Underground copper piping, explained.
Copper piping is commonly used for many applications, such as heating, cooling, and drainage for homes and business establishments. Since copper is a light metal, its handling and installation are easy and less complicated.
Copper is also fire resistant and is an ideal solution for homes and structures with fire-combustible materials. It does not contaminate water and the environment. Due to this, copper pipes are able to carry drinking water. Some copper pipes are also recyclable, making them an environment-friendly option.
With all its advantages, copper piping is widely popular. However, copper pipes installed underground can bring problems to homeowners.
Common problems with underground copper piping
Copper plumbing pipes are popular because of their benefits. They are durable, resistant to bacteria, and safer during natural disasters. However, underground copper pipes are also prone to problems that can be a big headache to homeowners.
Copper is prone to pitting corrosion.
Copper pipes are supposed to be resistant to corrosion. However, certain conditions promote copper corrosion, and when copper pipes corrode, it can result in small leaks.
Copper is metal, and metal corrodes when it oxidises once it comes in contact with other substances. The problem with corrosion is that it is not usually detected unless leaks make themselves apparent.
Copper can also corrode when it is exposed to certain types of soil. Other conditions that can make corrosion inevitable include faulty design, poor workmanship, stray direct currents (DC), and even the presence of AC or alternating currents.
Another condition that promotes corrosion is the presence of compacted and undisturbed soil beneath the pipes. Pipes laid above undisturbed soil will experience different oxygenation levels. Compacted soils beneath the pipe will be more oxygenated than the soil on top of it and on its sides. This difference can accelerate corrosion in copper pipes.
Copper pipes can develop scales.
Scale build-up is one of the big problems with copper pipes. Scale refers to the hardened coating found on the inside walls of copper pipes. The build-up of scales can affect the flow of water and waste. Over time, as the scales occupy more space from the diameter of the pipe, the problem becomes more apparent. At this point, homeowners will notice that their drains are acting up and becoming more sluggish. At worst, it can result in a clogged line.
So, what causes the scales to develop in pipes? Water contains minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Minerals are the main cause of scale development in copper pipes. Places with hard water are more prone to scale build-ups in their pipes.
The presence of debris and waste materials that come with the wastewater adds to the build-up. As the scale thickens, it blocks more of the passageway and result in clogs.
The use of low-quality copper pipes can bring more problems.
Due to its popularity, copper pipes are sprouting up everywhere. But unfortunately, many people fall victim to buying and using affordable yet low-quality copper pipes.
Quality is one of the biggest indicators of the performance of copper pipes. Faulty and defective copper pipes will soon experience problems around two years after installation. This is a far cry from everyone’s expectations that copper pipe installations will last more than two decades.
Old copper pipe installations are problematic.
Old copper pipes were produced differently than modern ones. Some older copper pipes were manufactured using hazardous materials such as lead.
Homes with copper piping that are 50 years old should consider getting a new set of underground pipes. These very old pipes can have residual materials, which can be dangerous and toxic to the household, especially if the lines are used for water supply.
What are the best practices for underground copper installations?
While underground copper installations can have their downsides, there are measures that plumbers and installers can take to avoid problems. The right installation method can help ensure a better working underground copper pipe with minimal issues.
Tube end preparation
Underground copper tubes can be connected to the main water lines or water metres through different joining methods like flared, compression, or packed joints.
To ensure that the copper lines will work effectively, installers must follow the guidelines below:
- The installer must ream the cut end of the copper pipe.
- Deburring the outside diameter of the copper pipe cut in the first step so that it does not damage the gasket in the joint.
- Straighten the ends of the copper tube to make leak-free and reliable joints.
Sleeving or wrapping
Wrapping the copper pipes before burying them underground provides them with a layer of protection. However, improper sleeving or wrapping of copper pipes can lead to more harm than good.
Sleeving or wrapping must only be done when necessary, such as in the presence of aggressive soil conditions. Installers must be extra careful to avoid failure in the copper lines.
The sleeve must be sealed water-tight to avoid infiltration of moisture. Sealing can be done through silicon caulk, hydraulic cement, an electrician’s duct seal, and electrometric clamps.
Trenchless installation of copper pipes can be done through impact moling. When employing impact moling, soil conditions of the path of the pipes must be evaluated. Testing must be done in areas with questionable soil conditions. This will ensure that proper precautions can be taken to avoid damage to the pipes.
The installer must also ensure that there are no sharp rocks or any underground obstacles along the path of the pipe installation. These obstacles can damage the pipes as they are pulled through the hole during installation.
Open trench installation
Underground pipes can be installed the old-school way – by making a cavity on the earth through excavation.
The installer must ensure that the copper pipes are surrounded by homogenous backfill. Uncompacted soil at the base of the pipe can result in faster corrosion of the pipes.
The ideal type of backfill includes washed pea gravel, limestone sand, washed sand, and small smooth river stone.
Hiring competent and trusted professionals can help ensure that the underground copper pipes are installed correctly and according to industry standards.
Are copper pipes safe for use?
With all the problems that can arise from underground copper pipes, it is normal for people to ask if it is safe to use.
Copper pipes are safe for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes and are widely used in Australia. However, it is true that when copper pipes corrode, they may release copper into the water running through them. And if it is drinking water, the corrosion can affect the quality and safety of the water.
While copper is normally consumed in food, high levels of copper consumption can result in health problems. Symptoms of high levels of copper include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pains, and headaches. Exposure to high levels of copper for long intervals can significantly affect the liver and even lead to death.
Water with high levels of copper has a metallic or bitter taste. Homeowners who are worried about copper contamination can have their water tested for confirmation.
To protect the safety of the members of the household, homeowners should flush their water outlets, especially after long periods of unuse. NSW Health also regulates the quality of drinking water from the tap. It continuously monitors for contamination that can cause diseases.
Copper pipes are safe in the event of a fire. Copper will not burn or melt, and it will not emit toxic fumes. Copper will not also absorb any fumes emitted by other burning materials. If the copper pipe carries drinking water, it means that the water remains clean.
Copper pipes that are in good condition are also impermeable. No contaminants should be able to go through its walls and mix with the water inside the copper pipe.
Consideration for residential underground pipes
Homeowners can help and do their share in ensuring the condition of their underground copper pipes. Here are some of the considerations that they should check.
- Make sure that there are no trees nearby.
Tree roots can invade and crush the underground copper pipes and cause damage. Avoid planting trees or any shrubs near where the pipes are laid out.
- Know the age of the pipes.
When buying pre-owned houses, it would be prudent to know how old the piping is. Knowing it beforehand allows the homeowner to take precautionary actions to prevent serious and catastrophic problems.
- Do not ignore signs of leaks.
Call a trusted plumber immediately once there are signs of leaks. Signs of leaks include, but are not limited to, high water bills, low water pressure, and blocked drains.
- Avoid throwing used oil in the drain.
Used oil can accumulate and cause blockage in the future. Throw used oil with the rest of the garbage and not on the sink.
- Know where the pipes are.
By knowing where the underground pipes are, homeowners can avoid activities that can damage them, such as digging.
- Regular maintenance is essential.
Do not wait until there is a serious problem to check the underground pipes. Regular check-ups and maintenance activities can help ensure that the pipes are always up and running.
Call Green Planet Plumbing for your copper pipe needs and concerns.
We are a family-owned and family-operated company that has been serving Newcastle, Maitland, Lake Macquarie, and the Hunter Valley for over a decade. We offer emergency and maintenance plumbing services for residential and commercial clients. Our team members are fully licensed for your safety and peace of mind. Call us now at (02) 4911 9402 for your plumbing concerns.