Both copper and brass are used extensively in construction because of their unique properties and their visual appearance. Aside from the distinct differences in colour, there are some fundamental differences between the two.
First and foremost, copper is a natural metal, which humans have been aware of and have used for at least six thousand years. There is evidence that the Ancient Egyptians were using copper pipe around 4,000 years ago.
Today, copper has become an integral part of modern construction. It is the second most conductive metal, after silver. This high level of conductivity, along with its flexibility and thermal resistance have made copper the universally accepted standard for electrical wiring.
Copper’s resistance to corrosion and high pressure also makes it the ideal metal to use in plumbing. Moreover, a copper pipe is better at withstanding the freeze and thaw of water during colder weather. For these reasons, by the 1940s, copper had replaced lead as the metal most widely used for pipes in the developed world.
Brass is a copper alloy, which is achieved primarily by combining copper with zinc. Various types of brass have been developed for specific purposes.
Ordinary brass comprises copper and zinc only and comes in varying grades, depending on the proportions of each element.
Special brass can have a tiny amount of one or more extra elements added, such as tin, iron, silicon, manganese, lead, nickel and others. These grades of special brass have been developed to tweak the properties of the alloy, including corrosion resistance, strength, visual appearance and more.
For example, alloy 353 or ‘engraver’s brass’ has 62% copper, 36.2% zinc, 1.8% lead, and traces of iron, which makes it easily machinable and resistant to wear and tear. It’s commonly used in clocks and wristwatches, and small fittings such as hinges, valve stems, nuts and screws. Alloy 464 has about 59% copper, 40% zinc, and 1% tin and a trace amount of lead. This alloy is commonly known as ‘naval brass’ because it is mostly used in marine environments.