Water Leaks in Copper Pipe
Most water leaks that occur in copper pipe are sub-surface and buried in walls, under your floors or in your ceilings. The main cause for these pipes to leak is in fact the way these pipes tend to be buried.
Although this is not the only reason for copper pipes to leak it is the most common so let’s first look a little deeper in to this.
How does burying copper pipes cause them to leak?
Along the Costa del Sol it is common practice for your copper water pipes to be buried in your walls, under your floors, and some times in your ceilings. Without any lagging or protective sleeve.
The way they are buried means your copper pipes will often come into contact with cement or plaster (called yeso in Spain). Either from being encased in some form of cement or plaster mix when the surface was made good after the installation. Or from contact with the mortar joints of the brickwork or cement slab they are sitting in. This contact with cement or plaster can cause your pipes to leak.
Another Cause of water leaks in buried copper pipes is a result of thermal expansion. Both of these problems are covered below.
If your lucky you’re pipes may sit behind a partition, then the aforementioned is unlikely to be the cause of your leak. However, it is very unlikely to find pipes behind a partitioned wall in southern Spain.
Why does cement cause leaks in copper pipes?
When copper comes into contact with an alkali substance, such as cement or plaster, it can cause a chemical reaction that causes a form of corrosion.The chemical reaction between the alkali and copper that causes corrosion is not instantaneous. It can sometimes take many years before it corrodes the copper pipe enough to cause a water leak.
When this reaction corrodes the copper enough, you normally get what is referred to as a pinhole leak. We call it a pinhole leak because the size of it resembles a small pin prick. Generally, when one pinhole leak appears there will be more to follow, if there isn’t already.
To start with these pinhole leaks normally go unnoticed, so you can be unaware you even have a problem. What then begins happening is these unattended, small, pinhole leaks start weakening the structural strength of the copper. Causing larger leaks to appear. This is normally the point when you realise you have a problem, and call in a leak detection specialist.
Read this article on “how to see if you have an unknown water leak” such as unnoticed pinhole leaks in copper pipe.
What is thermal expansion and how can it cause my pipes to leak?
As the term it self states, it refers to something increasing, expanding in size with a change in temperature. As we know metal expands and contracts with changes in temperature. The more conductive the metal the greater this expansion/contraction is with changes in temperature.
Now, let’s refer back to the previous information on the way these pipes are buried without any protective sleeving. Imagine, picture in your mind, this copper pipe (a highly conductive metal) encased in cement or plaster, or close to brick work and sharp edges.
What do you think will happen to this pipe increasing and decreasing in size continuously, as the temperature of the pipe changes with water flowing through it?
It will cause abrasion, which will eventually work its way through the pipe causing it to leak. If the area surrounding the pipe is jagged and sharp, as the pipe expands it can even pierce straight through the pipe.