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Thread: Replace all copper pipes in our house?

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member Bytor's Avatar
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    Default Replace all copper pipes in our house?

    Greetings,
    We recently moved into a 15 year old house in a very hard water area serviced by well water, and recently had a pinhole leak in a hot water pipe in our finished basement ceiling. We had it fixed but now have serious doubts about the quality and lifespan of our copper piping. We have lately been seeing a blue tint to the water on occasion, which indicates copper seeping into the water. This leads me to believe the pipes are still deteriorating, and the PH level is pretty much beyond my control (I'm told by our water department that it varies between 6.8-7.0). It would be a MAJOR project to replace all of the piping as our basement is completely finished with drywall ceilings, and the pipes in the rest of the house would be equally difficult to get at, but I cant imagine the damage if one of the pipes on the second floor were to start leaking.

    Repair as necessary?

    Replace now?

    Advice anyone?

    Thanks!
    John

  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Water quality is key for long-life. Copper could last a century, or deteriorate in a decade if it's not good. I'd probably budget for a repipe with pex or cpvc which wouldn't be affected by the slightly acidic water. I'd also chat up a bunch of neighbors to see what their experiences are along with asking a few plumbers and maybe the local building inspector for their thoughts and experiences.

    There are some workmanship practices that could cause premature failures, as could a bad batch of piping. Turbulance and failing to ream out the pipe after cutting can cause pinholes downstream from a fitting. Excessive pressure makes things worse. Excessive use of acid flux might have degraded the piping shortly after installation, but would long since have washed away. I'd be more worried if the pinholes occured in the middle of a long run, away from any fitting (the turbulance from a poorly done fitting may occur within say the next foot or so before it returns to normal depending on the flow rate).
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  3. #3
    DIY Junior Member Bytor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jadnashua View Post
    Water quality is key for long-life. Copper could last a century, or deteriorate in a decade if it's not good. I'd probably budget for a repipe with pex or cpvc which wouldn't be affected by the slightly acidic water. I'd also chat up a bunch of neighbors to see what their experiences are along with asking a few plumbers and maybe the local building inspector for their thoughts and experiences.

    There are some workmanship practices that could cause premature failures, as could a bad batch of piping. Turbulance and failing to ream out the pipe after cutting can cause pinholes downstream from a fitting. Excessive pressure makes things worse. Excessive use of acid flux might have degraded the piping shortly after installation, but would long since have washed away. I'd be more worried if the pinholes occured in the middle of a long run, away from any fitting (the turbulance from a poorly done fitting may occur within say the next foot or so before it returns to normal depending on the flow rate).
    Thanks for replying Jim. We have the budget for the repipe, just not the stomach. It's a major pain and would disrupt the entire house, so I'm looking at doing it only if it looks like we have to. I'm going to have a look tonight and see what grade of piping they used, maybe that will help me decide. I'm also going to take a water sample to a testing lab and find out if we do have an elevated copper content. The pinhole leak was actually in the middle of an elbow joint, on the inside of the bend, I don't know if that is a weak spot or not, but we were actually very lucky that it occurred in the bathroom in the basement above a tiled floor. It could have been much worse. This house has been a litany if issues which have needed fixing, but this one is, by far, the most concerning.

    Cheers
    John

  4. #4
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Do you have a hot water recirculation system. That type of deterioration is symptomatic of a recirculating pump which is creating excessive velocity. If so, you need a valve BETWEEN the pump and the water heater and close/slow it down so it just maintains the temperature
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

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    DIY Junior Member Bytor's Avatar
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    I don't have a hot water recirculation system, it's a plain natural gas fired hot water tank. No additional equipment that I know of.

    If it would help I can cut open the pipe I have and post pics, would that help?

  6. #6
    In the Trades Tom Sawyer's Avatar
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    treat the water
    [B]No, plumbing ain't rocket science. Unlike rocket science, plumbing requires a license[B]

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    DIY Junior Member catman's Avatar
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    I think you may be overthinking this. I have a house built in 1890 and in 1989 there was a major remodel, including running new copper pipes throughout the house. Last month I found a wet spot on the floor in our den and a hole in the ceiling above it! I cut a 2'X2' hole and sure enough, a 90 elbow joint where the piping runs up into the master bath had sprung a pin-hole leak. Mine was in the middle on the bottom side. No solder joints or anything, just a drip magically appearing from nowhere every 5 second or so. I did not unsolder the joint to see if there were any barbs or anything causing turbulence. Of course, once I had the ceiling open I started asking myself, "should I just replace all of the copper above the ceiling now for piece of mind"?

    Ultimately I decided it was probably a fluke and that there is no reason to think that one failure means the whole house is going to start blowing holes! I fixed it up and patched the ceiling and you would never know anything ever happened. But I certainly do understand the thought process your going through! 15 years in, I would take the chance that you will be fine for a long time yet, assuming the copper work looks like it was reasonably installed.

    PS If you run off a well, how would the water department know what the normal pH range is for your water? That can vary greatly within a very narrow distance of land and also by how deep the well is. The water department would usually be pulling from a local stream or river, not a well. Of course I am in PA, so maybe things are different where you are...
    Last edited by catman; 01-09-2013 at 12:28 PM.

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    DIY Junior Member Bytor's Avatar
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    Thanks for your response Catman. It's funny, you had almost the exact same issue I did; pinhole leak in the middle of an elbow joint. It may just be that because of all the other things that have gone wrong so far, I am suspecting the worst and going a little overboard, it's just that the one leak I did have caused about a square meter of damage and that's only because I saw it dripping in time to shut off the water. I still haven't fixed the hole in the ceiling since I'm not a drywall guy and will need to figure out the best way to fix it before I start (measure twice, cut once my Dad used to say). There are no indications that there were any other pipe breaks anywhere, so it's possible this was an isolated incident, but I think I'll get the water tested to make sure we dont have a high copper content and go from there.

    Thanks again
    John

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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Talk to your neighbors and a plumber or two and the town inspector. They'll know if your water and copper don't get along well. It could have just been a flakey connector. 40-years ago, I replaced a short section of copper pipe at my mother's house that had some pinholes in it. The replaced piece and the rest of the house have been fine since...just bad luck I think in that piece of pipe. But, if people around you have bad luck with copper piping, this could be the tip of an iceberg rather than a random, freak failure.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    DIY Senior Member wjcandee's Avatar
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    Maybe a dumb question, but are you aware of any water hammer or pipe movement when certain water-using fixtures are used? In some restaurants that I used to own in another state, we had two significant leaks in year-old copper pipes in one of them. Same contractor, no problems in the other ones. The difference: they did a somewhat-slipshod job of securing the pipes in that restaurant and we had significant clanging and movement of pipes, for example when dishroom equipment was used. The plumber acquaintance that looked at the work (and did the emergency repairs) said that adjusting the water pressure and better-securing some sections of pipe would solve the problem and it did. No more leaks through the time that we sold them.

  11. #11
    DIY Junior Member Bytor's Avatar
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    I've been looking to talk to my neighbors about this to see if any of them have a similar problem, but since we just moved into the neighborhood, we dont really know anyone yet. I do intend to ask as I meet them though. I think it's going to be very telling to see if I'm the only one who's had a leak like this or if everyone else has too.

    We haven't had any water hammer, but some of the pipes that I can see in the furnace room are not secured particularly well. We've also found a light fixture that was wired without a junction box, so I'm wondering what else is behind the walls.

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