The Copper In Your House Is Worth Lots Of Money

If you’re getting some work done on your house and the contractor wants the old copper, think before just handing it over. It’s worth a lot of money. Reader Julie writes in with this helpful reminder:

I recently hired a plumber to do a rebuild on an existing small bathroom. During the demolition phase, the plumber remarked that he would be reclaiming the old copper pipe and that it was worth around $25.

I thought nothing of it due to the extreme nastiness of the plumbing involved. As it turned out, the plumber bailed on the job and I hired a neighbor to continue the demolition. He took the same plumbing down to the reclamation center and reported back to me later that it was worth over $200. He ended up not charging me for the demolition because of what he got for the old copper piping.

If I had stayed with the original plumber I would have ended up paying him for the demolition and losing the value of the pipes. I hope this helps out others who are doing upgrades in their houses. These pipes used to not be worth very much but that has certainly changed. For reference sake, the total amount of piping turned in was very modest, approximately 20 feet total.

As far as we know, copper has always been and will always be worth enough money to bother saving. As the daughter of an electrician, we’ve always thought of scrap copper as the substance that powered Santa Claus. Don’t just give it away without thinking!

RELATED: Your Old Plumbing Can Help Pay For Your New Plumbing
(Photo:dh3hao)

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  1. “Don’t just give it away without thinking!”

    Remind me of that when the telco’s start pulling out my copper lines in about 3 years when FiOS finally moves into my neighborhood. If it happens by then atleast. To be honest, at the slow rate it’s going, I doubt I’ll even have it by then. What happened to Nationwide Broadband by 2006?

  2. kenposan says:

    Copper is huge. Theft of copper from building sites is huge.

    /Thinks it’s cute that Meg believes Santa Claus is powered by copper. We all know it’s Uranium.

  3. extracrispy says:

    The last time I was driving through Southern California, I passed several billboards that said “Report Copper Thieves.” Now I understand what that was all about.

  4. lincolnparadox says:

    There are plenty of Darwin Awards for people who try to steal copper wiring.

    The Award comes from the fact that the wiring is “live.”

  5. zentec says:

    I just did a major reconstruction and replaced copper plumbing with PEX. I had about 125 pounds of copper when I was done and learned that you can maximize the amount paid for your salvage copper if you remember to keep mixed metals to a minimum.

    Cut off any joints that are soldered and you’ve just turned a #2 piece of salvage copper into a #1, which is worth more because it’s not contaminated with other metals. Take the joints and elbows and bag them; you’ll get paid for them too at a slightly lower rate.

  6. jamesdenver says:

    A friend of mine was moving on a Saturday afternoon and stopped by a junkyard en route to throw away some stuff. They gates were locked so they sat there for a bit looking at a map (not being from the area.)

    Someone reported them, a cop pulled up, and they had to explain why they were there and their innocent motives.

  7. scoobyhed says:

    There’s been a ridiculous rash of copper thefts like these in Birmingham (AL) lately. Now they make sense. But stealing the wiring from a church PA system? Really? That’s awful.

  8. erockO says:

    I think i’ll bring my all-clad pots down to reclamation…

  9. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    There were some library branches in Brooklyn that didn’t have air conditioning (at least back in the early 90s, when I worked there, but maybe even now) because thieves stole the copper out of the AC equipment on the roof.

  10. SybilDisobedience says:

    @scoobyhed: No more awful than stealing it from anywhere else, though.

    …Sorry. I’m just feeling kind of contrary today. My allergies are driving me nuts!

  11. E-Bell says:

    I actually have some copper pipe that was torn out during a basement demolition.

    Where do I take it to sell it?

  12. mmcnary says:

    There is a area of Liberty MO that just lost its phone lines for the second time in about 6 months due to copper thieves. An unfortunate side effect is that it prevents most businesses from accepting credit cards. No authorizations, no sales…

  13. iMike says:

    Didn’t anyone see the Sopranos episode about the HUD houses?

  14. dvddesign says:

    One of our AC units had it’s wiring removed recently because thieves ripped out the copper wiring.

  15. ChrisC1234 says:

    In New Orleans, this is VERY COMMON knowledge. Construction sites get looted for their copper routinely. Vandals have been breaking into abandoned / unrepaired structures and removing all of the copper. There was a business that is on it’s 4th A/C compressor because vandals keep destroying it for the copper tubing. There was even a synagogue that reflooded due to vandals stealing all of their copper plumbing.

  16. mopar_man says:

    @kenposan:

    I was going to mention the building site theft. I’ve even heard of some desperate thieves hacking up already-installed A/C units to get the copper. There’s also rental properties that are stripped of the plumbing by low-life tenants.

  17. technotica says:

    Copper thefts as well as anhydrous ammonia have been rampant in the Midwest but it keeps getting worse. Several weeks ago a man was killed in Iowa from someone that stole a gas line into his house. Of course the inevitable happened and the house blew up with the poor guy inside. Terrible thing is that he had to drive himself to town while horribly burned. Unfortunately he passed away. I do not know the man that died personally, but you can bet I’d beat the perpetrator’s ass down not with just a copper pipe but with a 2″ copper rod.

  18. Copernicus42 says:

    A friend of mine bought a house here in Buffalo that he asked me to take a look at before he got up here to fix it up and start renting it to college students like myself. When I got there there wasn’t a single copper pipe or wire left in the house and they had even ripped down most of the aluminum siding. I talked to the neighbors who said it was gutted the day after the people left. They did the same thing to a house down the road which had been bought and renovated, one night without security and it was gutted. Horrible how far these people will go to get that bit of money.

  19. Simpoleca says:

    Soo many are mis-informed when it comes to the building trades..

    $200.00 in return for 20LNF of copper? Uhmmm thats like 8x the price of buying new 3/4″ from HD off the shelf.

    Either it is a typo… or someone is grossly mistaken..

    (I just happen to run a High-end custom home building operation 1-15 million) I have also done work for Mike Holmes, I know of what I speak and the costs associated.

    There have been MANY times I wanted to chime in.. but did not.. NOW is that time.

  20. consumerd says:

    be careful though and verify it’s copper. Some of my old plumbing was actually Yellow Brass. The people who came and did mine allowed me to have the old copper and even piled it up for me. I didn’t have much copper though. Mine was as least 70% yellow brass and 20% red brass. Yellow brass and red brass is worth a lot less per pound than copper.

    Also be sure to take it to more than one station. Mainly because some scrap dealers will actually write you a receipt for Yellow brass/red brass when in fact it’s copper.

    I took mine to 2 different scrap collectors and found out it was yellow brass. True I didn’t get scammed, but the scrapyard guy I talked to said there have been scrapers doing that.

  21. JiminyChristmas says:

    This has become a commonplace problem where I live. All manner of scrap metal is getting stolen: copper pipes, bronze funeral monuments, catalytic converters off of cars, etc. It has gotten so bad that this past year the scrap yards were brought under the same regulations as pawn shops: People selling scrap have to show ID and be photographed and fingerprinted and the buyers have to send the police descriptions of the items in each purchase.

    The ‘scrappers’, as they are called, are a scourge upon the Earth. As others have mentioned they like to troll for vacant houses, which are quite plentiful in some of the neighborhoods that have seen lots of foreclosures recently. Once these parasites strip out all of the pipes and wires it adds easily another $20,000 to what it will cost to rehab these houses. Meanwhile, it’s only a matter of time before they kill someone (I don’t care if they kill themselves.) in the process of stealing natural gas piping.

  22. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    One of the current plots on “The Young and the Restless” involves construction site copper theft. When it hits daytime soaps, you know it has to be common.

  23. theycallmetak says:

    Over here in Hawaii, the thefts have gotten so bad, you need ID, your picture is taken and you need some kind of business license or something stating, on paper, where you got it and what you paid for it.

    And Jiminy, “Scrappers” are the dealers. The people going into houses and taking the copper to sell are what I like to call “thieves”.

  24. jeffeb3 says:

    @Cogito Ergo Bibo: And that’s were the conversation dies…

  25. Optimistic Prime says:

    I wonder how much I could get for the statue of liberty?

  26. jwissick says:

    It is another reason the price of ammunition is up so high. The copper jacket of the bullet.

    And another reason is that China is buying up all the lead it can.

  27. cde says:

    @Optimistic Prime: Not much, considering what you’d have to go through to clean it and make it untrackable, atleast compared to the penalties.

  28. Grimspoon says:

    I work in a tool shop and some of the guys I work with strip whatever scrap wire they come across and sell the copper.

    Stripping wire is a lot of work.

  29. sly100100 says:

    Here in Vermont someone stole an historic brass bell that was in a bell tower in an old mill. They stole it in the 1980’s and then again after it was recast someone stole just a few months ago! The 1st time they cut it up into pieces and sold it but this last time they haven’t been able to trace the bell. They aren’t sure how they got it out of a 5 story building either.
    And it was a huge bell too.

  30. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    When we remodeled, our contractor told us that our old aluminum garage door was worth about $120 scrapped, which came in handy when haggling with the garage door people over the price of the new one. Also, aluminum fascia, gutters, and soffit can add up.

  31. KiloWhipped says:

    I work for an irrigation company – we install and maintain sprinkler systems. In TN anyone with a sprinkler system is required to have a backflow preventer, which is copper and they cost about $300 each. I’ve only been with the company since February, and I’ve had about 10 people call me to say that their backflows have been stolen. Mainly businesses and people who have them in their front yards. If you’ve got one, you may want to make sure it’s still there!

  32. It’s even hitting stadiums. This from earlier this week:

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A high school football game pitting Scottsdale Horizon against Anthem Boulder Creek had to be canceled because thieves had stolen copper wires feeding the stadium lights.

    [www.azcentral.com]

  33. FMulder says:

    @optimus prime

    Nothing, it is mine, go find your own pile!

  34. UpsetPanda says:

    Anyone watch Dexter or read “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”? We all know what happens to copper thieves…

  35. deserthiker says:

    A guy in engineering at the company I work for was told to toss out a bunch of old copper wire when we were doing some cleaning. He told his boss that we should keep it because it’s worth money but they just wanted it out of there. He tossed it in his truck instead, stripped the casing off and sold it for $250 to the reclamation center. It’s amazing what companies throw away.

  36. cyberdog says:

    Around here in Minnesota it is really bad. A new method of getting precious metals is to go to all the car pool lots near the highways and suburbs where people park their car for the day.

    They pull up in their trucks one guy gets out and goes and cuts off all the catalytic converters on as many cars as they can. Then they drop these off and hit the next car lot.

    Nobody suspects a thing. Until they start up their cars…What’s up?? With the loud car…? But most places in MN & WI have all recyclers take your ID and vehicle information. Most of them are pretty vigilant when people come in and are pretty quick to let the police know.

    So watch where you park your car….

  37. frogman31680 says:

    Here where I live, a guy climbed a telephone pole and somehow removed the power lines from the pole. By the time it was fixed there were three deaths related to the freezing temperatures that came in that night. The guy they are looking for is now not only being charged with copper theft, but 3 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

    Value of the copper he stole = $3,000

    Sad, isn’t it.

  38. Buran says:

    @mmcnary: And I’m sure I’m not the only one who would say “fine, I’ll buy this widget from a competitor who will take my card…” Don’t they have insurance?

  39. tadowguy says:

    Tony Soprano even bought HUD houses so he could steal the copper, so it must be worth something!

  40. HYDRAULICMONSTER says:

    I’m a machinist and I can tell you, ALL scrap metal is valuable. We work mostly with aluminum and different types of steel making Hydraulic Cylinders (hence the name) in our shop.
    There are hoppers for everything, steel and aluminum are kept separate, chips from the machines are kept separate from the crop ends off of bars.
    Longer crop ends are set aside to make parts that are small enough to fit, because while it’s valuable as scrap, if we can use it we save even more money.

    We got a huge lecture from our supervisors a few months back because some of us were just tossing our used carbide tooling inserts in random hoppers instead of putting them in the proper bin. I’m talking about little pieces of metal the size of a finger nail, and broken pieces of drills the size of a finger, but it all adds up.

    To give you an idea of how quickly it can add up, a single carbide drill with through holes for coolant, 6 inches long and 21/32 of an inch in diameter costs several hundred dollars, and since its drilling through steel rods an inch and a half thick it will last a good 300 to 400 parts. Which is about two 8 hour shifts. Add in the inserts for Face and Turn, Threading, Groove, Cut-off, and other tools and were talking a lot of worn and broken tooling to be recycled each day.

  41. rockergal says:

    Recently, my husband came home with a bunch of old sump-pumps. I thought he was nuts for bringing those disgusting things in, but he cleaned them up a bit and they were solid copper! He took them to a recycling center and came back with $380.00! Not bad since he got them for free for helping someone clean out their basements.
    I am on the lookout for copper now too. all that little extra cash always helps out.

  42. RvLeshrac says:

    @Buran:

    I think the point is the “most businesses” part. Further, it isn’t that they *won’t* take your card, they *can’t* take it. Unless, of course, you’ll let them write all of the information down. Which is safe. *cough*

    I’d also like to point out here that some businesses don’t take credit cards because the fees associated with the cards are greater than the profits the stores make. There’s a little independent Brazilian store near me that runs like that. The first time she went to the bank after opening the place, she came back and put up the “Minimum Purchase: $X” sign, because most of her money flew away to the CC companies. Add to that that, she no longer accepts AmEx, because AmEx N-E-V-E-R believes the business owner when someone does a chargeback – no matter how much proof you have.

    Same reason the place I work at, a medium-sized computer retailer, doesn’t take AmEx – after they screw you on a few $10k purchases, you just have to walk away.

    (Still doesn’t explain why the gas company charges me $5 to pay by CC, though.)

  43. nucleotide says:

    Here’s a story from my neighborhood. There’s a big problem with irresponsible recyclers in the area and the police have no interest in preventing the thefts that result.

    “I know this is a hot topic right now… here is a detailed account of what happened to us at Reed Bros. Security on Tuesday. (Sorry for the length – do with it what you will).

    At 7:45am we pulled one of our welding trucks out on the garage and parked it about 100′ east of Telegraph Ave. on 44th street. At about 8:10am the driver went to the truck to move it to our parking lot. He noticed that the welding leads (large guage expensive copper wire) had been removed from the truck. They had been bolted to the welder and locked with a chain and padlock to the ladder rack. They are worth about $800.

    We contacted several recycling companies immediately to look for the leads and the stinger clamp with our numbers engraved on it. We got a call back at around 10:00am from Custom Alloy Metals on Peralta St. saying they had our wire and stinger – unfortuanatly the insulation had been stripped off of the wire. They also said they had the “recycling license number” of the person who sold it to them and they had a photo of him and they had a copy of his CDL! We went to get the information and found they had the lic # and CDL of a registered licensed recycler and a photo of some one else selling the items.

    Custom Alloy Metals had the licensed recycler stop by our store by noon. He informed me that he had helped a homeless guy named “Sonny” recycle some copper wire by escorting him into Custom Alloy Metals and letting him use his license to sell the wire. A clear violation of the intent of the license. The recycler told me that both he and “Sonny” would be at Alliance Metals on Peralta at 8am – as they are every day Monday through Friday.

    We called OPD to report the incident.

    Officer Messier (late afternoon beat officer) stopped by to look at the photograph of the perpetrator taken at Custom Alloy Metals and to look at the CDL of the licensed recycler who escorted the perpetrator into the recycling center. Officer Messier took a report and said that I could have the perpetrator or the recycler call him if they wanted to! (What was with that?) He said he would turn in a report but that it probably would not be pursued by the Oakland police.

    We have the name, signature, picture, and description of the thief. We have a state licensed witness who helped him fence the “scrap” copper. We know where both of they folks are every day at 8:00am – Alliance Metals.

    Out of curiosity, at about 6pm last evening I drove to Alliance Metals on Peralta (where both folks are at 8am every morning M-F) and asked some guys on the corner if they knew “Sonny” -I told them that I thought he took $800 of wire off our truck that morning and that I was looking for him. One of them said, “Yea, he had some money this morning. He bought us beers.” Then they pointed him out across the street.

    I pulled up to him and realized that he looked like the picture that I had. I asked him if he had been recycling at 44th and Telegraph that morning. He said that he had. I asked if he had removed the wire leads off a welding truck on 44th St. He said that he had! He readily admitted to stealing our stuff. I pointed out that we had his picture taken at Custom Alloy Metals where he sold our wire, that we had the ID of the recycler that gave him access to recycle the copper (since a recycling license is required to prevent this kind of activity!), and that it was going to cost about $800 to replace the wire. He said that he was sorry it was going to cost us so much and that he would not steal from our trucks again!

    He was easy to find. He readily admitted to the theft. The police department says that they probably will not pursue it. hat is the phrase that I’m looking for…. oh yea, “operating with impunity.”

    He knew that there is no consequence to this kind of theft! And the Oakland Police confirmed it.”

  44. othium says:

    @zirkus:

    I would file a complaint about the officer. He does not have the choice on which crimes to take action against. This is one where the investigation was already done for them. All they need to do is confirm the facts and make an arrest. Contact your local news agency if need be. That may put enough pressure on the police to do their job.

  45. zatoichi says:

    The article states that he had only sold about 20 feet of copper for $200. You can go to any home depot and buy 20 feet of their largest copper pipe and you wont spend more than about 50 to 75 dollars. There is no way he got that much or sold that little. Check the spot market on copper it isnt that high.

  46. RvLeshrac says:

    @zirkus:
    @othium:

    More importantly, at $800 (plus, presumably, the damage to the truck – I’m sure he didn’t remove that padlock with whispers), that’s a felony.