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Old 02-26-2016, 08:29 PM   #1
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Brass Plumbing History

After purchasing some brass plumbing parts today, I started thinking about brass use in plumbing. I know that there are brass pipes out there, but what is the history of brass use in plumbing? Why did it go out of style, and what are the advantages of copper over brass? Also, is it still code-legal to plumb with all brass piping? For example, if money was no object, could you plumb your house with all lead free plumbing? Very curious to see the replies to this one!
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Old 02-26-2016, 08:43 PM   #2
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You can buy short brass nipples, but I've never seen brass or bronze pipe for sale in 10 foot lengths like you can buy copper pipe in. I'm sure it would probably be available, but you'd have to special order it.

In my experience, the plumbing parts that I've seen in toilet tanks and faucets that were brass or bronze in the past have largely been replaced by plastic. And, that's simply because plastic can be molded into intricate shapes that would require expensive machining in brass or bronze. So, a bronze flush valve that might have cost $35 twenty years ago is replaced with a plastic one that costs $9 today. And the plastic one works equally well.

If you want lead free piping, you can simply use copper pipe and fittings with lead free solder.

For decades copper piping was the standard. Nowadays, a lot of people are opting for Pex tubing instead, and I think that's because it costs less to install. So, it's a great option in older homes where replacing the threaded iron piping would otherwise be a very expensive undertaking. Pex tubing can be pulled around corners, and that's something you can't do with copper. So far as I know, there's no concern about lead in Pex tubing because it's all bronze fittings that are installed by mechanically crimping them onto the plastic Pex tubing. There's no lead involved at all.

You should also know that brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and zinc is a very reactive metal. Bronze, on the other hand, is an alloy of copper and tin. That difference means that brass is generally shorter lived in plumbing applications than bronze because brass will react with chlorine in the water and "dezincify". If you've ever tried to remove a corroded bibb screw and it crumbled under the force of your screw driver, you've had first hand experience with dezincified brass. So, if you're ever purchasing valves for water supply piping, you ideally want to buy valves with cast bronze bodies, not cast brass bodies. Brass is fine on hot water heating systems where you don't have continuous contact with chlorine.
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Last edited by Nestor_Kelebay; 02-26-2016 at 09:08 PM.
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Old 02-26-2016, 08:57 PM   #3
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The only occasion I know of brass being used for plumbing was for aesthetics. I was used where visible, because galvanized pipe looked crappy.
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Old 02-26-2016, 10:52 PM   #4
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The Terminal Tower in Cleveland built during the Great Depression has a ton of brass in its DWV piping.

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Old 02-27-2016, 06:25 AM   #5
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brass pipe, being that it has to be threaded, leads to many more leaks over time, a properly soldered joint will handle vibration and pipe movement much better than 20 year old thread sealant will..and there is always a financial issue, so thats why copper has replaced brass, both in material costs and installation costs..they still sell lots of polished brass for whats outside of the walls for $$$$$.....
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