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pinhole leaks

Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes: Repair or Replace?

I recently bought a home and am experiencing a problem with the copper waterlines/pipes corroding from the inside out.  So far the corrosion appears to be limited to just the hot water lines, but I'm afraid to take a look inside the cold water lines.

What's happening is we keep getting pinhole leaks springing up throughout the hot water lines, and when I recently repaired two holes/leaks I looked at the inside of the lines and saw a lot of corrosion which I have never seen or experienced before.

I had a home inspection completed by a professional before I bought and closed on the house, and the inspector identified a leak that the previous owner had to fix prior to the closing.  Is there anything else I can do other than replace the entire waterline system?  Also, is there anything I can do because I feel this was an existing problem that the previous owner knew about?


Our Answer

Copper has been used for domestic water piping for over 50 years.  Copper pinhole leaks are a condition that is somewhat newer.  Pinhole leaks in copper pipes form on the inside of copper piping and erode the wall of copper resulting in holes that leak.  Opinions vary on the cause, but many experts believe the corrosion is due to a chemical reaction between the water and the copper.

ToolBase Services, the housing industry's resource for technical information on building products, materials, and new technologies, has found that pitting corrosion can be classified into three types:

  • Type I -Pitting is associated with hard or moderately hard waters with a pH between 7 and 7.8, and it is most likely to occur in cold   water. The pitting is deep and narrow, and results in pipe failure.
  • Type II -Pitting occurs only in certain soft waters, with a pH below 7.2 and occurs rarely in temperatures below 140° F. The pitting that occurs is narrower than in Type I, but still results in pipe failure.
  • Type III -Pitting occurs in cold soft waters having a pH above 8.0. It is a more generalized form of pitting, which tends to be wide and shallow and results in blue water, byproduct releases, or pipe blockage.

For more information, read a case study on pinhole leaks.

Repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes is done by applying external solder to the holes, by replacing small sections of pipe, or in the worst case scenario, by re-plumbing the entire home. If your problem is severe, I'd recommend you approach this in much the same way as you would if you were suffering from rusted steel plumbing common in homes built from the 1920's on. Repair leaks as they develop. Plan and budget for a major upgrade of the accessible parts of the plumbing system in the near future.  By accessible, I mean those that are visible and accessible from a crawlspace or basement. Replace all the inaccessible pipes only if leaks develop.

That being said, if you ever need to open a wall or ceiling and find copper pipes, never replace the drywall without first replacing the pipes. As for what you should replace the plumbing with, I'd recommend PEX.  PEX is cross-linked Polyethylene and a relatively new type of plumbing pipe that is showing great promise due to it's ease of installation, lower cost and energy saving benefits.  To learn more about repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes with PEX, see this post by Popular Mechanics.

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stop roof leaks, roof repair

Painting over Water Stains and Mold: How to Repair and Prep After a Water Leak

What is the rule of thumb for painting over water stains? I have a two-story house, and my second-floor shower stall developed a leak, as evidenced by water dripping from the first floor ceiling. The leak is small--a few drops of water after every use--and I believe I have now fixed the source of the leak (failing, cracked grout).

Now that I'm preparing to repair the ceiling, I see that the water dripped out around a nail head which developed a quarter-sized black stain that I assume is black mold. A few inches away, the paint has cracked and is peeling along a two-foot-long drywall seam. I was hoping to simply remove the loose paint, clean the black area with some bleach, re-spackle and re-paint the existing drywall.  Will this work or do you think that I should remove and replace the affected drywall to eliminate the black mold in the ceiling?

Our Answer

Before we get to painting over water stains, let's talk about mold. Mold needs three things to fester: air, food and water. While there is plenty of air and drywall is a terrific food for black mold, the fact that you have fixed the leak means that there should be no more moisture to feed a mold problem.
Secondly, the black mold that you think you have, may not in fact be black mold at all. While mold is possible, water stains--caused by the reaction of water with paper, paint and rust--can also form a black spot. Regardless, a quarter-sized area is nothing to worry about, even it is black mold, as long as the leak has been repaired.

As for painting over the water stain, my suggestion is to most certainly remove the loose paint as you suggested. Then wash the area down with a bleach-and-water solution just to make sure any mold spores have been neutralized. The next step is the most important: paint the stained area with an oil-based primer like KILZ. This will seal the stained surface and prevent it from leaching through to the top layer after you paint. For the best results, prime the entire area and not just the spots that have been impacted by the leak and resulting water stains.

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Plumbing Blasting Hot Water

Hi, I'm getting sudden bursts of very hot water in the middle of a shower. I have a gas water heater. The pilot light is on. Any ideas why this is happening?

Thank you!

Our Answer

This can be an unsafe situation to have a sudden burst of very hot water in the middle of a shower, and you need to have a licensed and insured master plumber check this out as soon as possible.

The water heater has nothing to do with the supply of uneven water temps. It will gradually decrease in temp as the tank begins to run out of water.

In the shower valve is a device that controls the water temp by mixing the cold with the hot to deliver a constant temp that is set by the handle. If that  temp goes up and down it's the faucet control that is starting to fail. With modern anti-scald valves this device is set when installed to prevent super hot water from ever exiting the shower or tub faucet.

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plumbing clogs

Copper Pipe Leaks: Stresses Contribute to Wear and Tear of Plumbing System

Can copper pipe leaks develop even where there's been no stress on the plumbing? My 30-year-old townhouse has copper pipes and I noticed a wet spot in the basement ceiling. I got the ladder out and peered up into the ceiling from the work room (I could see the pipes going around the area of the wet spot from there), and spotted a slow drip coming from the elbow joint of one of the pipes. The thing is, this is in a part of the house that would have not outside stresses on it, like temperature swings, movement, etc. Before I rip open the ceiling and get out the torch to start sweating one elbow joint, which is not a problem for my skills, I want to make sure it isn't something bigger that's beyond my skills and more expensive.

Our Answer

While it seems that your dripping pipe may have no stress on it, that's not completely true. Plumbing systems are constantly subjected to stresses that, while they may not be obvious, certainly can contribute to the wear and tear factor and lead to the copper pipe leaks you're experiencing. Here are examples of the stresses that can cause leaks.

  • Expansion/contraction: If this is a hot water pipe (or next to one), it is constantly expanding and contracting due to the changing water temperature. Even if it is a cold water pipe, going from room temperature to ground-temperature cold causes the pipe to move. While this is not an issue mid-span in the pipes, the elbows and other joints can find this particularly stressful as a section of the pipe joint moves at a slightly different rate.
  • Abrasion: While it's hard to think of water as an abrasive, it most certainly can cause erosive effects, including copper pipe leaks. Think of the power of a pressure washer, for example. While extreme, this shows you just how abrasive water can become. At lower flows and lower volumes, water, over time, can erode sections of pipes and joints and cause leaks. Have you ever seen a copper downspout? The next time you do, look at the elbows and you'll see how simple rainwater can erode holes in this soft metal.
  • Water hammer: Water weighs about eight pounds per gallon. When a faucet is opened, the water rushes forward in the pipe, building up a kinetic force. When the valve is closed, that mass of water screeches to a stop, sometimes shaking the pipes. This is generally referred to as water hammer and, while unusual, can on occasion break a pipe joint free.
  • Pinhole leaks: Pinhole leaks are believed to be caused by the corrosive chemical reaction between water and some copper pipes, and can also cause leaks.

So as you see, there are actually quite a number of things that can put stress on your plumbing system and lead to copper pipe leaks. If you can handle the repair, open the ceiling and make it. Just be darn careful with that blowtorch!

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Pin Hole Leaks in Copper Pipes

Hi.  I have already fixed two pinhole leaks in my copper pipe, a year ago.  I now have another one.  Before I dig up the slab and my wooden floors again, is there another option?  I was reading about epoxy lining but have yet to see anything on cost.  Last year my plumber said we should sell the house after getting it fixed because it would happen again.

What are the causes of these pinhole leaks?  I've read about chlorine being the culprit.  I am suspicioius about what the current the gas company is putting out there to keep their pipes from rusting.  I wonder if the copper in my slab is working as their cathode?

Are there any suggestions other than digging up my slab to fix the problem, and is there anything I can do to prevent more pin hole leaks?  Thank you!

Our Answer

Check out our step-by-step guide to repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes.  It presents you with fixes to individual leaks as well as suggestions for more comprehensive solutions.

The cause of these leaks is indeed up for debate, but is widely believed to be the result of a chemical reaction between water and copper - and probably not anything on behalf of your water company.  Good luck!

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washer, washing machine, garage

Can I Move My Washer and Dryer to My Garage?

I'd like to move my washer and dryer from my basement to my unheated garage.  Other than plumbing for the washer, do I need to do anything special beforehand, like add insulation to the space or heat it? My partner thinks it's a bad idea, but I have a hard time with the stairs to the basement, and there is no other room in the house that will fit them.  Also, I believe this will help dry up the basement and our poor little humidifier will finally get some relief!

Our Answer

There are a few very real deterrents to moving your washer and dryer to your garage:  First, I don't know what climate you live in, but yes - without additional heating - you risk water lines freezing in an unheated space.

Since heating a garage quickly becomes expensive, even once it's insulated, you might find yourself spending far more money than you ever anticipated on clean clothes and convenience! But there's something else in your question that concerns me: Your mention of dehumidifying your basement by removing the washer and dryer.  This is an unwise motive.  If your dryer is properly vented, it shouldn't be contributing to basement moisture.

If I were in your shoes, I'd concentrate on dehumidifying the basement by taking steps independent of the washer and dryer.  And if you really need to make the washer and dryer more accessible,  consider a stacked unit  - a dryer on top of a washer - that is more likely to fit in your closet or your kitchen.  There's a quality one from Santa Fe, and if that's too big, there are smaller appliances and models designed for apartments and compact homes.  Good luck!

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faucet, water

Well Pump Delivers Terrible Water Pressure

We share a well with two other houses, and the well head is at the home furthest from us. They both have great water pressure, but we have really bad pressure. We can't use the faucet when showering, run the dishwasher and sink at the same time, we can't water our garden, etc. Our plumber adjusted the pressure switch at our neighbors house in hopes of increasing our pressure, which worked at their houses but not ours. The plumber thinks somewhere along our pipe, it has been crushed by bedrock or the house adjusting. What are our options to increase our water pressure without breaking the bank?

Our Answer

First it seems you need to confirm the pressure coming from the well pump itself. If that is in a remote location, that should not be hard to do.  If the pressure is good at that point, check it again at the first place it comes into your house.  If its dropped, then the plumber is right and you have a problem with the main line.  The only fix for that would probably be replacement. However, if the pressure is god where it enters your house but bad after that, then you'll need to track down the restriction, which could for example, be a bad valve (or if your house is old) a corroded steel pipe, etc.

The other option might be to add a pressure tank and send booster pump in your home.  The pump would run as needed (not every time you turn on the faucet) to pressurize the tank, but your water would be pressurized and pulled from the tank itself.

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water treatment

Verification of Easywater

Are there ways to measure the efficacy of this system ie: actually test the water hardness after the system is installed? It seems like sleight-of-hand to just wrap a magnet or whatever is going around the house water input and "believing" that it is actually working.

Our Answer

Well, the proof is in the pudding.  Seemed like it worked for us, but, I'd put that question to the EasyWater people.  They're pretty well researched over there and I'm sure could point you to their data.

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What’s the Cause of Spotty Radiant Heat?

Hi!  I am a new member and cant tear myself away from your website and show.  I purchased my first home last year in upstate New York.  It is a small 1922 farmhouse that was mostly move-in ready.  After spending a year here, I have learned what improvements should be made.  Going into winter, I have a big concern about my radiators.  

I have hot-water radiators throughout the house, zone-controlled, with a thermostat on both floors.  I noticed that the second floor radiators don't provide sufficient heat when compared to the first floor.  I chalked this up to their distance from the boiler, but after closer inspection, i discovered the culprit: Though the pipes are new copper and seemingly updated, I learned that there is actually no "Send" for the second floor rads.  There is a zone valve for the return, but the second floor supplies are all tapped out of the first-floor send.  I didn't catch this before purchasing the home, but the more I learn, this seems like trouble.  

Is this as large an energy-waste as I think it is?  It seems like the radiator is pushing and pulling in ways that it isn't plumbed for.  Would running a supply line be best, or should I leave it alone?  I feel that with the proper plumbing, I will get much more heat and efficiency from the boiler.  

Thank you so much for your input, and I look forward to hearing your replies.

Our Answer

First, welcome to the Money Pit!  I'm glad to hear you've gotten a lot out of the show and website. 
My advice for you: This is NOT a DIY project.  There are a number of possible causes for the inconsistency among your radiators, but I don't have information to confidently diagnose the problem.  For example, is it a hot water system or steam?  From a consumer perspective the two can look identical, but they're plumbed differently. 
This is a case where I'd spend time finding an experienced plumber, one with a reputation of successfully servicing older houses, and get a diagnosis.  If after that happens you still have questions, fell free to send us the information provided by the plumber or heating contractor, and we can take it from there.  Good luck!

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Water Heater: Takes Too Long to Get Hot Water

I would like to replace the two water heaters in my attic (14 yrs old), but am not sure how to solve the problem of how to minimize wait time for hot water on the far side of the house. Is a circulating pump the answer, or is it a tankless water heater? I live in the country about an hour from the coast and the plumbers here are down on tankless water heaters. What do you think?

Our Answer

Tell your plumbers to get with the program!  Tankless water heaters have been around for over a decade and are clearly the best, most efficient way to heat water (assuming you have natural gas or propane, as they are not efficient when fueled with electric).

To solve the issue of wait time for hot water, however, you need to physically move the water heater closer to that far side of the house, a task that is much easier thanks to their compact size and options for sidewall venting.  Regardless of whether the water heater is tank or tankless, it is the distance between where the water is heated and where it is used that determines how long you will need to wait.  So, the closer the better!

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What’s Causing a Noisy Bathtub Drain?

Recently, the bathtub in my daughter's bathroom started draining very, very slowly. I bought a bottle of Draino from the local store, followed the directions on the bottle, and after a hour I went to flush the tub. The water now drains faster than before, but as soon as you turn the water off and the tub starts to drain, I hear loud gurgling sounds from the drain as the water leaves. What could be causing this loud noise? My house sits on a slab foundation, so I can't check the pipes. Any ideas folks? FYI, the house was built back in 1996.

Our Answer

You most likely have an obstruction in the pipes.  There are a couple of easy things to try: First, use a wet dry vacuum to try sucking that obstruction out from the drain.  This approach sometimes works.  Another idea is to attempt using a mechanical snake to clear that drain.  Snakes are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and can be purchased at any home center.  They work if the obstruction is relatively close to the drain. 
Beyond that, you need to get a professional drain clearing service.  Do your homework - hire someone reputable with good reviews.  Bathroom drains are very susceptible to clogs from hair or soap scum, so dealing with one is really only a matter of time. In the future, though, reconsider using Draino.  Its results are iffy and potentially dangerous, and in some cases can damage pipes. 
If all these steps are taken and the drain's still noisy, the issue might be that the plumbing system is not vented properly, and the gurgling is the result of it being starved for air.  This should be addressed by a plumber.

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A Shrieking Toilet

The toilet in our main bathroom lets out a shrieking, or high pitched tone whenever water is run anywhere else in the house. The only way to get the noise to stop is to either stop running the water, or go into the bathroom and flush the toilet. What is causing this, and more important, (for our sanity) how do I fix it. Thank you for any insight you can give me on this matter!

Our Answer

It sounds like you have a bad fill  valve in the toilet.  The fact that flushing the toilet makes the sound go away is a clue.  As a first step, I'd replace BOTH the fill and flush valves in the toilet.  These are inexpensive (about $15 - look for the Fluidmaster brand) and see if that stops it.

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Bathroom Toilet Makes Noise: How to Fix

When the basement toilet tank fills up after being flushed, it stops and the water pipe vitrabes or makes noise.  How would I get this to stop?

Our Answer

This sound's a lot like a bad fill valve.  As the toilet flushes, the valve kicks in to refill.  Once the toilet is full, the valve should slam shut -- if it is worn however, it can "chatter" or vibrate just as you've described.  I'd recommend just replacing both the fill valve and the flush valve.  These are easy projects that won't cost much and will get the toilet working properly again in no time at all.  Good videos are here:

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How to Fix a Leaking Sink Faucet

My Moen faucet is leaking. I tried fixing it, but couldn't undo the plastic piece to reach the washer.  Are there any special tools I can use?  Any other advice on getting this to stop leaking? 

Our Answer

Your best bet is to review Moen's online troubleshooting tips, which include an extensive section for faucet repair.  Keep in mind that disassembling plumbing requires special tools you might not have.  Also, be sure that if you're going to replace a part, you use parts recommended for your exact faucet.  Generic faucet replacement parts might look identical, but fine differences can cause incompatibility, which could lead to continued problems. 

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Washing Machine Drains To Yard

I have just aquired a property, and the washing machine drains through a PVC pipe into a trench dug outside - about 20 to 25 yards behind the house, in the middle of a large backyard. How can I put this draining underground so the backyard can be leveled off and made appealing?

Our Answer

I'm going to assume you live in a rural area - which seems like the only place that would dischage a washing machine in such a manner.  I'm also assuming you have a septic system, and the washer is not part of the septic system, because it would damage the naturally-occurring breakdown of matter. 
Assuming all this is the case, I'd recommend putting in a gray water tank.  Gray water is basically like a drywell.  The gray - or used -  water is held briefly in the tank before being discharged to an irrigation or treatment system.  If an irrigation system, it discharges slowly back to the earth, generally on the opposite side of the house from the septic system.  You never want to discharge to a grade like the one you described.  The water in your pipes could easily freeze, which could result in clogging.