Failed joint at shower head
I finished plumbing a new bath/shower about 3 months ago. Just recently, I discovered water leaking into the basement. After some sleuthing, it appears that the joint between the copper pipe and the brass dog-ear at the shower head has failed. I have 2 questions:
1. How did this happen? It was definately not leaking during the entire tiling process and for the first couple months of use.
2. Is there any way to fix this without ripping the entire wall apart and redoing the joint?
1) the brass mixing valve body eats heat, and from my experience it takes longer to heat the joint. Problem with that is you can overheat your flux in the process and not get good coverage when you solder the joint. If the leak showed up months later, perhaps you had an area that didn't get fully soldered, but had just enough to hold off the leak until your wall was sheetrocked.
2) I'm not aware of anything that you could do to stop the leak without re-soldering the joint. No matter what, you'll need access to the valve. I occasionally hear people suggesting re-heating the joint, but I would advise against it. Re-heat and remove the fittings. Replace them, or give them a good wire brushing. Liberally apply more flux and try it again.
The winged back elbow inside the wall is made from CAST brass. As such, there can be inclusions in the brass that result in a pinhole leak.
Can you open up the wall from the opposite side to access that elbow?
Now for the $64,000 question:
DID YOU PRESSURE TEST YOUR PLUMBING BEFORE BURYING THAT PLUMBING BEHIND YOUR WALLS?
Next time, solder a copper cap or Brasscraft R14 valve body onto the TYPE K (!!!) copper pipe that you will someday mount your tub spout onto. Then thread a teflon taped threaded plug into your shower elbow, but don't tighten it. Open your shower valve (both hot and cold) and allow full water pressure into your piping. When the threaded plug stops hissing and starts dripping, tighten the plug to stop the drip.
Now, close your Nibco S-211-Y water shut off valves and put a paper towel under each potential leakage site. That way, even if the leak is so small that only one drop falls on that paper towel during the entire test duration, it will still show on the paper towel because the paper texture will relax where it got wet and dry that way, revealing the presence of a leak.
A day or two later, unscrew that threaded plug from the winged back shower elbow, and if the pressure sprays water all over the place before it stops, you're OK to button the wall up. That proves the pressure in the piping remained high all throughout the test. If there was a leak, over the course of several days, the pressure would have dropped.
Unfortunately, it seems like your only options now are to open up the wall and fix the leak or never use the shower.
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