Water damage from leaky pipes is a common plumbing problem that many homeowners face. Whether it’s a slow drip or a major leak, finding and fixing the source is important to prevent further issues down the line. One of the most widespread pipe materials used in homes is copper, but over time, copper pipes can develop small cracks or joints that no longer hold tight.
In this blog, we will cover some simple steps you can take to repair a leaking copper pipe yourself. We’ll discuss locating the leak, preparing the area, cutting out any damaged pipe sections, connecting new fittings, and soldering the joints securely. With just a few basic tools and supplies, you can usually patch a small copper pipe leak quickly and easily, saving yourself the cost and hassle of a plumber’s house call.
Common Causes of Copper Pipe Leaks
There are a few main reasons why copper pipes may start developing leaks over time:
- Vibrations and temperature changes can cause fatigue cracks to form in the piping. This is especially true in areas near water heaters, washers/dryers, and anywhere pipes may be rubbing against building structures.
- Improperly installed or tightened fittings are a common source of early leaks. Over-tightening or under-tightening joints during installation can cause them to fail prematurely.
- Mineral deposits from hard water can accumulate inside pipes and around joints, eventually restricting water flow and creating stress lines.
- Corrosion on the exterior or interior of pipes from acidity in the water or soil. Corrosion eats away the copper from the inside out.
- Damage from freezing weather if pipes are exposed or poorly insulated in unheated areas like attics, crawlspaces or exterior walls. The expanding ice can split pipes open.
Paying attention to how and where cracks or leaks first appear can help identify the cause.
Identifying a Leaking Copper Pipe
The first step is to inspect all exposed areas of your copper plumbing system and check for any signs of moisture, damp spots on walls or ceilings, puddling water, or stained areas that could indicate a leak.
Run your water throughout the house and listen closely to pipes that run through walls, floors, and cabinets for any dripping or strange sounds. You may also need to feel along pipes, as copper leaks sometimes present as a slow drip that is hard to detect visually at first.
If you find a damp area, carefully cut into the drywall or wood with a utility knife to inspect behind. Use a mirror on a stick if needed to examine pipes in tight spaces. Once located, wipe away any moisture and examine the pipe closely under good lighting for pinhole leaks, hairline cracks, corroded spots, or fittings that no longer appear fully sealed. Have a rag handy to wipe as needed.
With patrol inspection and detective work, you should be able to track down the source of the leak in the copper plumbing.
DIY Methods for Fixing Leaking Copper Pipes
Homeowners can use a few DIY methods to repair minor leaks in their copper piping systems.
One option is using a slip fitting. Slip fittings are rubber sleeves that can be slipped over a hairline crack in a straight pipe section. Once in place, hose clamps are secured on both sides of the fitting to compress it around the pipe and form a seal over the leak.
Another common repair method involves using compression fittings. This requires cutting out the damaged section of the pipe and installing a compression fitting in its place. When tightening these fittings, it’s important not to over-tighten, as that can cause cracks to form.
Soldering is usually the best repair approach involving elbows, T-joints, or replacing larger damaged pipe sections. This involves cutting out the old fitting, cleaning and fluxing the pipe ends, adding the new fitting, and then applying solder with a propane torch to seal the joint. SharkBite push-to-connect fittings that don’t require soldering can also replace short pipe sections.
Whichever DIY method is used, thoroughly cleaning pipe ends and properly installing fittings is essential for successfully repairing copper pipe leaks.
Preventing Future Copper Pipe Leaks
Now that the immediate leak is repaired, it’s a good idea to address the underlying causes to prevent future issues.
One important step is insulating exposed pipes prone to freezing, such as those that run through unheated areas like attics, crawlspaces or exterior walls. Proper insulation protects against dangerous bursts from expanding ice. You should also flush the pipes well and use a water softener or whole-house filter if you have hard water, as mineral buildup can accelerate corrosion over time.
Carefully mounting pipes can help reduce vibrations and physical stress as well. Adding flexible connectors or bracing where pipes connect appliances is also wise. Routine maintenance, like annually checking pipe joints and fittings for signs of leakage, corrosion or loose fittings, will catch small problems before they worsen.
These preventative measures will help ensure the copper plumbing system continues functioning smoothly with minimal risk of further leaks.
Taking Action to Protect Your Plumbing System
With the right tools and materials, repairing minor leaks in copper piping is a job most homeowners can do themselves. Following simple steps like properly locating the leak, cutting out damaged sections, preparing pipe ends, and securing new fittings can get you back up and running quickly without a costly service call.
If you feel unsure about any part of the repair process, don’t hesitate to contact the experts. WP Plumbing is ready to assist with leaks beyond basic fixes or help answer any other plumbing questions. Our team has decades of experience solving all types of plumbing issues. Call us today to discuss your project and get a quote for any further plumbing maintenance or installations.