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Using Copper to Accentuate Your House

Properly installed, copper is a hundred-year material.

Vulcan Supply Corp.
Photo courtesy Vulcan Supply Corp.
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From the shiny new penny in your pocket to the beautifully weathered Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, copper has an almost universal appeal. And with good reason: it's not only pleasing to the eye, it's also a durable, versatile workhorse.

The well-known green patina that copper develops actually protects it from corrosion, making it a good choice for roofs, gutters, and anywhere a material is exposed to the elements. And it's virtually maintenance free, making it perfect for cupolas, weathervanes, and other hard-to-reach locations.

"Properly installed, copper is a hundred-year material," says Larry Stearns, founder of Vulcan Supply Corp. in Westford, Vermont. "You can install it and forget about it, no maintenance, no upkeep." And no searching for someone fearless enough to climb up and repair a weathervane or paint a dome or steeple.

Stearns is no stranger to This Old House. He was last seen atop the project house in Winchester, installing the TOH custom weathervane that symbolizes the end of a renovation. He also appeared in the September 2003 issue of This Old House magazine, where his work is included in a four-page article on copper products, from gutters and downspouts to weathervanes and finials.

Space limitations prevented us from including some of his more lavish creations in the magazine, but two of his more unusual projects were so interesting we decided to show them to you here.

The Pennsylvania dome and the California pagoda (shown on the next page of this article) are admittedly extreme examples of copperworks — breathtaking examples of how the material can be used to great effect.

Of course, even less spectacular copper items don't come cheap. Prices range from under $100 for a single gutter bracket to thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars for intricate finials and other copperworks.

But if you think the price tag makes copper too rich for your blood, take heart — you probably have lots of the metal in your home already. According to the Copper Development Association, a typical single-family home includes nearly 500 pounds of copper, mostly in copper wiring, pipes, and fittings. If you own a car, add another 50 pounds to your total (mostly in electrical components). It won't dazzle the neighbors, but at least you know it's there.

From the shiny new penny in your pocket to the beautifully weathered Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, copper has an almost universal appeal. And with good reason: it's not only pleasing to the eye, it's also a durable, versatile workhorse.

The well-known green patina that copper develops actually protects it from corrosion, making it a good choice for roofs, gutters, and anywhere a material is exposed to the elements. And it's virtually maintenance free, making it perfect for cupolas, weathervanes, and other hard-to-reach locations.

"Properly installed, copper is a hundred-year material," says Larry Stearns, founder of Vulcan Supply Corp. in Westford, Vermont. "You can install it and forget about it, no maintenance, no upkeep." And no searching for someone fearless enough to climb up and repair a weathervane or paint a dome or steeple.

Stearns is no stranger to This Old House. He was last seen atop the project house in Winchester, installing the TOH custom weathervane that symbolizes the end of a renovation. He also appeared in the September 2003 issue of This Old House magazine, where his work is included in a four-page article on copper products, from gutters and downspouts to weathervanes and finials.

Space limitations prevented us from including some of his more lavish creations in the magazine, but two of his more unusual projects were so interesting we decided to show them to you here.

The Pennsylvania dome and the California pagoda (shown on the next page of this article) are admittedly extreme examples of copperworks — breathtaking examples of how the material can be used to great effect.

Of course, even less spectacular copper items don't come cheap. Prices range from under $100 for a single gutter bracket to thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars for intricate finials and other copperworks.

But if you think the price tag makes copper too rich for your blood, take heart — you probably have lots of the metal in your home already. According to the Copper Development Association, a typical single-family home includes nearly 500 pounds of copper, mostly in copper wiring, pipes, and fittings. If you own a car, add another 50 pounds to your total (mostly in electrical components). It won't dazzle the neighbors, but at least you know it's there.

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Lancaster dome
Photograph courtesy Vulcan Supply Corp.
When lightning struck the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, city hall, it started a fire that burned the dome down to its capstone. Since the building was originally a U.S. Post Office, the original drawings were in the National Archive — a lucky break for Vulcan Supply Corp., which was hired to create the new copper dome. Between the drawings and some 1950s-era photographs, Vulcan had enough information to create a new dome faithful to the original. It took four people working full time for four months to complete the copper work, for a total cost of over $400,000 — and that was in addition to architectural fees, construction fees, and the cost of new lightning protection. Fortunately, insurance covered the cost of the nearly million-dollar project. "Without insurance," says Larry Stearns, "that building would have gotten a plain old roof with architectural tiles." (See photo of the fire.)
Eye-Popping Copper


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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

Copper skinks
Photograph courtesy Vulcan Supply Corp.
When the owners of the McEvoy Ranch, an olive orchard in Petaluma, California, decided to add a pavilion as a gathering place, they knew they wanted something different. The fabulously ornate pagoda they built is certainly that. The copper work alone cost nearly half a million dollars, and that was just a fraction of the work. "It's mind-blowing, just killer," says Larry Stearns of the finished pagoda, which was rumored to have cost in excess of $4 million. "It was great for artisans, even if it's hard for Yankees to get their heads around spending that kind of money." The two copper lizards, a tribute to the skinks that dart about the ranch and adorn the company's logo, measure 20 feet from nose to tail and took 1,200 hours to complete — each. "It wasn't hard to rack up that many hours," says Stearns. "Everybody in the shop was working on it, and it was very labor intensive." In addition to the lizards and the custom-designed copper roof tiles, Vulcan also created 10 five-foot-long fire-breathing copper dragons with hand-blown red glass eyes as lamps for the interior, and another 10 copper hanging lamps for outside. (Read more about the pagoda.)
Vulcan Supply Corp.
Westford, VT
800-659-4732
www.vulcansupply.com

Copper Development Association
www.copper.org



 
 

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