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Dad's love of copper

ScottSecor Member Posts: 846
Instead of going off on a tangent on another recent post I figured I start a new post. I lived with Ken Secor (my father that passed away in 2016) for twenty three years and worked for him for twenty one years before he retired and sold the business to me back in 2006.

Yes, it's true we used copper for almost everything on hot water systems back then (heat and dhw). It's also true we did a bunch of new radiant slabs and regularly made repairs on older slabs with copper on Levittown style homes here in NJ. We also did radiant staple up jobs.

One of the toughest staple up radiant installs we did was in an enormous home that was built in the late 1800's. We would paint the tubing outside with black spray paint, solder u bends with 20 foot lengths of 1/2"copper tubing and install it between joists. On this particular job, we had four men working on the basement ceiling on this five thousand square foot house for about two weeks. The home had rock hard wooden beams that were loaded with nails and nearly impossible to drill. We used auger bits, speed-bore bits, boring bits that would dull on every hole. We went through more than a dozen bits on this job due to the nails and hardness of the beams and joists. Once the new radiant system was finally installed and air tested we installed the new boiler. When we finally started the system for the first time we the homeowner complained that the floors were barely warming up. Ken's written contract specified 'others' shall install a minimum of six inch insulation under the radiant tubing. Instead, the owner used 'bubble wrap' around the time it was first introduced. Basement area heated well, but first floor of the house was grossly under-performing. The homeowner finally had the appropriate insulation installed and the system has been working fine ever since. Most contractors were using some sort of flexible non-metallic tubing at the time, but Ken's insisted we use copper and only copper! I am certain Ken did not make money on that job.

Ken liked copper tubing so much that he made my mother a copper 'tree' sculpture as a Christmas present back in the 1970's. Ken's banister on his last house and 'dream' retirement house are made of copper. Soon after retiring Ken made a copper wall art project that still is proudly displayed at Mom's house in Vermont. Looking back, If Ken could have made gotten away with making copper hockey sticks or copper baseball bats when me and my three brothers were kids, he just might have.

Oddly, I don't think Ken ever got a nickel directly from the copper industry for his love of all things copper. Despite Dad's love of copper, he reluctantly did use some pex in the house he built when he and mom retired. Magically, there are no leaks on the pex (or copper for that matter) after thirteen years.
NoelErin Holohan Haskell


  • Ken was a great guy. Thanks for the story.
    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour

    Two btu per sq ft for degree difference for a slab
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,353
    Great story Scott!
    I have been in a few old houses with trying to drill some of that wood. Don't know what kind of wood they used but it sure was hard. They must have used hardned cut nails to put the floors in. Everyone has there thing, with your dad it was copper. With me it's tools unfortunately. I probably have enough tools for 4 people. Time to get rid of some of it. I'm probably an addicted tool horder. I can't go into a hardware store or a big box and come out empty handed.

    Propress, pex, ABS, PVC, CPVC, Polypropolyne all have their place I guess.

    I still like soldering, threading and welding which have all stood the test of time. Now they press refrigeration too
  • JohnNY
    JohnNY Member Posts: 3,226
    I was lucky enough to meet up with Ken at several plumber/wethead meetups over the years and always had lots of laughs when talking to your dad. He was the startup guy for Weil-McLain way back when and he taught me a thing or two when we got into techtalk.
    Thanks for posting this, Scott.
    Contact John "JohnNY" Cataneo, NYC Master Plumber, Lic 1784
    Consulting & Troubleshooting
    Heating in NYC or NJ.
  • PerryHolzman
    PerryHolzman Member Posts: 234
    For what it's worth... as a homeowner my wife wanted a water softener installed 4 years ago (our water is only somewhat hard).

    To do that and get soft cold water where she wanted it, and keep hard cold water to other places where it was appropriate (Toilets, outdoor faucets, kitchen drinking/cooking water) I had to break apart galvanized iron pipe and build a new "soft" cold water supply header across the basement. I did it all in copper; including copper flexible tubing connection to the water softener. Over 200 solder joints in the job. Looks nice.