Copper has been used for plumbing since 2750 BCE, and examples of Egyptian water conduits are still in good condition today. Even with this durability, copper is a very soft metal and can be twisted and bent easily, making it prone to impact damage. This impact damage can cause leaks, and in the winter, freezing pipes can split and burst. Pipe joins can also develop leaks due to age. Thankfully, copper piping is very easy to repair.
Where to Begin
The first step in the pipe repair is to remove the affected portion. Use a pipe cutter to remove the damaged section. Depending on the size of the offending section, you have several options. If you are comfortable with soldering or sweating copper pipe to seal it, and less than a half inch of pipe needs removed, you can repair it with a pipe coupling. If the damaged section is longer, you can either use a longer piece of copper tubing called a sweat coupling, or you can replace the damaged portion with CPVC (Chlorinated PolyVinyl Chloride) piping.
Using CPVC to Repair It
One of the main advantages to using CPVC piping instead of copper is that it does not require soldering or using an open flame. Another advantage is that copper is a little more resistant to bending and is generally cheaper per linear foot to boot. There are two-sided compression fittings that snap onto copper and CPVC, making patching a section of line extremely simple.
Measure the piece of copper tubing that you have removed and cut a piece of CPVC according to the directions on the compression fitting (usually one eighth of an inch less for each fitting). Snap each piece into place and you are done. Elbows and valves can be replaced the same way, using CPVC cement to join the fittings to the straight sections.
Using Copper to Patch It
To preserve the copper piping on a break that is longer than a half inch, you will need a piece of sweat coupling that is fitted for the outside diameter of the pipe you are patching (usually half or three-fourths of an inch). Have it cut to about one-inch longer than the break in the original line. Clean the inside of the coupling with a wire brush and rough brush the first half of an inch of each pipe away from the section you removed. Use flux on all of the surfaces you just cleaned and slide the patch pipe over one side of the break and then over the other side. Use solder and a propane torch to completely fill the joints on both sides.
A leaky copper pipe can be a frustrating thing for a homeowner that seems like an expensive repair. With a free afternoon, however, that frustration can be easily alleviated. Alternatively, you can contact a local plumber like A Absolute Plumbing & Heating for help.