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Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Posted by msbrandywinevalley (My Page) on
Thu, Jul 5, 12 at 15:18

My home is about 35 years old. Our water pipes are all copper. We have well water and the most recent water test shows a pH of 6.1. Okay -- as we learned last week, acidic water + copper pipes is a recipe for disaster. One of the upstairs pipes corroded to the point of developing a leak which ran down, through the first floor walls and into the ceiling of the finished basement, where water dripped through ceiling tiles onto the carpeting.

We had a "mitigation team" come in to dry the basement out and the leak has been fixed. There are now sections of ceilings and walls which have been removed to the studs.

So now we're in the question of what to do next. One option, very expensive, is to replace all of the copper piping. We're in the process of getting estimates for this work. IF we choose to do this, there's the question of PEX vs. CPVC. Neither of the plumbers we've called wants to do PEX because of "crimping problems." I'd love to hear some opinions of these two materials.

But even more importantly, I'd like to know if replacing all of the copper pipes is our only option. I am very uninformed about such things. My naive self wonders if it's possible to (1) use some kind of scope or detection device to determine the extent of the corrosion in the pipes, (2) repair the sections of pipe that are most likely to fail, and (3) get some kind of water treatment system that will neutralize the acid in our well water so as to prevent further erosion.

Finally, I'd like to know if there are any other options for dealing with what feels like a "ticking time bomb." I don't want to have the walls/ceilings repaired only to have to go through this again in the near future.

I'm feeling like I'm being pressured into making a decision quickly so the repairs can be made, and I appreciate whatever advice you can offer. Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

There's really no way to tell how damaged your plumbing may be. Your pipe that developed a leak...it could be just from the acidic water, or it could have been that plus a combination of installer error when the plumbing was first installed.

PEX versus CPVC? Personally I'd go with PEX, but I also prefer expansion instead of crimp fittings. FWIW, some plumbers may not be into PEX simply because of the tooling costs to buy the expansion or crimping tools. But that's another conversation.

There are ways to treat your acidic well water. There are acid neutralizers and soda ash pumps, for example. But again, that's not solving your existing problem of replacing the existing supply tubing.

If money is an issue, a prudent choice might be to replace what plumbing you can now see with PEX or CPVC or even new copper now that the walls are open.

Add a water treatment to eliminate future damage.

Then tackle future problems if and when they arise.

Sort of off topic...but your existing copper, it should have some sort of letter designation printed on the side of the tubing. The three most common tubing types are "K", "L", and "M", they refer to the wall thickness of the copper tubing. "K" is thickest and "M" is thinnest.

"L" is most commonly used for domestic water supply.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Eventually you WILL have to replace all of the copper. 35 years of acid eating into it means that there is nothing but future leaks ahead. Trying to repair what's there is a very short term bandaid for a gushing artery. Even if you were to start water treatment now, there is no cure for damaged pipes that exist behind your walls, waiting for that out of town trip or important social occasion that Murphy's Law dictates will be the time that they leak.

Our home's copper plumbing was replaced with CPVC only 20 years after it was constructed. It's pretty amazing to look at some of the residual copper stubs left (slab construction, another corrosion issue added to the problem)and to see the thinness of the walls and in some cases the pinholes that are in it. When it was redonek, the pipes were put into the attic this time. That was 20 years ago, and there have been zero problems with the pipes since then. (It didn't hurt that we changed from well water to a municipal water supply in that time frame though.)


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

In the hands of a skillful plumber, Pex is ideally suited for a retrofit. In fact, because of quality and pinhole leak problems becoming more common with copper pipe, many plumbers are moving away from copper pipe and prefer using Pex. It can also be less expensive. The material is cheaper than copper pipe and less labor is required as fewer fittings are required AND it can be bent.

If the plumbers you've spoken to are hesitant, you need to do more telephone work.

I think Pex is also considered a higher quality component than CPVC, which has a bit of a DIY reputation to some.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Ask yourself the question: If some of my copper pipes are deteriorated due to the water that has been flowing through them, why would I believe that part of the pipes are not deteriorated?
I would suggest replacing all of them.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Every time there is the mere mention of a pinhole leak where they have acidic water everyone goes into full panic mode as if all the remaining copper pipe in the house is going to crumble overnight...Baloney....

First off, according to studies done by the Copper Developement Association in conjunction with UCLA & the University of Arizona over 60% of all residential structures in the U.S.A. today have copper pipe, yet the study, which has been ongoing since the mid 1950's shows that there are less than 2000 instances of acid water pineholes in copper per year nationally and 95% of all those instances occured west of the Mississippi River. In fact,91% occured in arid regions of New Mexico, Arizona, S.Calif and Utah.

In fact, when we consider the top ten causes of pinholes in copper pipe, acidic water is #5.

The number one cause is installers and maintenance ppl who do not properly wipe the excess flux off the copper when soldering.

The number 2 cause is the use of under sized pipe, which results in excessive velocity of flow and pipe wall erosion. (Code limits the velocity of flow to 8fps in copper pipe)

The number 3 cause is the use of steel straps, steel clamps and steel wire hangers to support copper pipe.

The number 4 cause is the use of type M (thinwall copper). Type M was commonly used for all installation from the late 40's until the early 60's.

Number 5 is acidic water, however it must be noted that the acidic water must also have a high concentration of entrained carbon dioxide & oxygen and those conditions generally only occur in deep wells in arid regions.

What I found most interesting was that one of the leading causes is ppl who use steel coat hangers or steel wire to hang things from the copper pipe in their basements.

If a lead occurs such as was described by msbrandywine at the beginning of this discussion, you certainly need to fix the problem and if correcting the problem requires opening a wall it would be prudent to replace all the pipe that is available at that time, but I certainly would not want to put the homeowner in panic mode where they feel they have to sell their bass boat and drain their kids college fund to replumb the whole house immediately. It should be carefully explained that when one leak occurs the odds are it is indicating the system is nearing the end of its service life and they should consider replumbing ASAP, but, What is ASAP? Obviously the potential exists that another leak is forming while we speak but the odds of that are slim. I would suggest they begin reviewing thier budget and plan to have it done within 6 mos to a year and during that time they should not only set money aside for the project, they should begin discussing the problem with different plumbers. Keep in mind that plumbers have to schedule their jobs months in advance to insure they can keep all their employees busy year around. By discussing your project with plumbers you may find one who will give you a great price if you can schedule the work during a non-peak period.

Now here is a question that I feel is much more important. If there is anything in your water that is eating up your pipes, what is it doing to your body? I am a plumber, and yes, I would love to have the job replumbing your house because that is how I make my living, but in truth, I would rather you begin by installing a water treatment system to correct the problem. Not only will a treatment system help to prolong the life of your pipes until we can schedule your replumb, it will have an immediate effect on the health of everyone in the household.

Now let us discuss what kind of pipe to put in.

Per code your choices are, Brass pipe (labor intensive & absolutely cost prohibitive), Galvanized steel pipe (again labor intensive, cost prohibitive and without question- the shortest anticipated service life), Copper pipe types K (heavy wall),L (medium wall) & M (thin wall) in both hard drawn rigid lengths & annealed continuous roll, CPVC, PEX & PEX-AL-PEX.

Now it has been previously argued that PEX & PEX-AL-PEX are impervious to acid water problems, but that is not true. It is certainly true that the PEX tubing is impervious to acid water but, and here is a big BUT: Code requires that the PEX MUST remain inside the wall where it is not exposed to UV light and on the fixture end of every PEX run there is a copper stubout that is made of type L copper and subject to the same problems as what you might encounter in a total copper run. It is also argued that PEX will tolerate freezing without splitting the pipe like a copper pipe, and that is also true, but, and here again a big BUT that commonly rearing its head. If PEX is installed in a standard main & branch configuration generally a freeze will occur in a fitting. When the fitting freezes the fitting, PEX tubing & the crimp ring are expanded by the ice, but once the line thaws the fitting and PEX tubing shrink back to their normal size, but the crimp ring remains expanded and you end up with a loose joint that could and often does create a pinhole leak. No, in addition, while we are concerned about freezing in winter with PEX you have the year around problem of rodent damage. This is especially true in homes with a raised foundation in rural areas. It seems that rabbits, opossums, squirrelys, chipmonks, mice & rats all have a sweet tooth for vinyl plastic & PEX tubing.

In fact, if you opt not to put in a water treatment system the best choice would be CPVC.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

I'm in the 91% area you mention. People have been running away from copper pipe in recent years, mostly in favor of Pex. This comment is based on my discussions with high-end custom home builders, mid-range developers and plumbers I know.

Does it matter what's causing the increased frequency of pinhole leaks? I don't think so. Whether caused by underskilled installers or material flaws, a leak is a leak, the likelihood can be reduced by using different materials.

I also don't think that anyone will find claims from the Copper Development Association to be particularly persuasive. Your claims about UV, freezing and animal risks when using Pex are spurious and easily avoided.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

The CDA is an independant testing authority that was established in the mid 1930's and is supported by Copper Manufacturers, the U.S. Government and a very large number of Plumbers who subscribe to their bulletins.

There purpose is to review copper mining methods and the use of copper in all phases of industry. As a homeowner I doubt that you have ever heard of them, but rest assured, ppl who actually make a living with copper based products are very aware of them and hold thier reviews in very high regard.

Obviously you have your mind made up that PEX is the only answer, and its no skin of my knuckles either way..I can only offer you sound advice, if you don't care to use it, then thats on you.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Thanks to all who responded. I'm hearing a consensus that supports replacing the copper with something else, whether CPVC or PEX, and I'm hearing that although maybe it's not an urgent situation, I shouldn't procrastinate too long. If there's no difference if I do it now or 6 months from now, why not just do it now and get the mess cleaned up for good.

I'd love to simply install a water treatment system and believe that that will resolve the problem on a go-forward basis, but from the posts here, I think that's fairly naive.

It's hard for me to believe, as lazypup reports, that there are only "2000 instances of acid water pineholes in copper per year nationally and 95% of all those instances occured west of the Mississippi River." I'm east of the Mississippi and the two plumbers we've had here to give us estimates have both said they see this happening all the time. But the truth is, I have no way of knowing for sure just what caused this particular leak. In addition, I'm clueless as to why it occurred where it did, which is in an upstairs wall in back of a shower that rarely gets used.

By the way, both plumbers have now given us separate estimates for replacing the pipes with CPVC and PEX. In both cases, the PEX estimates are a little higher, but I think CPVC would require opening more wall area than PEX would, and the additional repair cost for the wallboard repair/replacement/painting would probably negate any savings on the CPVC plumbing. We're not convinced that PEX is the ONLY way to go -- in the end we need to consider the total cost of the job, and go with the material that will best serve our needs and our budget. Thanks, lazypup, for pointing out the concerns about the fittings when using PEX -- that absolutely needs to be taken into consideration.

I've decided to make lemonade out of these plumbing lemons and since the walls need to be at least partially removed, I might as well use this opportunity to remodel two bathrooms. Yes, this is turning out to be one very costly leak.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

In my community, two houses had at least three different instances each of pinholes in the copper piping within a year. Repair of the specific leak was the only action taken in each of those instances. For one of the homeowners, the action at the 4th leak was to replace all the piping with CPVC.
But these instances were not reported to any agency or association.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Whether the acidic water caused the pinholes or not will always be debated. Point is, the OP had ample opportunity to treat the water and didn't, so we'll never know.

Regardless of what type of pipe the OP chooses it is not only prudent but cost effective to incorporate water treatment.

Aside from the benefits of soft and PH neutral water like longer service life of plumbing, appliances, fixtures, and clothes there's the advantage of using less soap and detergent. Those benefits alone will offset the cost of correct water treatment over time. So it's kind of a pay me now or pay me later thing.

Re-plumbing and not correcting the water conditions may be a treating the symptom but not curing the disease decision.

Living on a well is more complicated and requires some maintenance where living on a water system does not. It is the home owner's responsibility to make the well water safe where making the water nice is good too.

The OP should get a comprehensive water test from an independent, certified lab to see what the water conditions are beyond the 6.1 pH and should also should be testing annually for bacteria and nitrates.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

"Living on a well is more complicated and requires some maintenance where living on a water system does not. It is the home owner's responsibility to make the well water safe.."

Excellent advice, very true. The fact that water runs out of the faucets and your toilets refill after flushing doesn't mean the job is done.

"Aside from the benefits of soft and PH neutral water like longer service life of plumbing, appliances, fixtures, and clothes there's the advantage of using less soap and detergent. Those benefits alone will offset the cost of correct water treatment over time."

Baloney, I don't believe it. What is the source of the information for these claims?

PS - I dislike using softened water, I don't like the "can't rinse off the soap" feeling. Some also think it should be plumbed to hot only because the elevated salt level isn't healthy to drink, but opinions are divided on this.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

"Baloney, I don't believe it. What is the source of the information for these claims?"

A common example is that water heaters last an average of 1.5 to 2.5 years around here. We're on a water system that runs from 25 gpg to 35 gpg hardness.

Replaced my WH in 1995 and still on the same one so that's 7 water heaters I haven't paid for at an average cost of $800 installed or around $5600. My softener cost me around $700 so I'm $4900 ahead... even considering that softener salt cost me about $60 a year... good enough cost offset for you? I haven't has to touch a faucet to fix a drip or open the toilet tank once since 1995.

Appliance repair people I know tell me that hard water kills tankless water heaters and front load washers and dishwashers. Oh yea, our dishwasher was installed in 1995 also and it hasn't skipped a beat and the ice maker in my 1995 fridge works great while my neighbors who don't have a softener don't have ice cubes but they do buy bottles and bottles and bottles and bottles of bottled water.

People tell me, and my wife agrees, that clothes last significantly longer when washed in soft water. I can tell you that clothes washed in soft water are markedly more comfortable to wear... far less stiff and scratchy.

"Some also think it should be plumbed to hot only because the elevated salt level isn't healthy to drink, but opinions are divided on this..."

They may think but they don't know what they don't know.

No ion exchange softener that is operating properly adds ANY salt to the softened water. Got it, that's ANY salt added. What is added are sodium or potassium ions not salt.

So, for you who think, how much sodium (not salt) is really added to soften water?

The formula for added sodium is 7.85 mg/l (about a quart) of softened water per grain per gallon of compensated hardness.

EXAMPLE 20 gpg * 7.85 = 157 mg of sodium added per liter of softened water, not salt.

How does this sodium content of softened water compare to sodium found in common foods?

The table demonstrates the usual range of sodium in common foods.

Food Amount Mg of Sodium

Ketchup 1 tablespoon 204
Milk 2 Cups 226
Frozen Peas 1/2 Cup 295
Bread 2 Slices 322
Corn Flakes 1 oz. 260
Parmesan Cheese 1 oz. 528
Tomato Juice 4 oz. 504
Tomato Soup 1 Cup 932
Chili 1 Cup 1194
Beef Broth 1 Cup 1152

Get a softener and stop eating tomato soup.

Softening only the hot water will give you hard water at every appliance and fixture where hot and cold are mixed. You'll pay for soft water and not get it.

Any water treatment pro who advocates softening only hot water is either stupid, a scam artist, or to install a softener correctly would be too difficult or too expensive for the homeowner and they don't want to lose a sale (see scam artist).

That you don't like the feel of soft water is a valid criticism for some and data suggests that there is an acclamation curve of about 6 weeks and getting used to using far less soap and detergent.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

Research shows that 95.42 percent of data and statistics cited by people in conversation (and especially on the internet) is either made up, used for obfuscation or an attempt to sound knowledgeable, and/or pure BS. You've proven that point.

A 2 year life for water heaters? Come on, that's ridiculous. If your area's water destroys water heaters and appliances, it would do the same for the plumbing and fittings,

My water is moderately hard from a municipal system. My two water heaters are 16 and 12 years old. I do no maintenance on them. I also have a dishwasher and a front loading washer, both of which are >10 years old and have had been trouble free. There's no "talk" in my neighborhood of the water causing premature equipment failures and few people have water treatment or softeners. Well water? That's a different story, I agree (as I said).

I accept your experience may be different, but it sounds like you're talking about EXTREME hard water. And if so, that shouldn't be the basis of advice to others in areas whose conditions you are unfamiliar with.

Use whatever words you want, water softeners put sodium or potassium into the water, the ingestion of either of which your doctor will tell you to limit.

As to your "data" about getting used to a water softener - we moved into house that had one, and removed it 6 months later. We couldn't stand it. The slippery feeling not only made showering unpleasant, but it made the shower floor dangerously slippery. You're welcome to have your water softener, it's not for me.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

"Research shows that 95.42 percent of data and statistics cited by people in conversation (and especially on the internet) is either made up, used for obfuscation or an attempt to sound knowledgeable, and/or pure BS. You've proven that point."

And you've proven my point... you think, but you don't know what you don't know.

"A 2 year life for water heaters? Come on, that's ridiculous. If your area's water destroys water heaters and appliances, it would do the same for the plumbing and fittings"

Hardness precipitates easier and faster out of hot water than cold so water heaters will be the first appliance to fail. I see you don't like it but that's chemistry and physics. People around here who don't have a softener and flush their water heaters every 6 months buy another one in 1.5 to 2.5 years. That same 35 gpg hardness eats faucet washers and cartridges in short order, deposits a layer of minerals in toilet tanks, kills ice makers and dishwashers.

"Use whatever words you want, water softeners put sodium or potassium into the water, the ingestion of either of which your doctor will tell you to limit"

Not whatever words I want... simple chemistry.

Under doctor's orders for a low sodium diet then using KCl as a softener regenerant will resolve that.

As the info I posted shows, the amount of sodium exchanged into 20gpg hard water to soften it is far less than the sodium in many common foods we all eat every day.

"As to your "data" about getting used to a water softener - we moved into house that had one, and removed it 6 months later. We couldn't stand it. The slippery feeling not only made showering unpleasant, but it made the shower floor dangerously slippery. You're welcome to have your water softener, it's not for me"

That anecdotal experience is yours and fine for you to base your decision on. My experience is far broader than yours and 35 gpg hardness, which I rate as ludicrously hard, is not close to the highest hardness I've seen in rural water systems and even higher hardness in well water.


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RE: Replace ALL of our copper pipes????

I was watching Ask This Old House last night where they were showing a system for resealing drain pipes by pushing essentially an epoxy-soaked sock down the pipe using air pressure. After an hour or so the epoxy hardens and any previous leaks or breaks are sealed off. They were using it to repair root-damaged drain lines that were underneath a concrete slab.

BUT they went on to say that the same tech can be used to reseal copper lines down to 1/2" by pushing a slug of epoxy up the pipe. It hardens on the inside and seals any pinhole leaks. This might be worth looking in to.


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