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Copper vs Black Iron?

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by Tennman, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    Slammed at work so I can't do the plumbing on my storage addition. I was always planning on black iron because I don't trust my soldering skills, but now I don't have time to do the work. That means hiring out the plumbing modifications. So copper is way more expensive than black iron, but way less in terms of install time. At $100-125/hr for the plumber, is it a wash and are there benefits of going copper? Running the lines will be somewhat complex since I must run up and over a door frame to get to the tanks with lots of elbows, joints, unions, etc. I've told the plumber all American fittings (no Chinese junk) in black iron. Now I'm thinking it may actually be cheaper in copper because of the labor savings. I intend to keep everything 1 1/2" dia just to keep head losses low in the boiler barn. The Laddomat has 1 1/4" fittings so I guess boiler to storage could be 1 1/4". Thots? Way behind schedule, but gotta balance priorities.

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  2. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    You might be right on the cost thing from reduced time spent.

    Can you do it all 1-1/4? Is the 1-1/2 you were planning in any long runs? If you get to many fittings, the $$ go up quite a bit with each increase in pipe size, especially with copper. That stuff can be downright scary, $$-wise. I think with a 1-1/4 laddomat, I would use that for max pipe size. How far between your boiler & storage?
  3. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    Maple, The tanks sit about 10' to the left of the boiler on the other side of a doorway. Lack of foresight when I built the barn. So boiler to storage is probably ~20-25' one-way and storage to underground lines probably 30'-35' one-way. Gotta go up, attach to ceiling joists and back down unfortunately. I'm leaning copper now cause I think the cost will be nearly a wash. I've already bought the isolation ball valves for the storage tank manifolds, so the manifolds can stay BI and just to the runs in copper between everything.
  4. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    my thought (and nothing to back this other than copper is less mass so it made sense to me) was that copper would heat up faster than BI when charging tanks. i ran 1-1/4" copper from boiler to storage tanks and PEX on the return. soldering wasnt bad at all, used acetylene. shame TN is so far, i have some ~30' sections of PEX leftover...
  5. jrod770

    jrod770 New Member

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    $100-$125/hr for the plumber? Get another quote. That is a rip off. I am a plumbing contractor in Ohio and would never think about charging someone those amounts for the work described.
  6. iceguy4

    iceguy4 Minister of Fire

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    Tinning flux will make you a pro. amazing ...the difference.
  7. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    I found iron to be a bit of a pain but that was due mostly to crappy imported fittings, copper was easy and once you figure out sweating it's not bad to do. If you go iron, so WARD fittings!

    If I was paying some one...well I would do what they're most comfortable with!

    K
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2013
    BoilerMan likes this.
  8. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    Really the rate's high? Huh... I will get more quotes around. He did say that if it was a 1-2 day job where he could stay in one place it would be less.

    I need to mess with the tinning flux suggestion. I'm sure some fittings and the suggestions I've gotten around here I could get comfortable. But at the moment work is 10-14hr days, 6 days/week until Xmas.

    100% agree on fittings kopeck. I spend ~two days removing all the leaky, crappy, porous Chinese fittings after my first year. Just unbelievable junk that I was shocked stores were actually selling. Yeah, now that I think about it, gonna let the plumber advise and quote.

    Thanks all.
  9. Pat53

    Pat53 Minister of Fire

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    That's what I was thinking. That's double the plumbers rate around here.
  10. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    why not use pex? and unfortunately, if you are worried about saving money demanding all American product is not the answer. it sucks but it usually costs a lot more. I try as much as possible to buy American. but when I am trying to out bid others it is real hard unless they are extremely patriotic as well, but usually money trumps the flag.
  11. arbutus

    arbutus Feeling the Heat

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    I was new at soldering when I was putting in my piping, but I found that Oatey 95 tinning flux worked fine with lead free solder. Nokorrode brand flux worked great with both lead free and 50/50 solder. 50/50 solder is easier than lead free.

    I found that the water soluble gel flux did NOT work well at all.

    Watch a few youtube videos, use steel wool or scotch brite on the tube, and get a couple of brushes for your fittings, clean everything well, and go to town. I had no leaks in any of my solder joints, but did have a couple of black iron pipe joints that needed an extra half turn after things warmed up.
  12. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    Pex is fine in small diameters, in larger diameters it quite a bit more difficult to work with and take even more specialized tools.

    K
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  13. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    Don't use steel wool, it has oil in it and can effect how well the joint flows.

    I've never used tinned flux, I have some old stuff that I'm just finishing up and it works well. I bought some water soluble flux to replace it and while I was able to use it I don't like it as much as the old stuff. I found you had to be johnny on the spot with the solder, a hair to much heat and it would burn. On 3/4" it wasn't terrible, might be less fun on 1 1/4" pipe. Then again I was using mapp, I bet with propane it would be a bit more forgiving.

    K
  14. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    you can rent tools. pex is a lot cheaper than copper (for now) and a lot more reliable than iron and a lot easier to work with. he could also go with pex-al-pex. cost a lot more but is a simple to work with.
  15. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Pex more reliable than black iron pipe? Can you explain that further? I've never heard such a statement.

    My system is primarily black iron with a dash of 1" Pex-AL-Pex. You might as well call 1"+ Pex what it is - rigid pipe that uses special connectors.
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  16. arbutus

    arbutus Feeling the Heat

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    I didn't know that about steel wool. I guess I got lucky and didn't run into problems.
    I had pinhole leaks develop in most of the joints in 3/4" copper heated with a propane torch when using water soluble flux. Some were several days later.
  17. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    Yup. Done right I don't see how one could be more reliable then the other.

    I've got to say I really don't think Pex is as great as some make it out to be. I've got a lot of it in my house and to works well but it can be a pain to work with. I spent hours laying out a nice straight lines of pex only to have it go all loopy on me when warm. Come to think of it maybe that's more a personal problem. :) It is truly amazing how much it expands when warm though!

    I like copper, it's just expensive. It's time tested though and requires very basic tools.

    K
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  18. 91LMS

    91LMS Member

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    one thing that i will add is black iron radiates heat from the water like crazy. mine was not insulated (can be expensive) and it gave off a lot of heat. also pulls a fair amount of heat from my fossil boiler when the wood is not in use.
  19. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    I guess reliable was a bad choice of a word. I am not sure what word to use. we have ph, oxygen, sediment and weather all have an affect on iron pipe. plus, pex expands and contracts more in length than girth so it has less of a chance of connections moving where iron is the opposite and over time will have more tendency to leak. don't quote me but I want to say pex has a better flow rate. also less connections. pex can be buried with out issue of rotting. actually code here does not allow us to bury iron pipe. personally I always try to bid a job using copper. I like the looks of it and ease of use but wind up using a ton of pex instead. I am not trying to show off. so please don't think that. this is all just based on experience and opinion. I have cutting and threading gear. power and manual. but choose not to use it. heck, I don't even use it to make a manifold anymore. if I don't buy them I make them out of copper. pex is going to be very expensive as soon as the no lead fittings are mandated. then you will probably see more pvc.
  20. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    actually you can buy sticks of pex that are 20' plus.
  21. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    PEX on a boiler primary loop is a recipe for trouble if you ask me. I recall reading several posts on PEX melting/splitting in an overheat condition and letting a lot of steam out and ruining some stuff in the process. I am a tried- and true kind of guy too. Copper can be art work, and I LOVE COPPER PIPE, done well it makes me stare!

    Black Iron it out of my league, you need a threader and a good tape measure (and WARD fittings). Quality (not Chinese) Teflon tape and a quality dope, Rectoseal, Gasoila (my personal favorite).

    Nocorrode is my flux of choice, and I still use 50/50 lead solder on all heating piping. I save the lead-free for domestic, on the larger diameter pipe lead solder flows great, the silver requires more heat and never flows like lead.

    Just my exp.
    TS
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  22. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    Pex should not be used for close to boiler plumbing. It can overheat and burst in a bad situation.
  23. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    yea, I always use copper from boiler to manifold. then I will switch to pex if it is being used. copper is where your art work is, as you said. i do primarily boilers and plumbing. i absolutely love making a customer say wow, that is incredible, how do you know where everything goes? i try to build everything in my shop and just bring it to the job when ready. i am not a huge pex fan but i do know what job needs it and what one does not. i like gasoila, but it seems it get "oily" fast. megalok is my preference. i did just buy a small can of "monster blue" (it think it's called) but haven't had a chance to try it yet. i am right next to you with the solder. i have no preference in flux brand, but i do try to only use little containers. i do not like to use contaminated flux. don't know if it matters but it just makes me nervous. a sweat joint never looks as good if you have to fix a leak.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2013
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  24. fuelfarmer

    fuelfarmer Burning Hunk

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    I have copper, stainless steel. rubber hose, and black iron pipe. It all works.

    [​IMG]
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  25. altmartion

    altmartion Feeling the Heat

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    i have seen this happen a few times but only on wood boilers that are installed poorly. as long as it is used after the manifold it's good. i use it more than i like to but it is hard to sell copper over pex sometimes. especially in my work area. very low income. it is amazing i get the amount of work i do. but i also have a few different tools because of changes over the years in fittings and rings and doing as much radiant as i do. so being so invested in the product i won't turn down a job because of it.

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