How to Prevent Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes

February 15, 2018

how to prevent pinhole leaks in copper pipes

Pinhole leaks are unique to copper pipes and are caused when corrosion inside the pipe eats through to the outside, creating a leak. And they’re the last thing any homeowner wants for their copper pipes.

So, how can you prevent your copper pipes from getting pinhole leaks?

Well, that depends:

If your pipes are 20+ years old and you’ve already noticed pinhole leaks, you really can’t prevent them from happening elsewhere in your piping. The most cost-effective option is to have a professional re-plumb your home.

If your pipes are LESS than 20 years old and you haven’t had any pinhole leaks (or have had very few), you can have a professional:

  1. Reduce turbulence in your pipes

  2. Install a whole-home water softener

We’ll go into both of those situations in more detail...

Hopefully if you’re reading this you don’t already have pinhole leaks. But if you do, just give us a call, and we can help walk you through your options to fix them.

Situation #1: Your pipes are 20+ years old

Copper pipes typically last 20–50 years, so if your plumbing system is older than 20 years, it’s generally not worth trying to save your pipes—especially if you already have pinhole leaks.

You see, as copper ages, the inner linings of the pipe become weaker, which makes them more prone to pinhole leaks.

So if you find yourself in this situation, we recommend repiping your home with PEX pipes. PEX piping is a lot less susceptible to pinhole leaks, plus they’re less expensive to install.

For more information about PEX pipes and re-piping your home, read our article, “What’s the Average Cost of Re-plumbing a House in Florida.”

Situation #2: Your pipes are under 20 years old

If you find yourself in this situation, you can hire a professional to do 2 things to prevent pinhole leaks:

  1. Reduce turbulence in your pipes

  2. Install a whole-home water softener

Let’s look at both of those preventative measures in more detail…

#1: Reduce turbulence in your pipes

The biggest reason copper pipes leak is due to turbulence (when water travels through the pipe at unstable speeds).

You see, as minerals in the water supply are pushed at high speeds inside your pipes, they can wear out the inner lining of the pipe, especially in areas where water is forced to change flow direction quickly (like fittings and elbows). Once this lining is worn out, small pinhole leaks can form.

A plumber can do 3 things to lower turbulence in your pipes:

1. Lower the water velocity. According to standard plumbing practices, water velocity should be kept at a fixed speed of 8 fps (for cold water) and 5 fps (for hot water) in copper pipes. If water is traveling faster than that, your pipes will experience greater turbulence.

Contact a plumber to check your water velocity and make sure it’s not too fast.

2. Make sure you have the right size pipe. Smaller pipes increase the friction of the water moving against the lining of the pipe. If you hear banging noises, or get frequent clogs, those could be signs your pipes are too small.

Since it requires specialized calculations, you’ll need a professional to inspect your pipes to make sure they’re the right size. In the worst case scenario, the pipes are too small which means they’ll need to be replaced.

3.  Check your pipe fittings to make sure they’re not too close together. Copper pipe fittings change the direction or flow of water in your system and join pipes together. If they’re placed too close together it increases turbulence, which means water grates harder against the inner lining of the pipe. However, adequate space between fittings on a line of pipe reduces turbulence, which could prevent pinhole leaks from forming.

You should contact a plumber to check your fittings and make sure they’re spaced apart properly.

#2: Install a whole-home water softener

A whole-home water softener can prevent pitted corrosion, which is another cause of pinhole leaks in copper pipes. Pitted corrosion is an extremely localized type of corrosion that attacks small areas on the inside surface of copper pipes. Areas with hard water, like Florida, often see higher risk of pitted corrosion, as do older homes (pre-1970).

So what is “hard water” and why does it corrode your copper pipes?

Hard water is water with a high concentration of dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium and other metals. Over time, these metals can wear out the inner lining of copper pipes, eventually creating pinhole leaks.

Luckily, a whole-home water softener removes dissolved minerals from your home’s water so that these metals don’t buildup or react negatively with your pipes. To reduce your risk for pitted corrosion, you’ll need to hire a water specialist to provide a soft water treatment system for your home.

Need plumbing help from a Florida professional?

We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about pinhole leaks. If you want a professional to take a look at your home’s pipes to make sure they don’t have pinhole leaks, we can do that too—just give us a call or contact us online.

Related articles

  • Posted in: