Copper vs. Brass Lighting Fixtures? A Material Question
Posted in Landscape Lighting on February 3, 2015
Many people have asked which material is better for lighting fixtures: copper or brass. In addition to the obvious answer of “Which look do you prefer?” there are other sound reasons for choosing copper over brass. Such reasons include material properties (hardness), corrosion resistance, longevity and environmental friendliness. So, if you’re on the fence as to which material you want in your fixtures, read on!
Both copper and brass work well for lighting fixtures. On one hand, copper is somewhat more expensive, being a pure metal, whereas brass is a composite of copper and zinc (70% : 30%) and is a little less expensive. Brass is a harder material, commonly used for screws and other applications requiring hardness. Copper, on the other hand, is rather soft and malleable. Brass can be polished to a brilliant finish for fixtures, doorknobs and other interior uses. Copper can be polished too, but is subject to tarnishing easily.
Copper is much less susceptible to seawater corrosion, but can be processed for increased strength to become resistant to erosion-corrosion (the degrading of the material’s surface by liquid or gas). Brass tends to be resistant to erosion-corrosion as long as the zinc content is less than 15%. In the lighting fixture business, the zinc content is 30%.
What does that mean for our comparison? Since the zinc content is twice the recommended limit to prevent dezincification (the loss of the zinc portion of the alloy), brass fixtures will eventually lose their zinc. This leaves them porous and weaker than when they were first installed. All it takes is oxygen and moisture to start the dezincification process (think brass taps in chlorine-containing water). You’re left with a weak part that’s also changed from the traditional yellow of brass to a copper red.
So, despite losing some strength upfront, in the long run the copper fixtures remain truer to their material nature than the brass. Proper care can also reduce the tarnishing of the copper fixtures; then again, you could simply enjoy the natural patina that copper develops after a time.
Copper lasts. To use the old expression, “It stands the test of time” is an understatement. The Statue of Liberty, for instance, is made of copper and is 126 years old and still looking great! Copper is used a lot in plumbing, roofing and historical structures (like Lady Liberty) because of this staying power. The resistance to corrosion mentioned above is the “magic” behind copper’s longevity.
All of the materials used in modern light fixtures are recyclable. Copper also offers sustainability in the truest sense of the word. Recycling costs for alloys is higher and it’s much more difficult to recycle parts made from multiple materials such as metal and plastic. These two items make it less likely that such parts will be recycled.
Copper is a pure material, easier and more cost-effective to recycle and therefore, more likely to be recycled. It also maintains almost all of its intrinsic value. What you start with in the manufacturing process is what you end with in the recycling process is what you start with again and so on. This makes it financially desirable and more likely to be recycled.
Our take on the issue is that copper comes away with more advantages than disadvantages as the material for lighting fixtures. It’s pure, sustainable and beautiful in both the polished and patina states. If you’re looking for truly environmentally-friendly lighting: copper fixturing paired with LED technology is the clear winner.
Come visit us at Hydro-Scape to see our wide selection of landscape lighting fixtures and accessories.