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A Copper Mystery

HeatingHelpHeatingHelp Posts: 301
edited January 2019 in THE MAIN WALL

A Copper Mystery

Pinhole leaks are appearing in the copper tubing in homes on Long Island and no one knows why.

Read the full story here


  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 6,947
    My boss had some issues with cold water line in his house getting pinholes. The hot water was fine. This was 10 years ago. I did a little research and found that 1 possibility was too much flux when soldering. Hot water would dissolve the flux and wash it away hence they had no issues with the hot water piping. Cold water wont wash the flux away
  • GBartGBart Member Posts: 753
    edited April 2018
    Wow, weird you want weird you got, that is one hell of a mystery, obviously the water treatment is connected and newer copper is nowhere near the product of old copper, even old wire like 12/2 is nothing like todays 12/2, but the real weird part is how it's only the interior pipes.

    One thing this does prove is how important a credible EPA is now more than ever, this is an example of what happens when corporations are allowed to do whatever, yeah 100 years ago we didn't realize the importance of not dumping into the ground or oceans, etc etc, toxic is toxic period, it does not go away and it has caused millions of people to suffer.

    Now think about this, 3 animals on the planet get the most cancer, humans, cats and dogs, they share the same environment and drink the same water.
  • Gary SmithGary Smith Member Posts: 323
    Very interesting story, with conflicting symptoms. Cold water only pinholes in Dan's story, yet the town newspaper reported 70% of pinholes were in hot water lines.

    I recently had 6 pinhole leaks in the past year at a house at a NJ beach community--all on copper hot water lines, all original plumbing from 1982 construction. Asking around, including several plumbers indicates this is not a widespread happening in this community, so I don't think it is the municipal water. There was a grounding cable on the hot water line downstream of the water heater but not on the cold, perhaps it was stray electrical currents somehow. I became convinced it was the 13 year old electric water heater, probably never having the anode checked or replaced. So I replaced it, and put the ground cable on both hot and cold lines. We'll see if that was the cause over the next year. I still have the old water heater and would love to take out the anode, but it's so tight I can't get it unscrewed even with a 4 foot cheater on a six point socket wrench. I may try a few other suggestions to get the anode out before I scrap it.
  • GBartGBart Member Posts: 753
    Here's a q, in the story it says " Officials speculate that it may be the water treatments they’re using to deal with the contaminated plume under our houses. The stuff they were adding was making the water less alkaline and more acidic, so they’re now adding lime to the mix, which should bring the pH level back to where it was in the ‘80s when the copper was fine, but they say it will take quite some time before we’ll know if this works."

    OK what chemicals are added to water to control a toxic plume?? As far as I know you cannot do anything with toxins in the water but remove them and if that cannot be done the water is not potable. I suggest you take a water sample to an independent lab and have it analyzed for all toxins, chemicals and uranium and see what's in there.
  • MikeL_2MikeL_2 Member Posts: 247
    My best friend passed away recently; 58 years old & one of the hardest workers I've ever known. No one should have to suffer the way he did - two years of surgeries, scores of radiation & chemo treatments, bone marrow cleansing & transplants........Multiple Myeloma struck him and his sister. I don't think it's a coincidence that he grew up playing outdoors on & near an industrial site where toxins were used daily ............
  • LeonardLeonard Member Posts: 903
    edited April 2018
    My GUESS is volatile organic chemicals and radioisotopes while bad for people likely won't cause corrosion of the pipe. Think you would need inorganic ionics, like salts or chlorines at a high concentration to do that.

    Also I'm guessing copper pipe has too low resistance to allow significant voltage drops from current flowing in it to cause galvanic corrosion from that current.
  • GBartGBart Member Posts: 753
    edited May 2018
    Well we don't have any of the specifics, you don't know the current and you don't know what chemicals the water plant is adding to counter the poisons in the water, just like in Flint government officials sided to save money instead of protecting the people.

    Honestly we have a serious issue in this nation where brown nosers who know nothing are appointed to run agencies simply because they will be obedient and side with corporations, it's a cancer, and everything they do ends up costing the taxpayers dearly whether in dollars or disease and cancer. One thing I know about water treatment is that it is crucial to balance the water because you don't want it attacking any of your equipment or piping especially anything underground because it is expensive to repair/replace. That is why many underground pipes are over 100 years old, now here come these idiots changing the balance and like in Flint it has consequences.
  • solardavesolardave Member Posts: 2
    edited May 2018
    Thanks for your light hearted story, on an expensive situation. I'm doing a renovation in Washington DC and have used copper type L for all my cold water, whereas I have used CPVC double insulated for a recirculating hot supply. After reading this I have some concerns since I have installed some of the plumbing in some very inaccessible locations behind AC ducts where I would have to totally reroute if there was a problem later. I am also planing to install multiple water filters on the cold lines. I have also seen this pin hole problem occur in a house in Glen Eco Maryland a suburb of DC. There were more than a dozen pinholes in the copper and the problem had also been reported by neighboring houses. They were speculating at the time (mid 90s) that it was water hardness, which could make some since. If there is a lot of iron in the water it seams that might cause the corrosion. If the powers that be were to do their job they could start by researching other reports of this problem around the country, then testing the water to find similarities. Since there is so much speculation at this time, this would be a scientific way to narrow down the cause or multiple causes of this problem.
  • LanceLance Member Posts: 142
    One thing that has been determined regarding pinholes with copper pipe is knowing what was and what has changed. Water is amazing. We know so little about it. It was found that velocity of flow makes a difference in pipe protection. When slow enough a film like mucous would line the pipes. This would provide a barrier between the water and metal thereby preventing minerals from interacting with the water. This was discovered when it was realized in recirculation systems when too high a velocity occurred from oversizing the pumps. Also a slight ding in the outside of a pipe can create a dimple inside. Overtime the water flow will erode the copper just like a metal file. We have seen this in copper and plastic water service pipes buried underground. By allowing rocks to fall on pipe during backfill was the cause. Water naturally contains minerals. When lacking a balance of minerals it will seek them out in what it comes in contact with. Pure H2O will always eat away at metal. This is why Reverse osmose systems have to be made of plastic.
  • steamfittersteamfitter Member Posts: 161
    I have to agree with EBEBRATT-Ed. The Copper Development Association (CDA) warns against the misuse of soldering flux or paste.
    I have seen many folks glob the paste, in particular, on tubing and inside fittings. Then they use an oversized turbo-torch tip (because that's what's in the tool box) and send that, now liquid paste, into the horizontal runs where it may resolidify as it cools. Then they pump cold water in for a hydrostatic test which can possibly push these past particles down deeper into a horizontal line. And there it sits and begins to munch on the copper (regardless of the quality) because there is no hot water to flush it away.
    I am going to guess that the problem is more often related to poor workmanship than the chemistry of the water from the utility.
    I am in no way defending utility companies, municipalities or corporate negligence.
    I am currently involved with creating water quality certification classes in the UA and am aware of the many problems throughout the country. Specifically, lead in Flint, MI and legionella bacteria in NYC.
    Getting back to soldering paste, which seems to be used a lot more than flux, I believe there is a pretty good short video from "Ask this old house" on the internet. They discuss the issues of using too much paste or flux when soldering copper and the consequences.
  • hot_rodhot_rod Member Posts: 13,210
    If you search around the www you will see many articles on chloramines and the link to pinholes across the US. If nothing else in the system has changed, I would first suspect changes in the water treatments being used.

    My next article in PHC news is on this topic. I researched the work done at U of Michigan under Associate Professor Terese Olson. She and her team are experts on the topic of disinfection use. They seem to have a good handle on causes of failures, especially the Flint problems.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    The magic is in hydronics, and hydronics is in me
  • steamfittersteamfitter Member Posts: 161

    This is the "This Old House" video about soldering copper.
    Interesting info about corrosion!
  • steamfittersteamfitter Member Posts: 161

    The video link from This Old House about soldering and paste/flux
  • GBartGBart Member Posts: 753
    Awesome video, thanks for sharing that. I was never a huge fan of flux, a little dab will do ya, like a light coat, seen people slab it on it just seemed sloppy to me and then you have a mess to clean up, it just never seemed logical, I guess some think tons of it will help make a good solder joint, I always thought it would get in the way but I never thought about the acid remaining in the pipes.

    Where I am we have more wells than municipal water, I have seen issues with acidic water from wells, one was so bad it ate tankless coils, and what was weird was the old boiler had no issues, new install tankless fails, warranty, another failure, factory wanted water test, acidic, switched to indirect. Another thing is wells change over time.

    So I have to lean towards the water co, admitting they added things to the water around Bethpage and made it acidic to combat the chemical poisoning, which is crazy because no water co. would ever do that, they always balance the water to protect their hundreds of miles of pipe and equipment, it has nothing to so with you or could also be that many homes have some issues inside their pipes as illustrated in the video and this alteration by the water co. pushed them over the edge.
  • Sal SantamauraSal Santamaura Member Posts: 310
    hot rod said:

    If you search around the www you will see many articles on chloramines and the link to pinholes across the US. If nothing else in the system has changed, I would first suspect changes in the water treatments being used...

    Chloramines were the cause of copper pinholes that resulted in a PEX-A repipe of our entire southern California house two years ago. However, when at that time Dan brought up the subject of copper pipe problems in his area, I researched Bethpage and found that it had not transitioned to chloramine. Establishing a clear link would have been nice, but wasn't possible.
  • JackmartinJackmartin Member Posts: 155
    Scary stuff!
  • HenryHenry Member Posts: 963
    We had a town that was one of the first to ad flouride to the water. The houses were built in the late 70s and 80s. Many had imported type M copper. Numerous houses had pinholes. The town then required all copper pipes to be type L. They also modified the fluoride recipe. No more pinholes!
    1927steammAlan Welch
  • majikmattmajikmatt Member Posts: 4
    Well written, thanks for the humor regarding a difficult situation. Found the forum through Supply House.
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • unclejohnunclejohn Member Posts: 1,530
    I don't like to admit this but at age 64 I am reading the Bible for the first time, apparently when you go to Catholic school your supposed to have already done that but I didn't. I just got done with that part and now I'm on to Romans. And I live near Bethesda which is also mention in the good book. But here in the DC area we went through that whole pinhole leak thing about 10 years ago. I just got through doing a complete A/C and furnace install and two days later the home owner called and said he had a water leak and I said so call a plumber and he reminded me of my install and I said so and he said you installed a humidifier right, I said is it leaking and he said no but the pipe I connected it to was. This was the cold water line and it was only the cold water line in our area that was effected. So to make him happy I went back and found about 10 feet from the tap o line valve was a pin hole. To make him even happier I fixed it no charge. Then he called again a week later with another pin hole and then another. Then I realized that I had the same copper pipe in my house that he had in his. Same green markings and company on the pipe. So I cut out the section of pipe rather then just solder the hole shut like the last few times and sent the pipe to the company that was located I think outside Richmond Va. thinking I would never hear back from them ever. Low and behold. Not a letter but a package arrived about six weeks later with a lot a graphs and such and this was there bottom line. Plumber had over soldered pipe joints and in some cases rather then get down off their ladders to flux pipe they would poke the pipe into the flux container and while soldering the flux would run down inside the pipe and pool up. Then over the years eat it's way through. His house was in a large development. My house was built by a one and done builder. My house has no pin holes. Yet.
  • HaroldHarold Member Posts: 206
    Nothing comes to mind with the various proposed investigations. Electrical current could be a possibility.

    Water content could also be the villain for those drawing water from polluted ground water. It could be useful to get a full analysis of some of the water involved. Particularly for identifying harmful contents that can affect humans.

    There are companies out there that will take a sample and run it through a spectrographic test. This will be a very thorough analysis of water content. I believe they see organics, but elemental content quite complete.

    I believe the tests are around $150. Google a bit to find vendors. May or may not be useful; but what the hell. Can't hurt.
  • Intplm.Intplm. Member Posts: 1,135
    Many a time you walk in a basement thinking you have just passed through a cob web when you realize that it is one of those finer than fine pin hole leaks in a copper pipe.
    @unclejohn I enjoy hearing from someone with your experience. I am semiretired and plan on going for along time to come.
    Your' talk about over soldering I have never heard of before. I guess cause I have never done it. I Enjoy this forum and folks like you who contribute. Learning something new every day.
  • retiredguyretiredguy Member Posts: 214
    Sometime in the 1990's, The company I worked for for 35 years was contracted to replace all the cold water lines for a coin operated laundry. We replaced all the copper tubing from the water meter to the manifold feeding the washing machines. Tubing sizes ranged from 1" to 2" Also, as an add-on to the contract the customer wanted a new hot water storage tank since his was old and leaking. I was the head tech on the job and did all the soldering. There were hundreds of solder joints. I always did my job as if it was for my wife, so you know I took my time to do my best job. When we turned on the water to check for leaks, every solder joint leaked; not just some, every joint. My boss knew something was wrong since I rarely had a leaking solder joint. To make a long story shorter, the copper was defective. It had a hairline defect that when heat was applied to that area, an oily substance would emerge and ruin the solder joint. We contacted the supplier who ultimately knew about the defect but sold the stuff anyway. The manufacturer sent all new copper and paid for all the extra expenses incurred on that job. This may not be the same type leakage but I thought you would like to hear about this one.
  • archibald tuttlearchibald tuttle Member Posts: 682
    edited July 2019
    I had a thread some time back about pin holes in the copper hot water mains of a 7 apartment building. I can't find it (i'm not sure how to search for thread i started vs commented on which might help). But this discussion and some of the conditions highlighted by dissection in the This Old House segment are reminiscent.

    This house never had a steel tank water heater but I have to assume that maybe flecks of iron from cast iron mains in the street which I had guessed were also the source of iron oxide clogging aerators would settle in the horizontal mains after the water ran. i'm not sure how long they had to sit or perhaps there were areas that flow dynamics prevented them from being recarried to cause me grief in the aerators and left them on the bottom of these pipes but i had very specific 20 feet of 1 and 1/4" hot water main that developed these leaks (a few dozen spots) and they were all on the bottom of the pipe.

    I service other houses (mostly with smaller mains) in the area (within a few city blocks) that have the same urban water supply have had steel water tanks (which maybe provide an ironic settling catchment compared to smaller heat as you go water quantities, who knows) and never manifested anything like this. Don't know if the large mains maybe reduced flow speeds so they didn't scour . . . or who knows, but come to think of it, this house is uniquely problematic as to the aerator clogging - it also had a gravity keep warm that I suspect of being fairly stagnant and while the system is all copper so it couldn't itself have been the source of iron contamination I do wonder if that was a source of recirculated grunge or slow moving water. I discontinued it once we went to a modern gas on demand heater and i'm considering just going to home run pex to reduce the wait time for the hot water (or another thread sometime about reopening my recirc lines with a pump, and moving enough water to trigger the on demand, but I have to find some kind of kitchen/bath occupancy sensor or even a wifi push button or something that tenants could use to alert the system they wanted hot water on the upper floors to trigger a recirc cycle before they start doing dishes, or shower or . . .) but i digress as usual. I didn't saw the pipe open like Norm and the dudes, but here is picture showing the pitting come through to the outside.

  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,721
    @GBart - having worked for many years in the environmental enforcement and analysis business, I suggest -- please relax. There are some very fine people in the EPA and in the various State environmental agencies. There are also some very ill-informed people. Pretty much like everything else.

    The acceptable limits for most compounds (I avoid the word "toxins", by the way, as it is, technically, very specific, but in public speech tossed around completely irresponsibly) are set, generally, either at the limit of detection of the material in question (typically around one part in 10 million to 10 billion; some organics 10 trillion) or at a level for which there is a study (often not very well done) which shows a risk of cancer, if the substance is a carcinogen, of 1 additional case in a one billion people per year.

    I have seen very little evidence of industrial or business influence on the setting of contaminant levels in soils or water. However, I have seen a great deal of evidence of gross influence by various "environmental defender" groups. I wouldn't mind so much except that the resulting standards and all are such as to make a mockery of the science, which causes, in turn, a very cynical response.

    As an example -- there is nowhere in the Connecticut River valley geologic region in Connecticut and Massachusetts where the native soil (no contamination) will pass EPA and State standards for contamination. The same is true for most of Long Island, and has nothing to do with the activities of man; it's the geology of the region.

    I could go on and on... but won't, since everyone's mind is made up anyway.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
    archibald tuttle
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 6,947
    That's why I use nothing but "NOKRODE" Flux and not much of it
  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,663
    When I had a temperature mixing valve installed at the output of my indirect fired hot water heater so I could run it at 140F, I hired a plumber to install the valve and related piping (including two thermometers).

    When he was almost done, he turned the water on and there was a very slow dripping on the wall behind a new 90 degree elbow. He assumed he made a bad solder joint, although I watched him and he did nothing wrong. So he cleaned and dried things, and resoldered it. No improvement. He then replaced the elbow, and that fixed it. The goddamned new elbow had a pinhole leak built in. He swore at Chinese fittings.
  • HomerJSmithHomerJSmith Member Posts: 891
    edited July 2019
    I use Oatey #90 water soluble flux and I flush the sys.

    Copper pipe isn't 100% pure copper. It does have impurities. Most all that c pipe comes from Mexico.

    Water quality is important in hydronic sys. If you have white incrustations on the pin holes, you have a water quality issue.

    Water can have a whole range of PH.
  • archibald tuttlearchibald tuttle Member Posts: 682
    @Jamie hall ,

    preach brother. i'm with you all the way on that stuff. EPA is not where i look for what to worry about or the proper solutions. That is different than saying the mankind hasn't had a heavy footprint in some ways, but EPAs excessive and misguided precautions give more thoughtful concerns a bad name in my book.
  • MikeL_2MikeL_2 Member Posts: 247
    edited July 2019
    Jamie Hall,
    Are the millions of pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River, off the chart levels of mercury in the Housatonic River, and 20,000 lbs of toxins underground in the upstate region of NY known as the Love Canal the result of some geologic anomaly?
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,721
    MikeL_2 said:

    Jamie Hall,

    Are the millions of pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River, off the chart levels of mercury in the Housatonic River, and 20,000 lbs of toxins underground in the upstate region of NY known as the Love Canal the result of some geologic anomaly?

    No. Nor are they to what I was referring. What I was referring to is that the standards for determining if a site is, or is not, clean, are set -- quite arbitrarily -- sufficiently low that in many areas of the country (not just that specific one which I mentioned) the natural environment is well beyond the standards (in the Connecticut Valley, the problem is arsenic, which is naturally occurring in the rock).

    Some sites really are quite bad -- I made quite a good living for a while cleaning some of them up -- and really do need to be cleaned up. Some -- like the PCBs which you mention -- would be much safer if left alone, as the environmental damage from the cleanup will be/would be far worse than the contamination.

    No, the problem is that the standards are completely arbitrary, and the "science" backing them is often of very poor quality, and they don't allow for any science or engineering to be applied in determining whether a hazard exists or not, never mind what the best approach to mitigating the hazard might be.

    The result is that many of the standards are simply absurd, particularly for semivolatile organcs (a commonly cited example in the business is that if you take a head of broccoli, chop it up, mix it with the soil in your garden and then test it for the 8270 SV)C scan, you will have a Superfund cleanup site...). For that matter, even if the science behind the standards wasn't suspect, the methodology used to extrapolate the science to a cleanup standard is completely absurd (who do you know is going to eat a kilo of soil every day for 50 years? And then worry about a one in one million chance of cancer?)

    Environmental standards and cleanups, not to put too fine a point on it, are driven by fear, bad publicity, politics, and legal considerations. They have almost nothing to do with the environment, actual hazard to man or beast or plant, or logic.

    I really shouldn't complain. My company, and the lawyers with whom we were associated, made a very good income off of the whole business. In one or two instances, we may actually have done some good for the environment. In many others, the cure was worse than the disease, but the regulators and general public were happy, so...
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • retiredguyretiredguy Member Posts: 214
    This may not be the same issue but many years ago, when working on a large Sellers Domestic hot water unit the epoxy lining was being destroyed. I was told that the epoxy lining had about 7 layers of epoxy each with a different chemical make up so one water problem would not destroy more than 1 layer. In this instance, all 7 layers had been compromised and the water was now at work eating through the metal shell. After much back and forth phone calls, before cell phones, their engineering department determined that the problem was very hot and very soft water. I was told by their engineers that soft water above 140 F, was very aggressive and would destroy almost any material used with potable water. This unit was being used to heat the water for the building and the kitchen. The dish washer booster was off line and due to be replaced so the domestic storage temp was raised to 180F + to offset the broken dish washer booster. The domestic unit was now destroyed and had to be replaced when school closed for the summer.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,721
    Well it is sort of off topic, @retiredguy -- but a neat illustration of why I have been heard to say that very soft water and boilers are a poor combination!
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • dopey27177dopey27177 Member Posts: 285
    very well thought out and delivered. sorry to hear you have to live with someone else's boners.

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