Copper water pipes developing pinhole leaks
This is very bad news indeed if you own your own home and have copper water pipes—which are in general excellent. Turns out, though, that copper pipes have a fatal flaw:
There has been chatter on my neighborhood-association listserv over the past eight years about pinhole leaks in copper household-water pipes. Several families have experienced them; others recounted horror stories about costly leaks that had suddenly plagued coworkers. What everyone has been asking is who’s at risk — and why?
As someone who’s been replacing old and rust-clogged galvanized basement pipes with copper over the past decade, these posts have riveted my attention. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech now offers some insights into the problem. And they aren’t reassuring.
His research finds that the problem can sometimes trace to good intentions on the part of water companies. Others to infected pipes. Yes, we’re talking germs here.
As for who’s at risk, it’s anyone with copper piping. And the dismal news: Alleviating vulnerability is not something homeowners can likely undertake. Moreover, once a few leaks develop in some section of pipe, it becomes reasonable to expect they’re in the process of developing elsewhere. If they riddle pipes buried in a wall, replacing them might require tearing out scads of sheetrock. And if prophylactic repairs aren’t undertaken promptly, global leaks might emerge, damaging walls all over and spurring the growth of disease-fostering mold.
A study published earlier this year by a Virginia Tech team led by Ewa Kleczyk found that in Maryland household experiencing these leaks, costs to fix the problem ranged from roughly $1,300 to more than $18,000. Another Virginia Tech analysis headed by Eric Sarver, which was published at the same time, estimates that nationally the costs of preventing and coping with pinhole leaks conservatively runs some $928 million a year. Owners of single-family homes bear the brunt of the costs. Approximately half of their costs go for plumbing repairs, another third for labor charges, and the rest to cover property damaged by leaks. …