Houses built prior to 1950 overwhelmingly use copper pipes, and learning how to execute a copper pipe leak repair yourself can really help you extend the life of your plumbing. Pin hole leaks or leaks at the joints can be a problem for older copper plumbing, generating excessive water bills by a slow, sometimes imperceptible drip.
To spare the expense of hiring a plumber to fix these problems, many homeowners take on copper pipe leak repair themselves. With the proper tools and materials, even non-professionals can repair copper pipes using cost-effective solutions and gaining a sense of accomplishment from doing it themselves.
Methods of Copper Pipe Leak Repair
There are three principal methods for copper pipe leak repair. The first two are quick fixes that aren’t a long term solution. They involve sealing the leak without removing or replacing any part of the original plumbing, using either a pipe clamp or pipe tape. For more extensive leaks or leaks at the joint, repairs may involve removal and replacement of the damaged part.
Before undertaking any repair, identify and circle the leak with a waterproof marker, then drain the pipes fully. This takes the guesswork out and makes the repair much cleaner and less of a hassle.
Pipe Repair Clamp/Sleeve
If the leak is small and not from a damaged or inadequately soldered joint, a pipe repair clamp (also known as a pipe sleeve) can be an effective solution. It can also be the easiest, as it involves enclosing the damaged pipe in a sleeve of metal with a rubber lining. This method can be a safe and durable way to stop the leak without having to replace the pipe.
To ensure a successful repair, the clamp must be the proper size. Most household copper pipes have their size stamped on the pipe itself, usually 1/2″ or 3/4″. Find the correct size sleeve at a home improvement center or hardware store.
Using high-grit sandpaper or very fine steel wool, clean the area of the pipe to be repaired. Then place the clamp over the damaged area, with the center of the clamp covering the leak. Tighten the bolts of the clamp snugly to seat it in place, taking care not to over-tighten, which may further damage the pipe.
Turn the water back on and check for any drips to ensure that the clamp is tight and secure.
Another method for copper pipe leak repair that doesn’t involve pipe removal is adhesive pipe tape, also available at hardware stores or home improvement centers. Note that this is not the same as pipe thread tape, used only for joining threaded, non-copper pipes.
Drain all water from the pipe and clean the damaged area with sandpaper or steel wool. If the hole is larger than a pin-hole leak, use a plumber’s putty epoxy to seal the damage and allow it to dry before applying the tape.
Soak the repair tape in water to activate it, then carefully roll the tape around the damaged area. Start at least an inch from the leak, and wrap the tape securely around the pipe in overlapping layers. Continue to about an inch beyond the leak, and smooth out the tape to eliminate any air bubbles. The tape will harden in less than an hour.
Turn the water back on and check for any leaks.
Repair and Replacement
If the damaged area is extensive or involves a leaking joint, replacement is the best option. This process requires a pipe cutting tool, a round or “rat-tail” file, a new segment of replacement pipe (copper, CPVC, or Pex may be used), and any appropriate replacement joint or fitting.
Identify the problematic area, then drain the pipes. Use the pipe cutting tool to cut the pipe at least an inch from the damage on both sides of the pipe. Deburr the cut edges with a deburrer, usually included as part of the pipe cutting tool. File the edges of the pipe, inside and out, to ensure the new fittings will seal securely.
Use the length of removed pipe to measure the replacement length, install the new pipe. Copper pipe and copper fittings may be sweat-soldered in place. This process requires cleaning and sanding the ends of the pipes and the inside of new fittings thoroughly, applying soldering compound to both, then installing the new pipe and fittings. Once the pipes are connected, a propane or MP gas burner is used to heat the pipe so the solder can be applied.
For replacing pipe segments without soldering, push-connect fittings may be used. Several brands of push-connect type fittings are available at hardware stores. To use these, follow the same instructions regarding cleaning and sanding the pipes, then install the new pipe (which may be copper, CPVC or Pex) by applying the fittings and seating them in place by hand.
Gain Confidence, Save Money
Homeowners and renovators can gain confidence and learn new skills when they repair copper pipe leaks themselves. With the proper tools and materials, they can preserve the original integrity of the home and keep the water flowing while saving themselves hundreds of dollars in repair costs.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.