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Old 04-14-2008, 10:58 AM   #1
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Copper Pipe Problems


My family has a cottage with no basement, so all of the water piping is exposed under the house. Every spring when I open up the cottage there is always a bad valve, a break at a joint or a split pipe etc (3 splits and a leaky shut off this past weekend). I don't understand why they split because the water is drained and blown out winter. The copper under there is old but I don't think that could be causing it, logically there has to be water in the pipes? Any suggestions or help would be appreciated. Would I still have the same problems if I switched over to plastic pipe?

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Old 04-14-2008, 11:24 AM   #2
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My family has a cottage with no basement, so all of the water piping is exposed under the house. Every spring when I open up the cottage there is always a bad valve, a break at a joint or a split pipe etc (3 splits and a leaky shut off this past weekend). I don't understand why they split because the water is drained and blown out winter. The copper under there is old but I don't think that could be causing it, logically there has to be water in the pipes? Any suggestions or help would be appreciated. Would I still have the same problems if I switched over to plastic pipe?
I would be really surprised if you could actually get all of the water out of the lines. There are always going to be places that the water can't flow out of even if you get a compressor on it, and unfortunately for you, those low places are all below the house. The best route i'd say is to try insulating the pipes first.

First of all, are you on a well? I'm assuming so since it's a cottage....

If you're on a well, i'm assuming you shut off the pump when you leave too?

If you're on city water, you'll always have pressure unless you shut off the main to the house.....

What type of shutoff valves do you have?
Sometimes old gate or globe valves over time have mineral deposits built up, and they seem to shut off, if you're checking at a faucet, but they will slowly allow pressure to build up in the system. Ball valves are so much nicer with stainless and teflon insides they should hold up a lot longer.

I'd like to tell you that the plastic will hold up a lot better, but code still requires us to insulate it. CPVC I find over time gets brittle anyway. Pex is supposedly resistant to splitting due to freeze. Apparently you can heat frozen spots with a heat gun and flow will resume. Unfortunately the fittings are still either hard plastic or brass, and i'm sure you'd find the same problems with joint failure if you had water in the fittings. First order of business would be to insulate and check on your shutoff to see if it's actually fully blocking the flow of water.

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Old 04-14-2008, 11:31 AM   #3
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JVC:

There really only is one or two explanations to end up with 3 splits in copper pipe/fittings this year (never mind previous years).

(1) water meter still installed and shutoff not working and water is trickling into pipes over time and feezing up (this is very unlikely as you should be removing the water meter to winterize a home completely)

OR

(2) Water is trapped in places and even when blown out with a compressor, water falls back and fills places that trap the water and pipes/fittings burst at freezing temps.

Fact is you need to evaluate the copper pipe system...look for any place that water can get trapped (as in pipe comes from above and then goes under joist but then runs back above to pick another sink up) or areas where the copper pipes pitch backwards.

Any area in question should have a boiler drain installed so can blow out to those low spots.

Best case would be to pipe hot/cold water system so all pipes pitch back to lowest spot with boiler drains.

If you have a system that is perfectly pitched and still having this issue, then not blowing lines down long enough. Not winterizing properly.

I would not run plastic pipe myself...but I am in Boston...and we have yet to really transition over to plastic water pipes...YET!! I would think plastic will crack even quicker if pipes freeze again.

Winterize properly, hang pipes (so no bellies in pipes)..look for places water can get trapped. And also note that sometimes a valve fails because it is old..not always because it froze!!

Good luck.
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Old 04-14-2008, 11:47 AM   #4
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Hi again...just read Alan's post...and Alan..I am afraid I disagree quite stongly with the suggestion that insulating pipes is a good idea here.

Insulating of pipes is done pimarily to reduce condensation from occurring at cold water pipes due to temperature differences between water and ambient room temperature.

Insulation is also used to keep heat from escaping from heat pipes as rapidly as it might without insulation, increasing efficiency and decreasing costs to heat area.

Insulation is also used around water pipes to keep them from freezing...BUT an electrical heat tape/wire must also be used....and then insulation wrapped around that.

The best example I have is to think of insulation as in a thermos...keeps cold thing cold, hot things hot. Therefore, if pipe gets cold...insulation keeps it cold. As pipe gets colder, insulation holds it to that colder temperature until finally...pipes burst!

Another example is pipe in wall with wall insulation (pipe in front of insulation)....temperature gradient across a 3.5 inch wall filled with insulation is say 50 degrees...so inside is 75 degrees, but outside wall is 25 degrees....if left to rest (no heat now)...that temperature gradient will eventually drop to 0 (i.e., 25 degrees inside, 25 degrees outside) and pipe will freeze.

This is how I have always understood insulation to work.

Anyway, I think the poster is best to get ALL water out of system by installing drains at low spots and hanging pipes correctly and blowing lines down with patience.

If he can't get to the pipes in question...he will when the pipe bursts..

Hey..feedback here Alan..what do you and the other guys here think...? I am an open minded guy and if I am wrong, someone please prove it!! I am never embarrassed to learn from anyone.

Thank you.

Last edited by Boston Plumber; 04-14-2008 at 11:48 AM. Reason: typing errors
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Old 04-14-2008, 11:56 AM   #5
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Copper Pipe Problems


Thanks for your feed back. You both confirmed my suspicions. As the system breaks I replace the valves with ball valves because I like them better. I know the system isn't pitched which is a big part of the problem.

Thanks again.
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Old 04-14-2008, 01:04 PM   #6
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Copper Pipe Problems


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Originally Posted by Boston Plumber View Post
Hi again...just read Alan's post...and Alan..I am afraid I disagree quite stongly with the suggestion that insulating pipes is a good idea here.

Insulating of pipes is done pimarily to reduce condensation from occurring at cold water pipes due to temperature differences between water and ambient room temperature.

Insulation is also used to keep heat from escaping from heat pipes as rapidly as it might without insulation, increasing efficiency and decreasing costs to heat area.

Insulation is also used around water pipes to keep them from freezing...BUT an electrical heat tape/wire must also be used....and then insulation wrapped around that.

The best example I have is to think of insulation as in a thermos...keeps cold thing cold, hot things hot. Therefore, if pipe gets cold...insulation keeps it cold. As pipe gets colder, insulation holds it to that colder temperature until finally...pipes burst!

Another example is pipe in wall with wall insulation (pipe in front of insulation)....temperature gradient across a 3.5 inch wall filled with insulation is say 50 degrees...so inside is 75 degrees, but outside wall is 25 degrees....if left to rest (no heat now)...that temperature gradient will eventually drop to 0 (i.e., 25 degrees inside, 25 degrees outside) and pipe will freeze.

This is how I have always understood insulation to work.

Anyway, I think the poster is best to get ALL water out of system by installing drains at low spots and hanging pipes correctly and blowing lines down with patience.

If he can't get to the pipes in question...he will when the pipe bursts..

Hey..feedback here Alan..what do you and the other guys here think...? I am an open minded guy and if I am wrong, someone please prove it!! I am never embarrassed to learn from anyone.

Thank you.
Willing to bet that YOU have been plumbing a lot longer than I have, and now that you mention it, I have seen those anti freeze 'dealy-bobbers' just once. However, wrapping the whole system with them would probably be costly..... I like your idea of grading the lines with boiler drains.
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Old 04-14-2008, 06:01 PM   #7
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Copper Pipe Problems


What are you using to blow the lines out? A household compressor isn't going to do it. A large autobody shop compressor might do it. You really need one of the 3 or 4 cylinder compressors that put out 120+cfm to properly winterize a system.
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Old 04-14-2008, 11:58 PM   #8
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Copper Pipe Problems


PEX (crosslinked polyethelyne) tubing is really resistant to breakage due to expansion of water in freezing temps. It will swell to something like three times its volume before failing. I did a little experiment with water filled tubing and some various brass fittings a couple years ago...Filled it totally full and froze it solid in the freezer with no leaks or failures. I like a nice copper installation as much as anyone, but I am sold on the stuff. It is sure cheaper to run these days as well. It would be a good choice for your cottage in my opinion. Combined with a good winterization, I doubt you'll have any problems unless a racoon chews on it.
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Old 04-15-2008, 01:07 PM   #9
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Copper Pipe Problems


Are the "cracked" pipes in different places year to year? I like the drain idea at low points, it makes great sense, but for that to work the assumption is that those points are regularly the problem. My initial assumption was that you had cracks in new places each year which negates the point of putting in a drain.

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