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When to replace copper piping

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by joefrompa, Sep 30, 2011.

  1. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    Hi all,

    So I came home last night and found a ton of ants on my kitchen counter having a feast. Small little buggers that can be squashed and don't die, you have to squash and twist to kill them :)

    Anyway, I've been finding the occasional ant in my kitchen recently. Sometimes even a few dozen. This was hundreds. So it was time to investigative after getting rid of them.

    I tracked them down to under my sink. As I clean out the under sink cabinet, I decide to caulk the cabinet holes where the copper pipes come through from the floor (they are vertical pipes, not horizontal rough-ins).

    I notice some corrosion and dust around the base of the hot water pipe. I remove the hot water pipe foam jacket and bam...

    My copper pipe was soldered by a blind man using improper parts, too much flux (probably), and otherwise a joke. There MAY have been very slight leakage - if so it's not continuous, it's the lightest dab of moisture. The foam jacket felt and looked dry, the pipe itself by one of the joins had a shininess that I couldn't definitely say was freshwater.

    ...

    There's a thick jacket of green/white crust around some of the joins. This piping is maybe 10 years old.

    ....

    I don't really know why I'm posting this - I know I have to replace it. I guess I'm trying to make myself feel comfortable with waiting for a month or so. It's actually kind of a bear of a job, because I need to cut out the base of the cabinet around the pipe and cut the pipe below the base, insert a SharkBite or otherwise instant connection, and run a new supply line.

    The cabinet is tight as heck and I'm not yet sure how I'm going to plunge-cut a nice smooth hole into the wood without risking nicking OTHER supply lines down near it where I can't see them.

    Ugh, what a pain :)

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  2. bpm44

    bpm44 Member

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    Hey Joe for the plunge cut you may want to check out the Rockwell Soniccrafter or a similar tool. I'm constantly amazed at the close quarter abilities of mine. Got it at Lowes. Good luck with the plumbing.
  3. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    Have you guys heard of a tape you can wrap around pipes as an emergency to prevent leaks? Someone mentioned it, and I thought it might be a good few bucks to spend to prevent a big problem while I'm getting ready to do the job.
  4. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    I'd clean the crap off with steel wool and come back in a while to see if it's really leaking or just a reaction with room humidity.
    Under sinks aren't always the best ventilated places in the world.

    I've seen the flux with some solder turn oily looking near the joint .
    I like to wipe my joints which is supposed to take much of the surface flux off.
    Someone in a hurry or in a tight space might not take the time.
  5. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    This looks partly crazy because they seem to have cut the original pipe too small, so they simply added a joint, put another 3" pipe on it to the other side, etc.

    Interesting about the oily stuff - that's exactly how I would've described what I felt. It was shiny and maybe a bit lubricated feeling, but it felt oily between my fingers while not having a smell and it didn't come back. Plus, to your point, this is a pretty unventilated under sink area that was also covered in a foam jacket. And it's a hot water pipe that's only about 5 feet away from the hot water heater - so it's always very warm.

    So scrub with steel wool, clean off, then check it out layer? Maybe wrap it in a paper towel to see if it gets at all damp?

    This is one of hte most awkward spots I've seen honestly. The cabinet is a very weird pentagonal shape and the pipes are inside a door and to the RIGHT against the inside of the cabinet door wall. So it' super awkward.

    That being said, these cabinets were made, built, and installed on site from one oak tree. So it's possible they did the plumbing while the cabinets weren't fully assembled.
  6. maverick06

    maverick06 Minister of Fire

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    the copper pipes shouldnt corrode... frankly I would expect them to either leak right away or not for a couple hundred years... barring any sort of seismic activity.

    The ants are the issue... caulking around the pipes will keep them from getting into the cabinet, BUT they will stilll be behind the cabinet causing all of their damage. I suggest some poison on them.
  7. northernontario

    northernontario Member

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    New flux has no acid in it, but old flux had acid in it... lots of guys wouldn't clean the pipes with sandpaper before assembly, just let the acid flux do the work for them. Problem here is if even a little bit of the acid remains on the pipe, it can slowly eat through the copper.
  8. Jack Straw

    Jack Straw Minister of Fire

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    If you don't clean off the flux it will turn the pipe green. I would clean off the pipes like stated above and go from there.
  9. hossthehermit

    hossthehermit Minister of Fire

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    My guess is the pipes are fine, clean 'em up. Sprinkle some corn meal in there, ants will take it back to the nest and die, die, die. Do this before you seal the cabinet, because they're obviously in your house, give 'em a chance to get the cornmeal first.
  10. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Just watch it for a while to determine if it is leaking or not (also, if your water is acidic it will leave green behind when it evaporates from leaching copper out - and can eat away at the inside of your pipes). And get some liquid ant bait - stuff is gold. If it was a bubble gum job and is seeping, you might have to dismantle & repair (it could have been seeping for years hidden behind the wrap).
  11. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    I found some stuff called Terro that COMPLETELY eliminated our recent problem with those tiny little buggers.
    Comes in a small bottle. Put a couple small drops on a piece of cardboard (comes in the package), and place strategically. You may have to re-apply. It takes a couple days, but they all DIE.
    The pipe may not be leaking at all. After a while, the joints turn green if you don't wipe 'em down real well, and what you felt was probably just flux.
  12. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    +1 on the Terro - worked great for us. Just takes a bit of patience, and not killing the ants that come in to get it. Gotta let 'em go back to the nest with the poison.
  13. Panhandler

    Panhandler Minister of Fire

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    +2 on the Terro. Great stuff.
  14. boatboy63

    boatboy63 Member

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    Good luck Joe. Personally, I would look at replacing with pvc and cpvc piping. Don't know if your house is on city or well water, but we had a similar issue. Our house was built in the 1890's. I know father-in-law did alot to the house when he bought it in 1972, and copper plumbing was 1 of them. I always thought copper was one of those do it once and forget about it deals. Come to find out...not necessarily. We are on a well and the minerals in well water do not always like copper. Most of the time, city water doesn't have the amount of minerals that well water does and there isn't an issue.

    We started developing several areas that were green, as you mentioned. I also noticed a spot that, whenever your hand got within a couple inches of it, your hand felt cool and damp. It was actually spraying a very fine mist from it. Turned off the water, drained the lines, and proceeded to clean and then solder over the spot. When I finished, I was happy with the looks. Turned the water back on and started checking. Much to my surprise, I still had a leak, but it moved about 2" to the side of the first. Turned water back off, drained, and repeated. When water was turned back on, same story...moved a few inches to side of original leak. I spent at least a couple of hours trying to take care of all these leaks and then started reading about it on the net. Seems it is a common problem with wells or with hard water. The minerals attack the copper, cause a small hole, then the hole is filled in by scale that builds up inside the copper. Everything is fine for days/weeks/months, then the leak will start again. What happens is that the scale temporarily plugs the hole, then later breaks loose and exposes the hole again unitl another speck of scale fills it. I just decided to run new pvc/cpvc thru my house and do away with the copper. That was 2 years ago and not a problem since. BTW, the green that I mentioned was at least 5' from the nearest joint/fitting and there wasn't any solder nearby.
  15. jabush

    jabush Feeling the Heat

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    It's called "Pipe Wrap". I've used it a couple times when I didn't have good access. You clean the pipe with sand paper (this is important), then mix a 2 part epoxy and coat the area around the leak. Also included is a piece of fiberglass cloth. You cut a strip of cloth to wrap around the pipe a couple times and then coat the outside of the cloth with the rest of the epoxy. Let it set up for 15-20 minutes and you should be good to go. I've had real good results with this stuff and it appears to be a permanent fix. I periodically check the spots I've repaired and they are dry. Of course, after 34 years I think the well water is taking its toll on the copper. I'm seriously considering replacing the copper with pvc. As time goes on I'm only going to get more leaks, not fewer.
  16. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    Had the same situation as boatboy63 - the leaks would repair themselves in a few days. If it was dripping, I'd put a pan under it, and in a day or three, the leak stopped. Every couple of months, a new one would pop up, and cure itself. We sold the house years ago, so I don't know what happened.

    As as aside...The buyers were real a**es, even embarrassing their own realtor, so I didn't feel the need to clue them in. Even at the closing, they tried to beat me down. I left them some nice firewood in the basement, about ¼ cord, thinking I was doing them a favor. I ended up paying them to get rid of it - which they did by using it up. They complained because the basement wasn't totally empty before the closing. So, if they had a flood, it wouldn't bother me any. What goes around, comes around.
  17. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    Good stuff guys. Never knew about cornmeal.

    The pipe is weeping slightly. I notice moisture on it now. Super slow, but there.

    I'm going to find a get to get underneath it. Beautiful 3/4" oak, so I don't like cutting it up, but will figure something out.

    My problem with CPVC compared to copper is it MOVES - especially on hot water lines. That stuff will expand and shake - if not properly anchored it makes alot of noise. I haven't had personal experience with pex.
  18. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    Sharkbite and pex are a novice plumber's best friend. I replumbed our camp in a day from the pump to all the fixtures.
  19. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    Yeah, I'm gonna get under the floor, cut the pipe in an accessible location, sharkbite it, probably pex it, and re-route to above where ANY corrosion is, and then sharkbite again.

    Total cost to fix this is probably gonna be like $20, but I won't be soldering in super tight space against finished wood either.
  20. boatboy63

    boatboy63 Member

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    At the time I replumbed, I didn't know much about pex. I know more about it now and think either pex or the pvc would be a good option. It is true that the pvc can expand when pop occasionally, but it doesn't bother me. They do make a very small device that simply goes inline with plumbing. This is slightly larger than a test tube and takes the hammering out of plumbing. I used some of the sharkbites when I was switching out from copper to pvc. I pulled them all out when finished. They may be a fine product, but I didn't feel safe in having something that was spring loaded continually having pressure on it, not to mention using an o-ring as a seal. You know the o-ring will eventually crack and can cause a leak or plumbing failure.
  21. joefrompa

    joefrompa New Member

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    By code, sharkbites are required to be accessible here. But they are up to code.
  22. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I dont use copper anymore,i just rear it out and cash it in at $3 a pound. Pex is the way to go ,no soldering ,risk of starting a fire ,its cheap except for the ring clamp pliers.
    Get one that does all sizes. I use it for hot water baseboard as well,the oxygen barrier 3/4 type.

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