Of the four stick built residences we have in Valdez, three of them have developed pin hole leaks in the copper water pipes. These were the 3 buildings that were mid to late l970's. ... thankfully only one time each and without recurrence.
I know of newer homes that have had this same problem & much worse. Two homes built in about l992 have had multiple problems with this in the last couple of years (Most pinhole leak problems are in M type copper, not L which is thicker - but is this just a precursor of a problem that will show up later on?) Could a home owner building a home buy the thickest grade of copper piping possible: now L type copper needs to be used instead of M. Or are we only delaying the inevitable?
It's a costly problem to remedy. You will find water being sprayed on sheet-rocked walls....& when you go to locate the source, there will often be the necessity of cutting into the sheetrock in a couple of places just to locate the source; and more to do the final repairing. ..
The home we have that was built just after the new town started: late l960's has developed no such problem. I believe this may be due to some type of lining that must coat the pipes over time... or better question: did the manufacturers of old produce better copper pipe than they do today? Is some copper pipe of inferior quality? Where was your copper pipe manufactured? Can you find out? I heard from a South Carolina research gatherer that there was a bad batch of copper that came into the US from Mexico some years back. Most everyone had problems with it, I was told. (The Copper Assoc. comments that all copper piping is always of the same caliber.) One report our city has reviewed did suggest that a possible cause of pin hole leaks is molecular carbon left behind within the pipes after manufacturing... & at each location will be the start of a pin hole leak, in time.
This is an on-going problem in our town. I just learned that one of our citizens with a home of similar age had a minor problem of this type & bought new pipe from a retailer in our town 10 years ago: all of which became pitted & corroded in irregular fashion; an indication of poor product, possibly another cause, for some of our townspeople at least ... for pin hole leaks in the cold water copper piping.
Copper piping was introduced as a US homes' water piping some 30 years ago? (Help me out here, I'm not sure of the time) Before that galvanized piping was the standard pipe for domestic water systems. A plumber comments that he's never repaired leaks in galvi-pipe, just replaced it due to rust closure.
I would recommend that if you know of pin hole leaks in domestic water copper piping, you report it to the City Engineering Dept. The city wants to know how widespread this is. Or e-mail a request to me for an information sheet to fill out, & I'll see that you get one. We are said to have a high mineral content in our water (not above minimums allowable, though); pH is 6.9 sometimes at 7.1 but mostly just slightly on the acid side from neutral; however, I do notice that water samples show copper is above the minimums as is nitrate... so that must be an indication of something.
The city dept head says the water is tested randomly from houses of a certain age. The water remains in the pipes overnight and then a sample of the water is taken for testing. Most of the water mains are of (?) We have five Class A separate water systems from wells. In Robe River there seems to be more caltrates in the water, causing clogging of just 2 homes' furnace piping in that area. There doesn't seem to be much, if any, pin hole leaks in copper cold water pipes in that neighborhood.
John C. told me that when he first came to Valdez as the registered City Engineer, the City had been concerned with leaking of the copper plumbing that went under the street (the 1 inch in diameter water supply lines...sometimes from freezing up, sometimes from pin hole leaks.) He said the city for a time used sodium-meta-penta-phosphate in the water supply to stop the electrolysis. I read a report by a Maryland co-op that felt adding phosphates to the water was safe & used now by 50% of the country. I question the safety of this. What is the MSDS for phosphates? for copper? for pex piping? When there is more than the most minute amounts of phosphate and copper ingested by humans, what does it cause? & what do we really know about this plastic product? Will it get brittle with age and flake off into the drinking water? Australia is replacing some type of old plastic piping right now. But in talking with a couple of experts in the field, the pex piping could be the material of the future.
As for copper: "Just the flowing of the water causes a very minute molecular electrolysis in copper pipes... & for this I don't think anything can be done. I do believe that the primary problem is electrolysis: an unforeseen side effect in using a material with the conductivity property such as copper. This material's ease/cost of production and installation over-shadowed any side effects of long term use," per one handyman I respect. He probably wouldn't think so if his house had these pin hole leaks!?
Too, he continues to share, "If you remember correctly, the solder used in assembly of this type of water system use to be 50/50 (50%LEAD, 50%TIN). After finding out lead caused health problems in paint, it was discovered in the mid 80's that lead was leaching from the soldered joints in domestic water systems and subsequently was banned." Helpful hint: Never drink any water from any stagnant pipes... run the water until it is COLD & you know that it is fresh water from outside." (It is said that lead no longer leaches after about 5 years... I don't know about this one way or the other.) Another repairman comments that it is in the area of stagnant water where he has had to replace the most copper pipe for Valdez citizens.
... maybe you might consider a de-magnetization system . . . which softens the water as it comes into the house. (Does he mean, "hardens?") Also be sure, too, not to connect dissimilar metals as this can cause unnecessary electrolysis.
Now, John C would recommend triple thick polyethylene to home owners to use. Check to see what would be allowed by building to code, though? (It seems to give when freezing, but you can't thaw it out with an arc welder, of course.) I believe John C is on the right track: however, aquapex appears to be the product of the future, and is approved in recent building codes; it is not like PVC at all, although it is a plastic material. PVC can get a bacterial film on it; pex does not, I am told.
I've learned that it is only the cold water piping that gets these pin hole leaks (not the hot water piping), and have been told that the minerals fall out of the water when heated to 140 degrees. (Good for furnace systems, but maybe not domestic water that is usually in the range of 120 degrees.) I'm thinking that heating all water & having a holding tank for the preheated cold water would be one solution...bad idea unless you have money to burn; some folks think water too soft will pull copper into the water (?)
PEX (grade A or C) or aquapex plumbing is being well-received now by some experts in the field in our town! Our city approved plumbing code is '97, so using this material as an alternate plumbing product, which is OK for 2000 codes is a viable alternative for those considering their choices in building a new home.
Another from SW Texas shares: "Thanks for sharing what you have been doing. The PEX product that I have chosen is KITEC They have a good website at www.ipexinc.com They mention the copper problem in their literature." 3-17-02
An engineering company who studied the Juneau area thought electrolysis from lack of proper grounding was the cause of pinhole leaks in the copper pipes in some instances. The improper grounding of electrical equipment (i.e. panels) was suspected.
I asked, if you were building a new house, what kind of water pipes would you have? "Copper!" says one handyman. "Pex" says the next! What will you do about freeze ups? There are some piping that is best done in copper still, such as in mobile homes where the water pipes are more exposed.
As of March, 2002 there is still interest in Valdez of learning more about the source of the problem and the best remedy. Please give your input. One thing is clear, I have a lot more questions today than I did a year ago. I've also learned this is a problem throughout the nation.
Too, without more input, I don't think a single "expert" can give a proper analysis of anyone's exact cause of pin hole leaks in copper piping. There is a utility company in Maryland that is so focused on fact gathering on this topic, that you don't get music when you are put on telephone "hold"... You are asked a series of questions about your experience with pin hole leaks in copper water piping. Would this be a good research project for a science student?
The city has approved extending water pipes to other areas of our town this summer. Have we learned anything that will make that system a better one?
Diann Hursh (March, 2001, amended 3-17-02) Best wishes!
Still out of area interest in this topic 3-12-03
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