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Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes

By November 24, 2020February 9th, 2021One Comment
Pinhole Leak in Copper Pipe

If you have heard of the term “pinhole leak”, this is often referred to as the pinhole leaks that can occur in copper pipes. Pinhole leaks occur when the water corrodes through the copper pipe and creates a small hole.

Copper pipes are supposed to have a lifespan of 70 years, according to InterNachi, but their time can come much sooner than that. In this article, we are going to discuss what they are, how to know if you will get pinhole leaks, how to prevent them, and finally, what to do about them.

What Are Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes?

Copper pipes can corrode internally from water, just like cast iron drain lines. As water passes, the oxygen in H20 actually takes some electrons from the metal which creates corrosion.

Over time, the corrosion degrades the metal which can eventually create a hole through the pipe itself. While the copper starts out its usual color, the oxidation process turns the pipe into a bluish-green.

The picture below shows how pinhole leaks can show themselves through hardwood flooring. The straight dark line indicates the copper pipe is leaking under the slab and soaking into the hardwood.

Will I Get A Pinhole Leak? Do I Have A Pinhole Leak?

The chances of you eventually getting a leak in your copper pipe is quite high. However, it may just take a while.

If you are near humid and salty environments like the beaches, you may find your copper pipes to last much less time. For example, when I did an inspection of a home right on the Florida East Coast Beach, the copper pipes were VERY corroded and leaking in many areas. The home was only about 20 years old. On the other hand, copper pipes more inland were lasting much longer, excess of 30 years.

So while everyone will eventually reach the end of life for the copper pipes, not everyone will experience it at the same time.

Cheap Copper in the 80s

In the 80s, there was actually a lot of cheap copper shipped from China. This copper was much thinner and less dense than the regular copper we use in our homes today. Because of this, we tend to find homes in the 80s have leaks in their copper pipes before homes in the 70s or even 60s.

Water Quality

Water quality can have a high influence on the lifespan of your plumbing system. For example, if your city supplies heavily chlorinated water, you might experience damage sooner.

Additionally, if your home is on a well, you might experience faster corrosion due to the additional contaminants in the well water.

Are Plumbing Replacements/Repairs of Pinhole Leaks Covered By Insurance?

Ultimately, this is a question for your insurance agent. But, I took the liberty of asking the question to Waypoint’s favorite insurance agent, Michelle Mosher.

My Email: “If someone owns a home and they discover a pinhole leak in their copper pipes can it be covered by home insurance? Will insurance cover the expense of replumbing the home since it’s kind of a matter of time before the rest of the house has pinhole leaks too?”

Michelle: “… it’s all going to be dependent on exact claim circumstances so nothing I’d be able to give you in writing. Typically a claim would cover the damage, but not the issue that caused the damage, so likely no replumbing because of an issue…”

So there you have it… speak to your insurance agent!

How To Prevent Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes

There are ways you can prevent pinhole leaks in copper pipes. Keep in mind though, these will not stop the corrosion process. Corrosion is natural, but you can do your best to slow it down.

  • Install a Water Softener – This will remove minerals and chlorine from the water which can help prevent damage to the pipes.
  • Ensure your water is at the right pressure – high-speed water can be hard on the internal walls of pipes.
  • Reduce turns in plumbing – frequent turns can increase friction.
  • Ensure plumbing is accurately sized – undersized plumbing can increase water pressure.

Signs You Might Have A Pinhole Leak

There are a few signs you might have a pinhole leak soon if you do not already have one! Keep in mind, some of these might also indicate other issues with the plumbing system as a whole so a professional should really be called out if you suspect a pinhole leak.

  • Blue/Green stains on the pipes you can see.
  • Rattling of the pipes when a faucet or tap is closed.
  • Green stains on porcelain fixtures.
  • Sediment buildup in toilet tanks.
  • A persistent strong, noticeable smell of chlorine in the water.
copper pipe pinhole leak repair

How To Fix Pinhole Leaks

The solution to fixing pinhole leaks is not always simple.

In general, you will have to shut off the water, cut out the bad pipe (corroded area), then replace it and join the pipe together.

While this may seem easy, most copper pipes are not easy to get to. For example, in the image above, the pinhole leak was found underneath a concrete slab. In order to fix this leak, the homeowner had to rip up tile, break through the concrete slab, find the leak (it’s not always clear exactly where it is), complete the repair, then repair the slab and their kitchen.

thermal image of a pinhole leak under a concrete slab

An experienced professional may be able to use tools like thermal imaging to find where the leak is, but again, this image just shows temperature differentials. Therefore, you may be able to find the hottest area (for hot water leaks) or the coolest area, but this may just be where the water is settling.

Special Note

While repairs a pinhole leak is an easier fix than replumbing the home, consider that when one leaks starts, it is likely more leaks begin. Therefore, you could be soon fixing many pinhole leaks in your copper pipes if you do not replumb the home.

Concluding

Pinhole leaks in copper pipes are becoming a common occurrence since many are plumbing systems are reaching their life expectancies.

While you can do your best to slow the corrosion process, you might experience this sooner if you are near the beach, have high chlorinated water, or cheaper/thinner copper.

The best solution is to replumb the home with pex, however, you can repair the pinhole leaks.

If you have additional questions, be sure to comment below!

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