The Problem With Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes
When we imagine plumbing leaks in homes, we tend to picture a sudden disaster such as a broken pipe or an exploding water heater flooding the basement. There’s no question these happen and are serious issues. But one of the most dangerous and sneaky leaks can be relatively small – pinhole leaks in copper pipes.
Copper has been a popular material used in plumbing since the 1940s, and it’s still widely used today. However, one drawback to copper pipes is that they’re prone to developing tiny holes, called pinhole leaks.
If you have copper pipes in your home or building, you might know they can last 50 or more years, Did you know though, under the right conditions, they may start to develop pinhole leaks in as little as 10 years?
Why Pinhole Leaks Happen
The number one reason copper pipes develop seemingly premature pinhole leaks is due to the composition or acidity of the water flowing through the water plumbing system. Ideally, the water flowing from your municipal water system should have pH values between 6.5 and 8.5, according to the Water Research Center. Neutral water has a pH of 7. Acidic water is considered anything below 7, and basic water is considered anything above 7.
When the water flowing through your plumbing system has a pH value of less than 6.5, it can harm your copper water pipes. As the water moves through your copper pipes, it causes internal pitting of the pipe. Once those pits penetrate entirely through the copper, a pinhole leak develops. However, the leak may not be large enough to be easily noticeable, especially if the pipes are hidden behind walls, and they only produce a very small drip.
Signs of Pinhole Leaks
In order to determine if you have pinhole leaks in your copper pipes, it’s important to have them inspected regularly. For pipes located in the basement, you can have a maintenance team examine the pipes for signs of corrosion. This usually appears on the outside of the plumbing pipes as a blue-green stain. If there are blue-green stains present, no matter how small, you have leaks in your copper pipe.
If your building does not have a basement, or you don’t have any copper pipes located in easily accessible areas, you may have to call a plumber to inspect your pipes. Plumbers can visually inspect pipes with camera inspections, and they can pressure test water systems to determine if there are any leaks. We perform building pipe assessments in order to determine the age and condition of your plumbing pipes and if they would benefit from a liner or coating.
Ways to Prevent Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes
All plumbing products wear out eventually, so corrosion in copper pipes is inevitable. However, there are ways to slow down the corrosion process and avoid pinhole leaks from being destructive in your home.
- Know your plumbing’s age. It’s always better to replace plumbing a bit too early than too late. If you have copper pipes that are more than 20 years old, you will want to look out for pinhole leaks or replace the old pipes before they have a chance to leak.
- Reduce the water velocity. If water and mineral deposits travel too quickly through pipes, they can take a toll on the inside of pipes, even metal ones, over the long haul. Have a plumber check that the water velocity of your hot and cold water is correct.
- Check pipe fittings. Fittings (the pieces that connect pieces of straight pipe) can give early warning signs copper plumbing is wearing out. Look for evidence of small leaks at the fittings. If the plumbing was installed incorrectly, the fittings may have been placed too close together, which could increase water turbulence and make your pipes break down faster.
- Install a water softener system. If you have hard water, and about 85% of homes do, there are high levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water isn’t generally hazardous to your health. Yet, the minerals can cause corrosion that leads to pinhole leaks. A water softener system removes or balances out the mineral content of your home’s water supply so it will be gentler on your pipes, fixtures, and appliances.
This is the likeliest cause of pinhole leaks in copper pipes. Your home water’s pH value is assuredly fine for your health and safety, but it can still wear on plumbing at varying paces. Different ways water’s pH value could interact with pipes and plumbing components include its sulfate content, temperature, bacteria, and piping metal to produce the conditions for pitting in copper.
Should any of these conditions occur in your pipes, then the chemical reaction will damage the protective coating insulating the inner pipes metal from the water running through them. When this coating wears away completely in small places, then a small portion of the pipe is highly vulnerable to corrosion – so which leads to pinhole leaks.
Physical contaminants such as sediment, minerals or heavy metals are in the water supply. This may wear away at the inside of your pipes as they pass through over the course of years. This could occur if your water is particularly hard, locally treated, or if it’s well water. Abnormally high water pressure may wear away the oxide coating of copper plumbing over time.
South End Plumbing specializes in leak repairs and water heater installation, so remember, we are just a click away. We also specialize in tankless water heaters – give us a call! South End Plumbing is one of the only companies that will give you a free estimate. Call us at 704-919-1722 or fill out the form online to schedule a visit.