Perhaps you've noticed it atop homes and businesses: copper details like trims, chimney caps, finials and awnings gleaming in the sun. Besides adding an impressive visual component, roof details made of copper boast more longevity than their galvanized metal or aluminum counterparts. And although it looks posh and is a staple on many higher-end homes, copper is low-maintenance and surprisingly affordable.
"A lot of the time, I can make a decorative copper awning for as cheap as the canvas awning," says coppersmith Thomas Dudoussat, who owns Copper by Tom (22176 MCH Road, Mandeville, 985-892-9945; www.copperbytom.com). "A lot of people are surprised by that."
Emile Juneau, vice president of Crescent City Copper (1109 Dealers Ave., Harahan, 877-251-5327; http://crescentcitycopper.com) says many of his clients appreciate the antiqued aesthetic copper details brings. "I see it more on older homes," he says. "It brings back a little nostalgia." Also, copper details boast practicality and prettiness in equal measures. Copper awnings, for example, can protect doors and windows from rain.
"The most common complaint is French doors in the back leak and eventually rot," Dudoussat says. "A small awning is a good feature for protecting doors from rain and the weather."
Likewise, Juneau's customers often ask to replace their lead plumbing stacks with copper versions, which are less prone to damage by gnawing squirrels. "Squirrels sharpen their teeth on the lead and grind holes on it and you have leaks," he says. "We replace lead with copper and the squirrels don't touch it. (Copper) hurts their teeth."
Depending on the item, size and style, prices for copper roof accessories can range from $210 to $1,900. Requiring little to no maintenance, copper may be a smart investment.
"Chimney caps and finials are maintenance free," Dudoussat says. "You put it up and it's a one-time deal." Although copper is a softer metal that could be damaged by debris or falling trees in the event of hurricane-force winds, Juneau says he has never had one of his accessories blow off.
"It all depends on installation," Juneau says. Dudoussat echoes the importance of proper installation, which directly affects the lifespan of copper pieces. He advises buyers to diligently ask and call around for information about installation techniques.
"Ask them, 'Do you have any pictures of your work?'" says Dudoussat, who has 50 years of experience and formal training in sheet metal from Delgado Community College. "Believe me, that helps out."
When properly installed, copper accessories stay on permanently. Over time, the copper ages from the hue of newly minted penny to auburn, then to a variation of green. For those who want to expedite the patina process, Dudoussat recommends spraying the copper with a mist of water. In a few days, it will darken.
"With regular spraying, usually within about three to six months, it will turn a dark bronze color," Dudoussat says. "It takes normally about 10 to 12 years to turn a chalky green."
This patina serves as a protective coat that helps preserve the copper. "People will ask how to clean the green," Dudoussat says. "But if you clean it and take it off, you remove the life of the copper."
To many copper lovers, the natural aging process Mother Nature brings to copper is part of its charm.
"I love the patina process," Juneau says. "When it starts turning green, I think that is very nice."