It’s one of a homeowner’s worst nightmares — a pinhole leak has formed in the home’s copper plumbing. And then, shortly after patching the first leak, they find more. Even worse is when the leaks go undetected causing a long list of damages and mold.

Unfortunately, this is becoming more common for homes with copper piping in Florida as we have seen an unprecedented number of reports of problems with corrosion and leaks. I agree with leading corrosion experts that the EPA water utility standards residential piping replacementrequire them to remove more natural organic materials, such as leaves, from water supplies. Removing them is likely to be a problem since natural organic materials can help form a natural protective layer in metallic pipe. Several studies and research projects look for possible causes but none produced definitive results. I believe the combination of high pH, low organic matter, aluminum solids, and free chlorine is the only thing to change in the last 50 years we have used copper piping for domestic water so likely it is the cause.

Since 1963, over 5.3 million miles of copper plumbing tube has been installed in about 80 percent of all U.S. buildings. Copper is the most widely used material for plumbing systems because of its ease of use, resistance to corrosion, and resistance to permeation by liquids and gases, which may be sources of corrosion and contamination.

When to consider repiping

Best plumbing practice recommend repiping after three or four leaks at a cost that can run in excess of $8,000. But if you are still connected to the same treated water, repiping with copper is only a temporary solution until pinhole leaks return. I recommend to more homeowners to install CPVC or PEX pipe and fittings. Unlike copper, it will never pit and corrode.

Homeowners that have yet to see any leaks

It is difficult to totally eliminate or prevent copper pitting. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce them, such as:

  • Stock up on pipe clamps and be ready to install them over pinholes to temporarily stop leaks until permanent repairs can be made.
  • Examine accessible/exposed copper piping for small, bluish-green stains on the pipes – away from joints. This can be an indication of a pinhole leak. Call a licensed plumber immediately at the first signs of leaks.
  • Before purchasing a home, self inspect plumbing (or have a licensed plumber do so), ask about the plumbing history, and find out how long the house has been vacant, if applicable.
  • Have your water tested for pH value. It may be necessary to do this a number of times at several day intervals, to catch variations. Your water pH should always be higher than 7. If it isn’t, talk to your water department. 

What do you think caused the increase of corrosion and leaks in copper plumbing?