Copper is a popular material for plumbing, and its use in new construction continues into the present day. Plumbers have used copper as a preferred material for decades, however, which means you can often find it homes that are half-a-century old or even older. While this metal is a reliable and durable option for plumbing, it can become problematic as it ages or under certain conditions.
Repairing a damaged copper pipe section is usually trivial for an experienced plumber, but it's worth considering the underlying cause of a failure before acting too hastily.
Why Do Copper Pipes Fail?
Copper is highly resistant to corrosion, which means that your pipes can last for decades or even much longer under ideal conditions. Residential plumbing is not typically a perfect environment, of course. Issues with your home's water supply can often lead to copper corrosion, and this will result in pipe degradation over time.
Unfortunately, detecting the underlying cause of a corrosion issue isn't always easy since a wide range of chemical changes in your water may impact your plumbing. Soft water is one natural cause of copper pipe corrosion, for example, since soft water is slightly acidic. Issues with faulty electrical ground connections are another (possibly shocking) cause for copper pipes to corrode.
Depending on the underlying issue, your pipes may begin to degrade internally, or you may notice the first signs on the outside of the piping. A standard failure mode for copper pipes is the pinhole leak. This small, high-velocity stream of water can be frustrating to deal with, especially when it appears behind walls. External pipe corrosion may result in larger, somewhat less dramatic leaks.
Why Shouldn't You Just Replace the Affected Section?
The cheapest option (after temporary patches) for repairing any leak is to cut out and replace the affected section of piping. This approach will solve the immediate problem but may not provide a permanent solution. Your first leak relieved pressure in the pipe. Once repaired, water may now begin to wear away other weak sections of piping.
When you have a copper pipe leak, the best option is to have a plumber conduct a full inspection. Some plumbers may use inspection cameras to look inside of your home's plumbing. If you discover additional corrosion, the most cost-effective long-term solution may be to replace a large portion of your home's plumbing.
Note that you should also attempt to determine the underlying cause for your corrosion. If you cannot identify a source, then your new plumbing may eventually suffer the same fate. In these cases, replacing your copper supply lines with PEX tubing may provide a better long-term solution. Although these options are expensive, they will save you from the frustration and cost of future water damage.