Pinhole Leaks in Failing Copper: An Atlanta Problem

August 15, 2020
Posted by Trevor Sheffield

Jim and Deb live in a two story brick home in Marietta, Georgia. They discovered a pinhole leak in their copper pipes. This time the leak is in their rec room in the basement right above their antique billiard table. The table is soaked and covered with chunks of acoustical tile that caved in and exploded when it hit the pool table after being saturated with more water than it could hold. 

The water continued to run throughout the night. The table is damaged and will have to be recovered or repaired. Their carpet is wet. The carpet will have to be pulled up and the padding replaced. The first step is calling the plumber who referred them to a remediation company. The remediation company brought out the big blowers and equipment. This will be another insurance claim. “Ugh” Jim thinks. 

Thousands of homes across Greater Metro Atlanta experience a tell-tale sign of systematic copper failure: the pinhole leak. This type of leak occurs from a tiny hole developing after many years of corrosion on the inside of the pipe. Copper pinholes are slow leaks that can go undetected while they weep moisture into the insulation and wall cavity of the home. As the pinhole leak persists the opening becomes larger and the output volume of water increases. Eventually, the leak becomes apparent and plumbers are called in.  

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Copper Pipe with Pinhole Leak

First-time leaks in a home are often viewed as an isolated occurrence. In fact, a single pinhole leak often signals widespread failure, rather than an isolated failure, in the home piping. After a leaking section of the pipe is repaired, additional leaks soon follow – they appear randomly throughout the home. More leaks continue to develop until the homeowner has the entire house repiped.

Copper piping has a well-earned reputation for quality. It is often viewed as the most problem-free piping material for indoor water distribution. A copper pipe is strong but lightweight. It is highly crack resistant and mostly corrosion free so it is unlikely to develop leaks or to affect the taste of your tap water. Copper is the most expensive piping from a material and installation cost standpoint. For this reason,  many of the nicest homes were built with copper plumbing systems. Unfortunately, the copper pipes in these very nice homes are victim to one of the few known enemies of copper pipe: chloramine. 

Chloramine eats away at copper from the inside out. It’s a combination of chlorine & ammonia. The destructive effect of chloramine on copper is gradual. At the time chloramine was adopted for water treatment the population growth in Cobb County was putting a strain on water treatment capacity. Water treatment facilities needed an alternative sanitizing chemical to keep drinking water safe as it traveled over increasing distances to reach many new neighborhoods and homes.

The use of chloramine has been abandoned but the irreversible damage has been done to the pipes in many homes. 

The signs of failing copper occur on the inside of the pipe. Deterioration occurs over a long period of time as the copper is worn thin. The first signs on the outside of the pipe will be a gradual pinhole leak. 

Copper pinholes are especially rampant and unnoticed under concrete slabs. In addition to the corrosive chloramine exposure carried in the municipal water supply, there are additional corrosive mechanisms affecting the pipe if it was installed without a protective plastic sleeve as is required by code in Georgia. The additional corrosion under the concrete slab is caused by exposure to soil, concrete, and conductive metals such as rebar. Many slab pipes are being corroded from the outside and from the inside resulting in a more rapid failure than is typically present within the walls of a home. 

Copper is a relatively inert material that does not typically decay in the same manner as plastic pipes. Plastic piping such as PEX is formulated with molecules that are designed to bond with ionized and be consumed by compounds that would otherwise rapidly deteriorate the pipe. 

Protective compounds in PEX slow the deterioration and extend the life of a PEX pipe. This protective compound amounts to a breakaway shield for the structural pipe to significantly slow the chemical degradation of PEX. When these protective compounds are fully reacted and leached the structural pipe will begin to degrade and eventually fail. 

Unlike plastic piping, copper is not affected by light. All plastic pipe must be kept away from high-frequency light.  

Failing-Copper

No more pinholes! No more leaks!

Conclusion

In cases where a home’s water pipe system has been degraded by chloramine, whole house replumbing is the sensible option. A home repipe is an investment in your home that pays off by eliminating costly and time-consuming calls to the plumber for band-aid repairs. The cost of repairs on a failing copper system will eventually be more than the cost of the repipe. Additionally, your home will avoid property damage, insurance claims, and elevated insurance premiums that result in living with a failing pinhole copper system in the home.

The typical home we see calling Plumbing Express for a replumb is located in Roswell and Marietta Georgia, was built in the 80s or early 90s and has a copper piping system.

Plumbing Express has been a premier repipe specialist in Georgia for over two decades. We encourage you to call us to learn more about our process and options for your home.