Most homeowners have the skills and confidence to tackle minor plumbing problems, like dripping faucets and clogged drains. But even moderately experienced do-it-yourselfers hesitate when it comes to repairing leaky water-supply lines, especially if it involves soldering. And that's wise because it only takes one mistake to turn a small leak into a flash flood. Here, we'll show you how to make repairs to both copper and galzanized-iron pipes without using a soldering torch.
Millions of homes are plumbed with copper water-supply lines. The pipes and fittings are "sweated" together with solder, which is melted with a gas torch. Besides the obvious dangers of working with an open flame, it takes experience to make the hot solder spread uniformly so the sweated joint doesn't leak. And any moisture in the pipe will prevent a watertight seal.
A simple alternative to soldering when a leak occurs somewhere along a run of pipe (not at a fitting) is to cut out the damaged section and splice in a compression repair coupling. These cut-and-paste couplings are commonly available for 1/2- and 3/4-in.-dia. pipes in 6- and 12-in. lengths; prices range from $6 to $15. We used a 6-in. repair coupling from Prairie Home Products to fix a 1/2-in.-dia. copper pipe that had frozen and split open. Again, the beauty of this approach is that you can permanently repair the pipe -- without solder -- in less than 10 minutes.
Start by shutting off the water to the entire house at the meter or well-pump pressure tank. Drain the system by opening all the faucets on the lowest level. Next, remove the compression nut and ferrule (ring) from each end of the repair coupling. Hold the copper coupling up to the pipe, making sure it's centered on the damaged spot. Mark the pipe 1 in. in from each end of the coupling (photo 1). This overlap is necessary to allow the coupling to slip over the pipe ends.
Cut out the damaged pipe section with a hacksaw or tubing cutter. If space is limited, use a mini-tubing cutter (photo 2). Remove the burrs and any rough spots from the just-cut pipe ends with a strip of emery cloth or fine-grade sandpaper. Take the compression nuts and ferrules that you removed earlier from the coupling and slide them onto the pipe ends. Then slip the repair coupling into place (photo 3) and tighten the nuts with two wrenches (photo 4). Finally, turn the water back on and carefully check for any leaks.
Repair couplings work great on straight pipe sections, but they can't fix a leaky elbow fitting. For that job, you need a Quick-Fix Plumbing Connector, from LSP Specialty Products. The easy-to-install connector has a strong yet flexible braided-stainless-steel jacket that easily bends around corners. It's available for 1/2- and 3/4-in.-dia. pipes in 9- and 12-in. lengths; prices range from about $9 to $11. We used a 1/2-in.-dia. 5 9-in. connector to replace a 90-degree elbow that had sprung a leak.
First, turn off the water and drain the system, as described above. Remove the compression nut and ferrule from each end of the Quick-Fix connector. Hold the flexible pipe connector against the leaky elbow and mark the pipe approximately 1 in. in from each end (photo 1). Cut through the copper pipes with either a tubing cutter or hacksaw (photo 2). Smooth the pipe ends with a strip of emery cloth or fine-grade sandpaper (photo 3). Be sure to remove all burrs and rough spots or you won't be able to install the connector.
Slip a compression nut and ferrule onto each pipe (photo 4). If a ferrule doesn't easily slide on, use the emery cloth to smooth the pipe end again. Next, while backholding the fixed nut on the connector with one wrench, use a second wrench to tighten the compression nut (photo 5). Turn the water back on, wait a few minutes and check for leaks. If you do spot a leak, try tightening both nuts a little more.
Although galvanized-iron piping hasn't been widely used since the 1940s, it still exists in millions of homes. The problem with iron pipe is that it corrodes from the inside out, making it difficult to tell what condition it's in. The first sign of trouble often appears as a pinhole leak. If you don't patch the hole, it will grow larger without your being aware of it.
The quickest, easiest way to repair a pinhole leak is with a stainless-steel pipe repair clamp. It consists of steel band that's lined with a thick rubber gasket. When the clamp's bolt is tightened down, the gasket plugs the leak. Pipe repair clamps won't stop corrosion from spreading. Once you've repaired the leak, have a plumber check out the condition of all the pipes in the system.
Pipe repair clamps come in two lengths -- 3 and 6 in. -- for use on pipes ranging from 3/8 to 3 in. dia. However, the 1/2- and 3/4-in. clamps are the most common sizes by far, costing between $4 and $9.50. For our repair, we used a 1/2-in.-dia. 5 3-in. clamp from Prairie Home Products.
After shutting off the water and draining the system, use a putty knife to scrape away all rust, corrosion and dried gunk from the area around the pinhole leak (photo 1). Wipe the pipe clean with a cloth soaked in warm water, then dry the pipe. Next, spread open the clamp and slip it around the pipe (photo 2). Rotate the clamp so that its rubber gasket is centered over the pinhole. Pinch the clamp closed and press the clamp's bolt down between the prongs of the iron lug (that's the U-shaped fitting attached to the steel band). Use a wrench to tighten the nut on the bolt (photo 3). Turn the water back on and immediately check for leaks. Then check again once a day for the next few days to make sure that no water is leaking out from under the gasket.
Where to Find It
LSP Specialty Products
3689 Arrowhead Dr.
Carson City, NV 89706
Prairie Home Products
Peculiar, MO 64078