The material of the olives that you choose for your compression joint can have a huge impact on the performance of that joint. The two most common materials are copper and brass olives. Brass is more resistant to corrosion, but copper has better thermal properties. This means copper will give a better seal when it is hot than brass would.
When deciding between these two materials, there are many factors to consider like what material pipes you are connecting and what medium will be flowing through them.
To help you make an informed decision about this issue, we’ve created a helpful guide outlining some of the best uses for each type!
What are Olives in Plumbing?
An olive is a strong metal protector that is used to couple together two different lengths of pipes. In the United States, Olives are known as Ferrules.
Olives can be described as the functional part of a compression joint between a threaded pipe and a fitting or coupling. It accomplishes this by crimping onto the end of the pipe, and with its “O” ring seal, acting as an interface to prevent leakage from occurring.
The interior surface of this protective cover should always be kept clean and free from dirt to insure reliable sealing capabilities.
Ballafix isolation valves are an example of a fitting that will often need a compression joint.
Do I Need Copper or Brass Olives?
Largely due to their differing properties, whether or not brass or copper olives are used in compression joints will be down to the materials you are working with. In some cases, both types of olive can be used, and it is down to personal preference but in other cases, one must be used over the other.
Most fittings will come with their own olives and in most cases they are brass. why? Because they’re cheaper. Copper is one of the more expensive red metals and although we are only talking a few pence, it all adds up if you need a few thousand.
Advantages of Copper Olives
Copper olives are soft and universal, meaning they can be used with any type of material.
Copper olives are softer than brass and will have a better seal when it is hot because it expands more slowly, especially when used on copper pipes which means that there could also be less chance for leakage to occur during use. This is because the metal grows at different rates as temperatures change – Brass shrinks more at higher temperatures.
Disadvantages of Copper Olives
Copper is softer than brass, which means that it can wear out faster and may need replacing sooner. This also makes them less resistant to corrosion, so if the olives are exposed to high levels of salt or other chemicals then they may corrode quicker.
Also, due to how soft copper is, copper olives are not great for working with harder materials such as chrome. When compressing chrome joints, the copper struggles to get the bite required to create the necessary seal.
Advantages of Brass Olives
Brass olives are a great option, and they are cheap and more resistant to corrosion, which means they will last longer than copper if the joint doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.
The brass olives are harder and can be used on most types of material without risk for wear and tear or breakage. Brass also holds its shape better when in use so there’s less chance for leakage to occur.
Disadvantages of Brass Olives
Brass olives are harder and less malleable than copper meaning it can be tougher to get a good seal, especially when working with softer materials like plastic.
Note: Brass must not be used on LPG!
My Personal Preference
Personally, I use copper on everything and if a fitting comes with brass, I will replace the olives with copper except if I have to work on something hard like chrome.
This is my personal choice and something that I have done for many years without any problems – another contentious thing that I do is use jointing compound in all of my compression joints too. This is something that many people do too, but many people do not.
Also, where possible, I will solder a joint rather than use compression.
Advantages of Compression Joints
A compression joint is a simpler option than soldering. They do not require any special skills and are easy to use even for non-professionals without tools or expertise in the field. This makes them perfect for those among us who have never worked with pipes before because they don’t need heat!
Compression joints have the advantage of being able to be used in situations where it’s unsafe to work with hot equipment like solder torches or heated gasses.
Compression joints are also great in areas and on systems that undergo regular maintenance as they can be taken apart and replaced quicker than a soldered joint.
Disadvantages of Compression Joints
Compression joints are not as sturdy or strong as soldered joints, and they are also inflexible. Using compression joints in areas where pipes are likely to vibrate or get knocked about is not advisable as the joint may move and cause leakage.
Compression joints are also larger, and some would say untidier than a soldered joint so aesthetically, solder wins!
As you can see, much of whether you use copper or brass olives is down to your personal preference – personally, I use copper on everything except chrome and there are others that swear by using brass.
You must remember that using brass on plastic is not a good idea and BRASS MUST NOT BE USED ON LPG!
Plumbing Wizard Tips
“Use a little jointing compound on your compression joints, it takes a few seconds longer, but it gives you additional peace of mind!”
“In high-traffic areas, use solder – they’re tidier, longer-lasting and flexible!”
“If you are unsure, just use the olive that came with the fitting!”
“Ensure that all parts of the joint are clean, a little dirt or a few scratches can cause you a headache!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Can brass olives be used on LPG fittings?
It is a CORGI requirement that compression joints on LPG systems use copper and not brass olives.
Can you use brass olives on a plastic pipe?
Brass olives are too hard to be used in conjunction with plastic pipes making it almost impossible to get a good seal. Instead of creating a good seal, brass will inevitably break the plastic or deform it so that a seal cannot be achieved.
Can you reuse copper olives?
No, the process of compressing a joint will deform the olive into the required shape for the joint it was originally used. When removing any compression joints, it is good practice to remove and replace the olives to ensure a seal with the new fitting.
How do the costs of brass and copper olives compare?
While the cost difference between individual olives may seem minimal, brass is generally more cost-effective, especially when purchased in bulk. Copper, being one of the pricier red metals, can add up in expenses when needed in large quantities.
When might one opt for brass olives despite their potential disadvantages?
Given their resistance to corrosion and cost-effectiveness, brass olives might be preferred in non-corrosive environments or for temporary installations where long-term performance isn’t crucial.
Are there specific scenarios where copper olives outshine brass ones, aside from their thermal properties?
Due to their softer nature, copper olives can provide a better seal with various materials, making them versatile for diverse piping scenarios.
How can one identify if a compression joint is using a brass or copper olive?
One can usually determine the type of olive by its colour and the fitting it comes with. Moreover, brass has a brighter, more yellowish hue, whereas copper tends to have a reddish-brown colour.
What are some general tips for maintaining the integrity of compression joints?
It’s essential to keep all components, especially the olive’s interior surface, clean and free from dirt or scratches. This ensures optimal sealing capabilities and reduces the chances of leaks.
Why might a plumber choose soldering over compression, even if it requires more expertise?
Soldered joints offer sturdiness, flexibility, and a more refined appearance. For installations where aesthetics or durability is a priority, soldering might be the preferred method.
What precautions should be taken when using compression joints in areas prone to high traffic or vibrations?
In such areas, soldered joints might be more suitable. However, if opting for compression, ensure that the joint is securely tightened and frequently checked for potential wear and tear.
How does a jointing compound enhance the effectiveness of a compression joint?
A jointing compound can enhance the sealing capabilities of a compression joint, offering an added layer of protection against potential leaks.
What’s a common misconception about using compression joints in plumbing?
Some might believe that compression joints are universally interchangeable or that they don’t require maintenance. It’s crucial to match the right type of olive with the material and check the joints regularly for optimum performance.
I’m Lee the Plumbing Wizard. I’ve been a plumber for over 40 years and have seen it all. People used to call me a magician because I could fix things so easily – hence the name Plumbing Wizard.
I’m always happy to help out a fellow tradesman or woman, so if you need any advice or just someone to talk plumbing with, don’t hesitate to get in touch!