to get the money from, but what then? Your insurance company will most probably drop you. Because you have a wet house. No matter what remediation steps you take, no one else will want to insure you. You have had a wet house. You are a huge mold risk. No one will take you on. I have seen a 2 million dollar townhouse sit and sit and sit on the market because no one could buy it, because no one would insure it, all due to a PEX water loss that happened literally during the closing.

So don't take out your copper piping. Any house I want to build in the future will have all copper piping, no matter the cost.
posted by sanka at 10:09 PM on April 27, 2013 [22 favorites]

Yes, scrap yards will weigh what you bring them and pay you for it, often in cash. But copper pipe, though valuable compared to other construction materials, is not the goldmine some people think it is. It gets stolen because it's often easily accessible in places that are hidden from view -- plumbing in unfinished basements, refrigerant lines in rooftop commercial AC units, heavy wiring in vacant factories -- and it can fairly easily and anonymously be converted to cash. But the loss to the building owner when thefts like this happen is primarily the cost of labor to replace it, not the value of the material. Scrap value of that maze of copper in your basement, even with all big DWV pipes, is on the order of a few hundred bucks; this is not the riches of Araby.
posted by jon1270 at 3:05 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Comment deleted: just a reminder that the question is "how would a normal person like me turn [copper pipe] into money?" For more general discussion or advice unrelated to this question, perhaps contact the OP. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:58 AM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: We periodically recycle old copper wire (Cat5, etc) and there's some money in it, though not a lot. Metal thefts in the area here tend to plague some of the older areas of the city, so a lot of the recycling vendors now require you to provide identification and, so I've heard, where you obtained the material, if it appears to be unusual.
posted by jgreco at 4:11 AM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: 2" copper pipe is ~2lb/ft. At $3.10/lb you have $6.10/ft. So a hundred feet is $600. And that's 2" pipe, not the smaller stuff.

Your sewer pipe is say 6". 10lb/ft. $30/ft. May be worth it, but don't forget, the labor of ripping out the copper, installing the equivalent plastic, you may come out even. If you don't have some sort of problems with the removal / installation.

Copper may be 'high', but at $3/lb, it's still a lot of pounds of copper before you get to any sort of real money.
posted by defcom1 at 8:49 AM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all; the process makes sense to me now. I will continue to make contributions to the 401k based on sanka and defcom1's answers. i am not too worried about potential thieves because of the particular difficulties in access, but thank you for the reminder and concern.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:14 PM on May 1, 2013

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