Copper, Part II - The Expert Engineer Q&A

In the House show producer, Josh Smith and Universal Roof & Contracting’s Jim Sellers discuss the many uses and benefits of copper with Adam Estelle of the Copper Development Association. Adam is one of the engineers who finds new uses and applications for copper and copper alloys. As the lesser known anti-microbial properties of copper are gradually applied more often for industry uses, Josh and Jim have an enlightening Q&A with this guest expert.

Q: Is copper naturally anti-microbial or is there a manufacturing process is must go through to achieve that effect?

Adam: Copper is inherently anti-microbial, so there is no mythical processing or special treatment necessary to get the metal to kill bacteria it comes in contact with. Copper is actually an essential micro nutrient to all living cells, even harmful bacteria, but when these microorganisms touch metallic copper surfaces they are overwhelmed by the shear amount of copper ions to the point where it’s toxic to them and they die off. That’s the great thing about this element; with everything else you have to remember to clean off and wash your hands, but copper is always active, eliminating microbes in the background.

Q: What are some ways anti-microbial copper is used and how might it be applied in the home?

Adam:  There are a wide variety of different applications mainly focused on touch surfaces such as door and cabinet hardware, faucet levers, anything you touch often. These are just a few ways to incorporate copper’s continuous and permanent anti-microbial property in the home, hospitals and many other places.

Q: How long does copper’s anti-microbial function last and does it require maintenance to keep working?

Adam: The short answer is it lasts forever; this property never wears out. You can’t scratch it off or wear it away from the copper surface. In fact, this material is registered with the USPCA where they put it through an abrasion test that measures if wiping the material with an abrasive will reduce its effectiveness. Copper will not lose its anti-microbial effect because this property is inherent throughout the full thickness of the material and it does not simply go away.

As far as maintenance goes, these copper and copper alloy surfaces are basically compatible  with any standard cleaning products, but the best way to clean them is to just use soap and water…though we have seen these copper products hold up under some aggressive hospital-grade disinfectants with no deterioration or strange reactions. Ultimately there is no special maintenance or cleaners you need to use to keep these surfaces looking good and performing effectively.

Q: Is there a copper-based solution that can be applied to aftermarket products by homeowners that will do the same thing?

Adam: Since copper and its’ alloys are engineering materials they must be fabricated into an end product, same as stainless steel, aluminum and other metals. However, there are a lot of retro fit options to make it easier on homeowners who want to gain the benefits of copper in their home. Existing hardware features can be switched out with alternatives available from manufacturers who design anti-microbial copper directly into their products.

Q:  Are these copper-based products easy to recognize and purchase at regular big box stores or do you have to special order them?

Adam: They are fairly easy to locate now with a wide variety of manufacturers offering these types of products to various suppliers. The Copper Development Association can even help to steer you in the right direction. Our website, antimicrobialcopper.org, has centralized a lot of that information to make it easier to find out which manufacturers are making which products, what they look like and how to get them for yourself. Recently, we even posted two videos to our site about how to install and maintain these touch surfaces. It’s featured in a hospital setting, but a lot of the same principles apply to the home as well.

Q: Do these products come in multiple finishes or are we stuck with the “copper” look on everything?

Adam:  Luckily this anti-microbial property isn’t only limited to the traditional pure copper most people think of. It actually spans a wide range of copper alloys like brass, bronze and copper nickels. It can be incorporated into a variety of engineering properties and a wide range of colors and finishes to match just about any style of touch surface a homeowner could want.

Q: Is there any concern about the copper oxidizing or tarnishing that will affect the color or anti-microbial property of these products?

Adam: Since most of these products are intended for interior applications it is unlikely that the atmospheric conditions necessary for copper to acquire that greenish color will be present, unless you live very close to a salt water line. Also, any tarnishing that may occur depends on the ratio of copper that makes up the touch surface. In spite of that, any discoloration will not hinder the effectiveness of the products anti-microbial property, and just like any other touch surface that sees a lot of use you will see some dulling or darkening over time. That can easily be restored back to its original shine with some polishing and simple cleaning solutions.

Q: Have any hospitals or medical centers embraced the use of copper touch surfaces as an option?

Adam: Absolutely, we currently estimate over 50 hospitals in the U.S. have deployed this material in some capacity, and it only seems to be catching on as the variety in products on the market grows, giving these facilities many different options to choose from. It’s a great addition to the line of defense against the spread of germs and disease.

Q: Are there any unusual or lesser-known applications for anti-microbial copper you can tell us about?

Adam: One of the cooler applications that I have seen is on exercise equipment. Currently, anyone is able to purchase dumbbells and free weights that have these materials built into the touch points. In fact, there are also a few sport teams that have had their entire locker rooms outfitted with anti-microbial copper touch surfaces. While certainly unique, these applications are plenty appropriate for home use as well.

Q: Are there any dangers associated with these materials? Is it possible to get copper poisoning from these touch surfaces?

Adam: There are no dangers at all, completely safe to touch. These products are made from the same copper, brass and bronze that mankind has been in contact with for millennia. Not only that, but they’ve been made almost entirely from recycled content, and are fully recyclable at the end of their use.

Interested in finding out more about anti-microbial copper? Want to know what these products look like and where to get them for yourself? Check out the Copper Development Association’s website, antimicrobialcopper.org, for answers to all your questions and more!

See our blog, Copper Part I, a Safe Bet For Your Home

Listen Saturday mornings to "In the House with Ken & Jared". Get more Home Tips and show info at the In the House website. For a free estimate on your next Home Improvement Project, visit Universal Roof & Contracting or call now. Orlando: 407-295-7403 Jacksonville: 904-647-3907

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