What Is A Copper Pipe Pinhole Leak?

image of copper pipes depicting copper plumbing pipe pinhole leaks

Copper pipes are among the most widely used plumbing solutions in residential structures. Their excellent availability and superior longevity make them compelling options. In fact, a typical copper pipe can last for over 20 years. However, homeowners will have to watch out for a copper pipe pinhole leak, which is known to plague this material. Rapid onset can occur under certain conditions. Read on to learn more about copper pipe pinhole leaks, common signs, and prevention strategies.

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What is a Copper Pipe Pinhole Leak?

Copper pipes tend to develop tiny holes that are about the size of a pin along their surfaces. The visible damage from the outside is generally less than an eighth of an inch. However, the actual damage inside is far greater due to years of corrosion. Therefore, pinhole leaks are compound issues: the loss of water through the gaps and the worsening internal plumbing system damage.

What Causes Copper Pipe Pinhole Leaks?

1. Internal Copper Pipe Pitting Corrosion

image of a burst copper pipe that started from a copper pinhole

This is responsible for majority of pinhole leaks. It is unclear what exactly triggers it but experts point to water chemistry as the most likely culprit. A combination of mineral content and pH level can bring about internal corrosion. Water turbulence in the form of high or unstable velocity can further accelerate the internal pitting corrosion.

2. Rusting Of Copper Pipe

Technically, only iron pipes are susceptible to rust. However, copper is not immune to oxidation and corrosion. What seems like rust on the outside of copper pipes may be attributed to exposure, age, or pitting. Copper corrosion is a slow process that can lead to pinhole leaks.

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3. Aging Copper Pipes

If they are well-maintained in residential settings, copper pipes can last between 20 and 50 years. In commercial structures, these may even remain in service two times longer. Most pinhole leaks emerge in older plumbing systems.

4. Exposure

Improper installation can hasten the emergence of pinhole leaks. For example, copper pipes that get into contact with rebar can succumb to galvanic corrosion. Proximity to soil and concrete could make the problem worse, such as in the case of underground pipe installations.


Copper Plumbing Pipe Pinholes: Signs To Look For

If you are experiencing several of the following phenomena at once, then you might have to check for pinhole leaks with the help of a plumber.

1. Pipe Discoloration

water dripping from a copper pipe

Pipes change color over time as they deteriorate. It is a slow process that is only visible near the end of their service life. Check for blue or green stains on the surface.

2. Rising Water Bills

If usage remains the same yet the water bill is rising, then you may be dealing with a leak. Monitor your utilities every month to check for strange fluctuations.

3. Low Water Pressure

Holes around the pipes reduce water pressure across the system. If you notice that the flow of water has gotten weaker, then you are probably dealing with leaks.

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4. Mold Growth

Mold thrives in wet and humid environments. Pinhole leaks keep the pipe exterior moist, encouraging the growth of mold and mildew.

5. Water Damage

Pinhole leaks may be difficult to find but homeowners can look for other signs such as water damage in surrounding materials.

6. Dripping Sounds

Turn off all the faucets around the house and listen closely to the sounds in the environment. You might not be able to see such tiny pinhole leaks but you may hear water droplets hitting the ground. If you want more reliable detection, contact a professional.


Preventing Copper Plumbing Pipe Pinhole Leaks

1. Water Softener

water softener salt

Hard water is filled with minerals that can destroy the protective coating inside the pipes. To avoid this, install a whole house water softener to alter the water’s pH level.

2. Pressure Monitoring

Excessive pressure may result in strong flow across the house but it also damages the pipes, particularly if the water is filled with heavy metals and large sediments. The water softener also helps in this regard. Homeowners should also monitor the pressure and keep it within a reasonable range.

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3. Professional Plumbing Pipe Installation

Sometimes pinhole leaks occur in an isolated area where pipes have been replaced. DIY installations are prone to errors. Make sure to leave this task to the professionals.

4. Uniform Plumbing

Leaks can also happen when different plumbing materials are used in a home. For retrofits and repairs, it’s best to stick to one type of material.

Fixing Pinhole Copper Leaks

plumber soldering copper pipe and plumbing repair

If pinholes leaks are found around the house, then call a plumber immediately for assistance. Professionals can recommend different solutions depending on the current situation. Below are some of the options that a plumber would consider when fixing pinhole copper pipe leaks:

1. External Solder

Minor leaks may be patched up through soldering. A compatible filler alloy is fused to the damaged area to prevent water from spilling out.

2. New Copper Pipe

Sometimes soldering is insufficient. The leaky pipe needs immediate replacement using another copper pipe. This may require the opening of floors, walls, or ceilings. Let experts handle this complex task.

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3. Alternative Materials

If the damaged pipe is in a non-ideal environment for copper, then it may be necessary to switch to another material. PVC pipes and similar plastics are popular replacements because of their low cost and excellent durability.

4. Full Plumbing Pipe Replacement

Copper pipes that are past the 20-year mark may be due for retirement. A plumber can check their condition and make recommendations. Although a full replacement is costly, it may be less expensive and less stressful than frequent repairs due to old leaky pipes.



Never underestimate pinhole leaks. These may be small but they can cause a lot of problems. They also point to greater damage inside the plumbing system, so homeowners need to take them seriously. Call a trusted plumber to survey the situation and formulate an appropriate solution.

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