Copper—it’s resilient, versatile, and widely used in plumbing systems. While that may be true, it’s not indestructible.
If your house was built utilizing copper pipes, you’ve probably experienced some leaks. Fixing a single leaky pipe can cost anywhere between $350 to $850—and that’s not accounting for extra costs like water damage, wall or flooring replacement, and clean-up. Fortunately, you can de-escalate the damage (and lower the price tag) with a little elbow grease and a repair sleeve.
Also called a repair clamp, a repair sleeve is a cheap, easy-to-install metal clasp used to temporarily patch a leak. They’re available at your everyday hardware store and take no more than 5 minutes to apply.
In this article, we’ll not only show you how to install a repair sleeve, but how to identify a leak, the supplies you’ll need, and other repair methods to try out for those wanting a more permanent fix.
Are Your Copper Pipes Leaking?
No wall, ceiling, or floorboard is impermeable. Water is notoriously good at seeping through any nook and cranny it can find—yet oftentimes, a pipe leak goes unnoticed until there’s significant damage.
Here’s how to identify a leak ahead of time:
- Dew-like water on the outside of the pipe: Condensation is normal, especially during the summer months. However, if this is a recent development, dew-like build-up on your pipes could signify a leak, perhaps a pinhole leak. Examine your pipes. Try to distinguish if the “dew” is isolated to one pipe or several, and look for potential breaches.
- Pipe discoloration (blue/green): As copper ages, it discolors and develops a blue-green tint. This may also be a sign of internal corrosion. Over time, copper corrodes and wears down, becoming vulnerable to leaks. Other conditions, such as faulty installation or high water turbulence, can hasten corrosion and create discoloration.
- Water has a bad/metallic taste and odor: If there are no visible signs of a leak, your other senses may tip you off. Like iron pipes, copper leaches and can leave a metallic taste or odor in your drinking water. This isn’t poisonous; running the water for several minutes usually dispels the smell and taste. However, if the smell/taste continues and affects all faucets in your house, you may have a major leak of some kind that’s affecting your water system. Definitely reach out to a professional before it can start to affect the quality and safety of your drinking water.
- High water bills: If you’ve noticed an abnormal spike in your water bills, you probably have a leak. An indicator of this kind could suggest a burst or a much bigger problem. Be sure to examine your pipes and call in an expert if you cannot locate the problem.
What You’ll Need to DIY Repair Your Copper Pipes
Let’s say you’ve noticed all the signs and definitely identified a leaking pipe. Now you’re looking for your next home improvement project because it might not be that big of an issue. A quick DIY fix is possible, but you’ll need some supplies first!
- Rag: A simple rag to wipe the pipe down will do just fine.
- High-grit sandpaper or steel wool: You need to clean and prepare the pipe before installing the repair sleeve. To do so, get high-grit sandpaper or steel wool. You can also use a wire brush or sand belt.
- Repair clamp/sleeve: A simple metal clasp, repair sleeves are temporary fixes, so be sure to get the right size. The size of your pipe (and the size of the clamp/sleeve you need) should be stamped on the outside of the pipe, though most household copper pipes are ½” to 1” in diameter. A pipe repair clamp/sleeve should also come with an internal rubber sleeve, which you will fasten over the leak before applying the metal sleeve.
- Any other tool/screws: In addition to the repair sleeve, you will also need a ratcheting wrench or Allen key, depending on the product’s installation guide. You may also need grease for the rubber sleeve (if indicated by the product description) and safety gear (gloves, goggles, etc.)
How to Repair Copper Pipes Using a Sleeve
The average homeowner may spend $5,000 or more on water damage repairs, including extraction, clean-up, and replacement. The cost is even higher for business owners who have to suspend opening hours due to plumbing problems. So why not work with your schedule rather than against it?
As a temporary fix, a pipe repair sleeve/clamp will stop a leak until a professional can examine the problem. The best part is that it’s cheap, quick, and easy to install.
Step 1: Turn off the water supply
Before you attempt any plumbing repairs, shut off your water supply line first. Once it’s off, mark the location of the leak with a waterproof marker. After which, drain the pipe and allow it to dry. Have someone assist you if you’re working in a tight or narrow space.
Step 2: Clean the affected area
Next, clean the pipe. Wipe it down with a rag, then use the high-grit sandpaper or steel wool to clean the damaged section until it’s nice and shiny. Make sure the pipe is free of water particles and debris, such as grime or dirt.
Step 3: Put clamp or sleeve in place
Once the pipe is dry and clean, prepare the clamp/sleeve. If packaged separately, wrap the inner rubber sleeve around the damaged area (use grease if required). Ensure the rubber sleeve is snug and evenly placed before attaching the repair clamp/sleeve. The clamp/sleeve should be aligned with the rubber sleeve, over the leak.
Step 4: Tighten the clamp/sleeve and seal the leak
Using a hex key or ratcheting wrench, tighten the clamp/sleeve. You may also screw the sleeve by hand, per product instruction. Tighten it sufficiently to seal the leak. Turn the water back on to test the seal.
Note: Heat expands copper. With hot water piping, wait 20 to 30 minutes and tighten the clamp/sleeve again.
Other Copper Pipe Repair Methods
Maybe a repair clamp doesn’t quite cut it. Maybe you’ve got tools on hand you can use instead—or perhaps you’re better off with a complete water line replacement. Either way, there are other methods you can use to patch a water pipe. Here’s how:
You can solder a leak shut until a plumber can repair it. Before you begin, turn off the main water line, drain the pipe, and clean the pipe with steel wool. Apply lead-free, water-soluble flux over the damaged section and slowly heat the area with the torch. Once it’s hot enough, apply just enough solder to cover the patch (about the diameter of the leak).
Be sure to keep an extinguisher nearby and use safety goggles and gloves.
Replace and repair
You may be better off replacing and repairing a damaged pipe with a repair coupling. After turning off and draining the water, use a pipe cutter to remove the damaged pipe. Clean with abrasive material and deburr the cut edges of the old piping with a deburrer. If you’re installing a coupling that requires solder, remember not to overdo it. If you’re using a solder-free coupling, such as sharkbite fittings, push to secure the connectors.
Adhesive pipe tape is another quick fix. As always, turn off the water, then drain and clean the pipe. Soak the tape in water before unrolling and wrapping the tape over the leak. Firmly secure and eliminate air bubbles by smoothing out the tape. The tape will harden within an hour.
Best method: Epoxy coating
If you want an epoxy-based solution that’s permanent, try ePIPE’s epoxy coating. With ePIPE’s epoxy coating, your pipes will get preferential treatment and stay leak-free for as long as the copper pipes hold—that’s a 50 to 70-year investment for new plumbing installations!
To add, you won’t have to close your business down during a busy weekend or open your home up for longer than you’d like—it only requires approximately two hours to cure. A quick process for a long-term solution, it’s completely safe for drinking water and keeps your pipes lead-free.
Copper Pipe FAQ
Do they need to be replaced?
Yes. Copper is durable, but it’s not invincible! Depending on the severity of a leak, corrosion, and/or age, your copper pipes may need to be replaced.
This could mean a small-scale to total plumbing overhaul. If you’re a potential homeowner, call an expert to gauge the condition of a house’s plumbing before purchasing.
How long do they last?
Copper is widely used in residential and commercial installations. Copper is durable and flexible. With proper care, residential copper plumbing can last up to 20 years, but you can see failures in as little as a few years.
Contact ePIPE for an Even Better Solution
Whatever method you decide to go with, remember: They’re all temporary repairs.
If you want a permanent solution and a way to get the most out of your copper pipes, our epoxy coating method is for you.
With our diverse clientele, special skill set, and years of experience, our certified, patented epoxy coating is assured to increase the lifespan of your copper piping.
Fast, easy, and far less destructive than most plumbing overhaul jobs, you’ll have your water turned back in a day in most cases. You won’t have to worry about clean-up or significant repairs to your house either—we only need a little space to work, and we’ll be out of your hair in no time!