Introduction: How to Fix a Copper Pipe...WITHOUT Soldering

Picture of How to Fix a Copper Pipe...WITHOUT Soldering

Here’s the Story:

Last Sunday I got a frantic text from my wife…

…water was leaking from the kitchen ceiling!!!!!!!

What would you do in this situation?

If you don’t have an immediate answer you’re in luck.

Today you’ll see how to fix a copper pipe in less than 20 minutes.

Seriously, EVERY homeowner should know this skill.

Let’s dive in head first…

Step 1: Check for Sponginess

Picture of Check for Sponginess

How much does a plumber cost on Sunday?

You don’t want to find out…trust me.

So it’s good to know how to repair copper pipe leaks.

After today you’ll have the confidence to do this yourself.

Here are the supplies you need

  • SharkBite Couplings
  • SharkBite Depth Tool
  • AutoCut Copper Pipe Cutter
  • Ridgid No. 10 or 15 Tubing Cutter
  • Milwaukee PEX Tubing Cutter
  • Emery ClothDrywall SawPEX (optional)
  • Copper Pipe (Type L)
  • Sharpie Marker
  • Utility Knife

You don’t need all these tools.

But they’re nice to know about.

What’s the first step when assessing a water leak?

Unless there’s water gushing from the ceiling, leave the water on.

That way you can identify the location of the leaking pipe.

I know this sounds NUTS, but it helps spot the leak.

Feel the ceiling or wall for sponginess.

Step 2: Saw a Small Hole or Rectangle in Your Drywall

Picture of Saw a Small Hole or Rectangle in Your Drywall

Saw a small square or rectangle in your drywall ceiling.

Yah, this is scary but you have to do it — PLUS your drywall is ruined, so who cares, lol.

Step 3: Inspect for the Leaking Pipe

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Do your best Magnum PI impression and inspect for the leaking pipe.

Mustache is NOT optional.

Step 4: Finding Your Leak...

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Here’s what I found…

…a copper pipe pinhole leak, FUN TIMES

Step 5: Drain Water Lines

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Once you locate the pipe leak, shut the water off to the house.

Drain the water lines, I did this at our laundry tub.

Please excuse it’s grime.

I wasn’t expecting to do this tutorial on a Sunday night!!

Whew, dealing with a water leak can be stressful.

What’s the easiest way to repair a pipe leak?

Step 6: Can You Fix a Copper Pipe Leak Without Soldering?

Picture of Can You Fix a Copper Pipe Leak Without Soldering?

One word:

SharkBites.

Fortunately I had some spare 1/2 inch SharkBite couplings in my tool box.

These slide onto copper, PVC, or PEX pipes.
AND anyone can use them.

Start the repair by cutting out the leaky piece of pipe.

This is surprisingly cathartic (in the video I show you my favorite tool for doing this)

Step 7: Drain Copper Pipes at Cut

Picture of Drain Copper Pipes at Cut

It’s not a bad idea to hold a container under the pipe.

When you cut it, any extra water will drain – prior experience and harsh words from my wife have trained me to do this!

Step 8: Choosing New Copper Pipe

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If you use copper choose Type L because it’s thicker than Type M and will last longer.

Step 9: Debur Copper Pipe

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Debur your copper pipe with a pipe cutting tool or utility knife.

This is ULTRA important for SharkBites (or soldering if you choose to go that route).

Step 10: Smooth First 1 Inch

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Then smooth down the first 1 inch of copper pipe with emery cloth.

Step 11: Mark Up Copper Pipe

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SharkBite fittings are great because you simply push them onto pipes.

Seriously, I’m pretty sure my 11 year old daughter can use them.

You need to make sure they fit on the end of the pipe by 1 inch.

Use the SharkBite depth tool or a measuring tape to make your mark.

Step 12: Slide SharkBite Onto Pipe

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Push the SharkBite onto the pipe and make sure it’s flush with the mark.

Super easy.

Step 13: Using PEX

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Since we’ve had issues with copper I chose to use PEX as my replacement pipe.

Cut the end of the PEX square with a PEX tubing cutter, Milwaukee makes a good one.

(NOTE: PEX tube cutters make great cigar cutters, too)

Step 14: Ceiling Pipe Prep

Picture of Ceiling Pipe Prep

In the ceiling, I cut the copper 2 inches shy of the T fitting.

I had to debur and emery cloth this pipe as well.

Then I made my 1 inch mark for the SharkBite fitting.

There was slack in my copper line, so I decided to use two 1/2″ SharkBite couplings.

If you don’t have slack in your copper line you can use a SharkBite Slip Fitting.

The Slip Fitting can slide on the pipe and allow you to attach your replacement pipe without trouble.

Step 15: Measure for New Pipe

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Measure the distance between your two SharkBite couplings and add 2 inches onto your dimension.

I’m not good with measurements but this is easy.

Step 16: Putting Pipe Together

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This is the dimension for your new piece of pipe.

Once it’s cut square, debured, and emery clothed you simply push it into the two SharkBite couplings.

Step 17: Watch the Video Tutorial

The video tutorial has a few extra tips…

…PLUS a cool SURPRISE at the end

Would you use SharkBites to fix your pipe leak?

Tell me down in the comments.

Thanks for reading, watching, and making Home Repair Tutor an inspiring place to learn DIY.

Without you I wouldn’t get up at 4:00 am to write about pipe leaks!

See you in the comments,

Jeff

Comments

Gaspasser52 (author)2017-10-03

Very clear and useful video/instruction. I'm taking care of my 94yo mother's 60yo house, as well as mine,... I find my father made it his credo to fix any problems in the house based on the least costly, not necessarily the best or most stable method!!!!!

nehmo (author)2016-02-04

The main advice I'll give on sharkbite fittings, is that you can't use them twice. That is, don't experimentally put one together, and then take it apart, and then use in on the job. Pulling it apart ruins the teeth.

Regarding temporary fixes, cutting the pipe at the leak, sleeving both ends together with a rubber hose, and then using hose clamps on both ends.

Akachibisaru (author)nehmo2016-04-13

That's why you use the release tool when taking these fittings apart. They are definitely reuseable and more than once.

yydiy (author)Akachibisaru 2016-05-16

Good for some time its not a good idea to bury them in the wall cos of one upcoming sunday

jbrown47 (author)2016-02-04

I respect the "legit" repair you made, but I'd highly recommend a product by JB weld called "waterweld" for small leaks. (http://www.jbweld.com/products/waterweld-epoxy-putty). It permanent, foolproof, cures while wet, and requires no tools or skill. I've used it to repair several copper pipes and it works like a dream. Bonus - its only about $5.

Akachibisaru (author)jbrown472016-04-13

keep your fingers crossed. I tried water weld in a toilet tank. Yes i properly roughed up the surface with a carbide bit in my die grinder. It came off two days later. I am presently in the process of installing a new toilet on a non flat or leve concretel slab that the original toilet was installed on with no waste flange! I thought the tank was leaking. No it was seepage past the normall thickness beeswax seal the arse had used !

Akachibisaru (author)2016-04-13

I recently discovered Shark Bite connectorsat Home Depot, and a close cousin sold under the Pro Line name at my local hardware store. I like that SB includes the simple tool to depress the release collar at least it was included in the shutoff valve I bought at H.D. but at about 18 bucks it should. You could use a pair of slip joint pliers to release the gripper teeth in a pinch though. I normally sweat copper tubing. Though a thre way tee to an outside faucet and a third try and a 2nd degree burn made me a S.B. customer for life.

darkroommike (author)2016-03-16

Plus one on both Pex and Sharkbite, nice thing about Sharkbite (and their cousins) is the easy transitions between copper, CPVC, and Pex, one fitting works for all, although for PEX there's an insert you use, AND you can recover a Sharkbite fitting with a nifty little tool that pushes on the collet. Old home, I have a half dozen of these in my tool box just in case, as well as pieces of PEX, CPVC and copper.

jillofalltrades13 (author)2016-02-28

thanks for the videeo, now we can fix our water heater. the intake line to the tank developed a tiny split and has a slow leak onto the top of the heater. I tried for over an hr to get a plumber to come fix the leak (replace copper pipe going into top of tank), we live about 25 mi. outside of Charleston, SC and no one I called was interested in coming this far out for such a little job. Now I don't need them! My friend and I will do it our selves, That was Thursday, and on Saturday my 10 year old washing machine decided to retire in the middle of a load of my sons work clothes. So now I'm looking for a good used washing machine. Are you still giving away that emergency repair kit?. The way Murphys law has been plaguing us to this year so far, I 'll probably need to keep a repair kit of a dozen different kinds handy. Not problem, just chances to grow, learn and excell. RIGHT (I would have thought by now I could slow down a little, heck slow down a lot on "problem" solving, I m almost 70 and ready to play for a few years (haha) You video and write up was great I'll be watching more, cause I'm not really gonna slow way down until I can't move any more. Thanks, keep up the good job. Wendy used to be a "jilloalltrades".

Stan Gunno (author)2016-02-21

Normally we do call it Copper Type L Pipe. We referrer to the smaller flexible copper pipe as tubing. I agree you can only thread pipe, but as a general contractor if I asked for 1/2" Copper Type L tubing my supplier would look at me funny and ask if I wanted flexible tubing or 1/2" pipe. I enjoyed the fix tip.

kwhit190211 (author)2016-02-18

Well, for one thing It might be long, round & have a hole in it down the length of it, but it is not pipe! It's copper tubing!! And, for your information they do make copper pipe. Tubing you can't thread only pipe can be threaded.

j_uu (author)2016-02-17

As the leak is close to a light fitting i'd turn off the electric supply. You dont know what other junction boxes or other cabling and connections are up there that you may cut through or are wet.

phreakie (author)2016-02-17

For all you Europeans: there is a manufacturer called John Guest. They make the same kind of fittings, called Speedfit. In The Netherlands you can buy them at Hornbach. They will also connect (alu)PEX, copper and galvanized steel pipes.

wonstoneyoo made it! (author)2016-02-06

I had repaired a pin holed copper pipe with a sheet of soft plastic and a hose clamp as shown the photo.

The SharkBite was not available in Korea and my case would be limited for this kind of simple trouble.

Lovetra (author)2016-02-05

You are funny! HOWEVER, I learned about Sharkbites at Thanksgiving, when as the "Man-of-the-house", me, had to move Samsung 4 door fridge from location to see what the H----- was happening behind it. The something was this "STUPID" plastic tubing to ice maker leaking connected to a saddle-valve on copper tubing. NEVER again. One(1) shark bite connection with threaded pipe connection, a good shut off valve, a metal sleeved tubing to fridge connection. the tools you mention here and a little time. This was easy fix after the hard part of moving fridge by myself which we won't go into here. Loved you humor by the way!

wmwinkle (author)2016-02-04

The leak may be an indication of a larger problem. In Florida the high concentration of lime in the water causes a reaction in the copper that results in pin prick leaks. If you get one you will get another elsewhere. Use this temporary quick fix but be prepared for a major re-plumbing job.

TJLee089 (author)wmwinkle2016-02-05

As mentioned above, pinhole leaks are an indication of a bigger problem. In my local, low pH well water causes the problem, necessitating a neutralization system using limestone. I have both a neutralization system and CPVC piping in my 25+ year old home. Fixing a single leak is just the tip of the iceberg. However, a very good video.

Hopefully it doesn't get too bad.

A total gut and replacement is not in the budget

rring883 (author)2016-02-05

Thank you for posting this. I found it very informative and easy to understand, and especially liked the video. I had never heard of shark bites before. Your emergency kit sounds like a great idea to have on hand, and would definitely save a lot of money. I like trying to fix things myself, and this definitely sounds doable. Ruth :-)

Abner T (author)2016-02-05

BTW-- if you have a utility knife and a couple of sharp blades, it's better to cut the drywall with those. Cut out a piece of drywall by scoring, several times, the cut line with the utility knife. if you do it at an angle, you can reuse the piece and the drywall repair is easier. This presumes your drywall isn't ruined altogether.

Also, if you start feeling for spongy drywall and find some, it's best to use a screwdriver or some other small, pointed blade and punch a hole in the ceiling if you can identify any low spots where water might be building above. Let the water drain into a bucket until you can find/repair the leak. A folded towel on top of a piece of plywood supported by a 2 x 2 from the floor, directly where the sag was, will let the drywall dry out enough to hold its shape after a couple of days...

SherpaDoug (author)2016-02-04

For a pinhole leak like you have, and if the joist was not in the way, couldn't you just cut the pipe exactly at the pinhole leak, clean both ends, and use a single SharkBite slip-end fitting to rejoin the pipe? I have never used SharkBite fittings but it seems it ought to work and have less chance of future leaks.

Flyme2 (author)2016-02-04

This was great. I especially love the attention to detail concerning the procedures, tools, for those of us who are ladies trying to do stuff like this ourselves. I love the way you explain everything step by step and the pictures. Also I love the extra comments about the moustache required, lol, the cute kitty video and comment afterward. Thanks for posting this and I look forward to learning more such handy, great tips.

JohnD316 (author)2016-02-04

I have a bit of experience in plumbing over the years of building several homes and found your video very good. You explained it quite well for the novice which is the real way to teach. Always teach as though your students know nothing about the subject. I do not need the prize as I have all and more of the devices you suggest in the emergency kit. I have built all my homes with type L copper and have never to this date had a leak. However I recently changed my entire cottage from copper to PEX pipe and fittings. It was quick and easy as you have said about the PEX fittings and pipe. Good job.

PEX is the best. If we had to replace all the copper I'd choose PEX. Easy. Less expensive. And Fast. Technology in this case wins my vote.

jantjep (author)2016-02-04

Great instructable.

I admire you for making this instructables while at the same time you had a leaky pipe! I know wives that would not be that patient.

Next time a video how to fix your ceiling after a leak?;)

Yep, that's one of my next videos/tutorials.

If you need one right away I made this

https://youtu.be/jhfz2HNuL7s

Crest25 (author)2016-02-04

Jeff,

I applaud you for offering to give a homeowner or renter the tools to tackle a water leak like this. BUT, a couple of observations.

1. Using one SharkBite in an emergency (like 4am) might be okay but multiple SharkBites is a shark frenzy. The more connections one has the more potential leaks you have introduced. SharkBites are definitely for the unprofessional.

2. I would stick with one medium. If it is plastic, stay with plastic. If it is copper, stay with copper.

3. It is recommended that you bracket your work when you have a joint suspended above a ceiling like you have.

4. It is obvious the Tee junction is corroded and will be next to leak. This is probably from not wiping the flux from the soldered joint. Shame on the original plumber! While you have a section cut out, I would have replaced the "next to leak" area. It will cost you one extra part . . . a copper Tee fitting.

I applaud you for offering one method to choose to fix a problem.

Thanks for your suggestions and tips. I totally understand your position.

I did recognize the issue with the T fitting and will likely replace it as well.

Also, instead of the two sections of PEX, one section can be installed. When in an emergency situation it's best to get things back to normal. That was my number priority.

Thanks again :D

One chuck (author)2016-02-04

good work but did you discover why the pinhole delveloped? I suspect there is a dielectric issue caused by a mix of metals in your plumbing system. Can you show pictures how the drywall repair went?

In our area there has been an overwhelming increase of pinhole leaks. The plumbers I know have been recognizing the issue and speculate it's a change in chemicals at the water treatment plant. Which is a bit scary!!!

I'll be doing the drywall repair soon. That'll be another tutorial :D

In our area there has been an overwhelming increase of pinhole leaks. The plumbers I know have been recognizing the issue and speculate it's a change in chemicals at the water treatment plant. Which is a bit scary!!!

I'll be doing the drywall repair soon. That'll be another tutorial :D

In our area there has been an overwhelming increase of pinhole leaks. The plumbers I know have been recognizing the issue and speculate it's a change in chemicals at the water treatment plant. Which is a bit scary!!!

I'll be doing the drywall repair soon. That'll be another tutorial :D

dontno (author)2016-02-03

Nice Ible by the way, A lot of us don't have Shark Bites on hand especially on a Sunday night. Which just happens to be the time when houses get even with their owners. What I use as a quick fix until I can repair the leak properly is a bicycle inner tube, cut to size to cover the leak by an inch on each side, and secured with aligator clamps. ( screw on hose clamps). This quick fix has saved me from cursing and gnashing my teeth many times over the years.

HomeRepairTutor (author)dontno2016-02-04

Man that's cool, great suggestion with bicycle inner tube!!! Nothing like thinking outside the box.

gerdbeckmann (author)dontno2016-02-04

Recently a friend had radiators freeze and the 3/4" Copper supply had split , so I used 3/4" automobile heater core hose i had in shop about 1/2 longer on each end of longitudinal crack in copper and carefully slit heater hose along its length. Then fit it over with slit opposite crack and fitted three hose clamps by opening them all the way and staggering the tightening screws . Used Mikita set to 1/2 rachet tightening range to secure each one then finished by hand until i was sure very tight but didnt break hose clamp. Worked perfectly.

Awesome job!!! Your friend is one lucky person, thanks for sharing this repair tip.

bruce.moore.7 (author)2016-02-04

I have had leaks like this. Having the kit would save loads of time and water damage. I could use this, looking forward to being selected.

Thanks Bruce, the kit idea would come in handy for a lot of different things...there will definitely be more 'kit' giveaways of differing types :D

Ehlers_TV (author)2016-02-03

Pretty cool !

Glad you liked it

johng652 (author)2016-02-03

I think that this instructable is a must save. I have used shark bites and sweated copper. I have found that it is the pipe preparation that usually causes either repair to fail. The copper MUST be clean and deburred. After doing all that cutting and using the emery, wipe it down with a clean cloth. The PEX must also be cut square and clean/deburred. Take your time and do it right.

You're totally right, it's the prep that makes for good repairs. Copper, PEX, PVC...it all needs prep to work correctly.

rob2024 (author)2016-02-04

Copper piping and it's associated appliances must be earthed - if you insert a section of plastic pipe it must be bridged with an earthing strap

redrooster (author)rob20242016-02-04

If the copper piping isn't earthed wouldn't that be the cause of electrolysis and pinhole leaks in the first place?

Joe-Y (author)rob20242016-02-04

Yep, it's called bonding and important.

Sparky5150 (author)2016-02-03

Hey Jeff, awesome instructable! Good info, well explained and well filmed. I went on to check out your YouTube channel......loads of good stuff...subscribe!!

Awesome, thanks so much. Truly appreciate you checking out the YouTube channel.

doctormerlin (author)2016-02-03

Very well done! Although SharkBite fittings can be a bit pricey, they are the perfect fix if you can't solder, or don't want to.

They are certainly more expensive than a few copper fittings. But altogether are less expensive than a plumber's call on Sunday, that's for sure, lol.

gadgeteer123 (author)2016-02-04

coarse, not course --in reference to the abrasive. sorry, my bad.

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Bio: We love home improvement and enjoy sharing tips on YouTube and Home Repair Tutor. Everything we do is self taught. Over the last 12 years ... More »
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