Long life and low maintenance are the driving forces behind most commercial building exterior treatments. Of the many options available, metal has emerged as the roof or wall material of choice in many applications. And, among the metals, copper continues to gain popularity.
Its permanency is one of the primary reasons. Properly installed copper roofs, can last centuries, not just decades. For example, the copper roof on Olde Christ Church in Philadelphia, installed in 1742, is the oldest copper roof in the U.S. In Europe, the copper cornice around the dome at the Pantheon in Rome lasted more than 1,800 years.
Copper is thus a very viable choice for building owners who want to ensure that their investment in their property will not lose value over time.
Even if a copper roof must be removed for some reason, such as a demolition, it retains its value as scrap. In fact, copper’s recycling value is so great that premium grade scrap normally has at least 95% of the value of the primary metal made from newly mined ore.
Moreover, maintenance costs of copper roofs and walls are extremely low, if any. Copper will not rust or corrode. And, because it is a natural metal, it is usually uncoated and unfinished which means it never requires re-painting or re-finishing. Thus, while initial costs may be higher than some other materials, copper’s life cycle costs are usually much lower.
Yet another reason copper is increasing in popularity is its “character” or “personality.” As a result of natural weathering, copper develops a patina. As it ages, the patina continually takes on new color characteristics and further enhances the look of a building.
The final color depends on geographic location and atmospheric conditions. In general, however, copper changes in hue from its natural “bright penny” color through a progression of russet browns, grays and finally to a blue-green or gray-green patina.
Copper is also a highly malleable metal that is easily fabricated. This provides architects with more design flexibility and freedom of expression because they can often do things with copper that they can’t always do with other metals.
Building owners and architects are also incorporating copper into projects because of its environmentally friendly qualities. For example, copper is one of the most thoroughly recycled structural metals. Each year in the U.S., nearly as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is derived from newly mined ore. Or, looking at it another way, nearly one half of the copper used in the U.S. today has been used before.
The majority of the virgin material is used in the electronics industry. As a result, the copper sheets used for roof and wall applications are manufactured predominantly from copper scrap. Copper roofing, for example, contains approximately 75% recycled content, which means it can also make a significant contribution to LEED credits and certification.
In terms of installation, copper roof and wall materials are easy to work with in the field. Copper is more flexible than many other metals making it easier to form and easier on tools. It can be soldered to provide a watertight seam. Because it is a natural metal and not painted, there is also no concern about marring the finish.
Once only used on roofs, copper is now finding its way into wall cladding applications as well. Driven by a strong European influence, the trend began about a decade ago when copper panels commonly used on roofs, such as diamond or rectangular panels, began appearing on exterior walls. Today, copper is used in all forms of wall systems including composite panels.
It is also being used to add texture and “punch” to a building’s design, such as a canopy over an entryway. In this case, copper helps conveys a sense of quality to a building as tenants and/or visitors enter the facility.
Regardless of whether it is used as a roof, wall or building trim, copper is increasing in demand because of its durability, versatility and appearance.