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For Green Rainwater, Choose European-Style Copper Or Zinc Made In The USA

By Erika Huber
Ornametals Manufacturing, LLC

Going “green” can mean different things to different people. For the roof drainage industry, it means promoting sustainable and durable European-style rainwater systems in copper and zinc.

Sustainability and Durability

Zinc will go from a shiny mill finish to a uniform gray in the course of 2 to 5 years.

Because building owners and operators perceive a higher initial cost, they are often deterred from choosing materials like copper or zinc that have the inherent qualities of sustainability and durability. However, studies show that sustainable, durable materials and systems, such as copper and zinc rainwater systems, are becoming more affordable and cost-effective. In addition, sustainable design elements are becoming widely accepted, and building owners are beginning to demand and value those features.

When one thinks of a “sustainable” roof drainage system, the life, or longevity, of the products come to mind. Sustainability is difficult to define. But by any standards, copper and zinc have impeccable environmental credentials and have long been used by architects with experience in sustainable construction. The value of any product can be measured in large part by the degree of its public acceptance. On such important structures as government building, public halls, hospitals, schools, churches and cathedrals - all built for permanence - copper and zinc have found wide acceptance and use all over the world, and in all climates.

Through exposure to the elements, especially rainwater, copper and zinc develop natural patinas that can reform if damaged, ensuring extreme durability and resistance to corrosion in virtually any atmosphere. The copper patina ranges from gold to chocolate brown and eventually to the distinctive light green seen on older roofs. The eventual development of copper’s light green patina can take 7 to 9 years in saline climates, 5 to 8 years near heavy industry, 10 to 14 years in urban surroundings and up to 30 years in clean environments.

Zinc will go from a shiny mill finish to a uniform gray in the course of 2 to 5 years. Its soft, warm gray patina makes it a versatile option suitable for any roofing style from traditional to contemporary. Qualified VMZinc manufacturers can create quality rainwater systems using not only natural zinc, but also Quartz Zinc (pre-weathered) and Anthra Zinc (black) giving building owners a wide range of aesthetic choices.

The natural patinas that copper and zinc develop give them incredible longevity - usually around 100 years. And it is this longevity that makes a copper or zinc rainwater system one of the most affordable building products over the life of a building. For example, most aluminum gutter systems need to be replaced every 15 to 25 years, or about 4 to 7 times before an owner would have to consider replacing a comparable copper or zinc rainwater system.

While sustainability is an important factor in going green, it’s not the only one. Sustainability depends on durability. Especially for “lifetime roofs” in metal, slate and tile, for example, the choice of rainwater system is also tied to the durability of roofing materials meant to last a lifetime or longer. Properly applied, a quality roof drainage system provides insurance against costly repairs to the interior, and against maintenance expense. Copper and zinc have long been known as the most durable of raw materials, having the necessary qualities to protect a structure against attacks by the elements at its most vital point, the roof.

The “European Style”

Making an investment in a lifetime roof requires carefully choosing a roof drainage system that matches the durability of the roof and building it is designed to protect. In the U.S. market, only the “European style” system has the features necessary to meet the durability of a “lifetime” roof, withstanding the stress of carrying away the water shed by roof surfaces designed to last 100 years or more. The unique features of the European style are key to its superior durability over the ”American style.” The European style half-round gutters have deeper profiles than the American style and feature a back lip that prevents overflow and locks the gutter in place when overlapping sections. Also key to durability is the choice of downspouts. Downspouts with quality seamless-welds last longer than those that are seamed or soldered, and flared ends provide a custom fit that prevents leakage. Of equal importance are high-quality roof drainage components and accessories: hangers, miters, brackets and elbows, to name a few. In order to support high-quality, durable gutters and downspouts one needs to carefully choose components and accessories especially made for the European system.

The copper patina ranges from gold to chocolate brown and eventually to the distinctive light green seen on older roofs.

The origin of the “European” roof drainage system is obvious in its name - it refers to its origins in western Europe, where high-quality copper and zinc roof drainage systems are the norm. While “European” has historically been analogous with durability and sustainability - the same attributes that earn rainwater systems the “green” label - often “European” is also seen as more expensive and exclusive. But as the U.S. begins to accept and promote “green” products, consumers are learning that “green” doesn’t have to mean cost-prohibitive. In fact, the initial investment is far less than the aggregate investment one would have to make over the life of a building if a lesser quality system is chosen. Even so, promoting “green” building elements, such as copper or zinc European-style rainwater systems, means convincing building owners to make an investment in the future. This task is made easier because there is compelling evidence that building owners will realize significant ongoing operational cost savings for both new and existing buildings by employing green practices. And research shows that copper and zinc are more cost-effective materials than virtually any other roofing materials with a 30 year or greater life, due to their durability, maintenance-free nature and ultimate salvage value.

Made in the USA

Among other things, "going green" has an impact on the U.S. economy. The domestic residential and commercial construction markets are leading economic indicators. And as the economy improves, consumers will get back to spending money on their homes and businesses, and industry leaders will invest in capital preservation, renovation and restoration. One of the keys to such improvement is ensuring that U.S. construction dollars are spent on U.S. products and labor.

Another factor that will determine where the dollars are spent is where the goods come from. "Our customers ask us to be accountable to our EuroGutterUSA name. They want assurance that their rainwater goods are made in the USA using U.S. materials and labor," says Michelle McNatt, customer service representative at Ornametals Manufacturing, based in Alabama. Ornametals is the only U.S. manufacturer of Eurogutter USA, a rainwater system featuring European style half-round gutters and seamless weld downspouts in copper and zinc.

In the current economy, U.S. manufacturers of green building elements, like European-style rainwater systems, are uniquely positioned to support growth in the construction industry sector. "What matters as much as where the goods come from is how fast we can get them," says Katia Griggs of Griggs Systems, Inc., a manufacturers' representative. "When our clients increase inventory in expectation of an improving economy, they can't afford to wait on imports."

In summary, while “going green” means many different things to different people, for building owners and other decision-makers it means choosing building products and design elements that are environmentally friendly. It means choosing sustainable and durable materials and using them in a manner that supports the increasing demand for “green” building practices. It means supporting the U.S. economy as it adjusts to the demands of consumers who choose to invest in the future. For the roof drainage industry, this means choosing European-style rainwater systems in copper and zinc - made in the USA.

About Ornametals

Ornametals_logoOrnametals manufactures rainwater products. For more information, visit

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