Sunday, May 29, 2011

Copper to the Rescue

A few weeks ago Matt fixed the leaky pipes in the bathroom we’ve been remodeling. He learned some good tips about fixing leaks that I thought we should share. I asked him to write up a post about his solution because, well, I didn’t help at all.

Matt shares his trial and error and then we’ll sum up the tricks to make fixing your plumbing a bit easier (So stick with us. We both like to talk.)

Also, please bear with the harsh flash in the pics. I’m just thankful Matt took pictures at all!

Here’s Matt:

We were trying to do some routine plumbing work the other day and as usual, a small project turned into a big one.  The shutoff valves under the sink were not working correctly. They were constantly dripping water and we thought we would spend 10 bucks at the Home Depot and simply replace them. That, of course, was not the case. 

When I tried to re-attach the new shutoff valves, they would not create a waterproof seal.  The rust had ruined the threads on the galvanized pipe.  In some places along the threads the rusty pipe had actually crumbled away.

rusty galvanized pipes

Apparently, galvanized pipes have rust issues.  If you have galvanized pipes, chances are you will eventually have rust issues like the one above and will have to replace them in the future.  Galvanized pipe is not recommended in homes anymore.  When they fill up with rust they slow the flow of water, put rust and color in your drinking water, and eventually become weak and break. 
My immediate thought was to replace the rusted galvanized pipe sticking out of the wall.  But then, I had a nightmarish thought. 

If this pipe is rusted out and cannot create a seal, then the pipe it is connected to is probably rusted out and wont create a seal.  What if replacing the rusted pipe required me to replace the next pipe as well?  And then the next one?  With that logic, I thought we would have to re-plumb the entire house. 

Of course, we did not have to re-plumb the entire house.

Of course, I told my wife we had to re-plumb the entire house.

Back up a couple of weeks ago and we had a rust issue where the main shutoff valve to our house broke, and with the combination of both problems, I was afraid our entire plumbing system was full of rusty galvanized pipes. 
Simply put, the Mrs. was not about to replace our plumbing system.

I tried to convince my wife I could do it “real quick”, but she didn’t have my optimism.  Or, maybe she doesn’t like the idea of going to the bathroom at my parents’ house while I try to figure out how to re-plumb a house “real quick”.  I let her win that battle. 

So instead, we decided to do everything we could to make the waterproof seal between the shutoff valves and the rusted pipe.  We would tackle replacing the rusty pipes another day.

I tried triple wrapping the threads with Teflon tape.

wrap pipe with teflon tape

I tried using plumber’s paste.

plumbers sealant

I even tried using some heavy duty, waterproof, epoxy.  For those who don’t know, epoxy is like an industrial strength super glue. 

epoxy on pipes
Matt staged these pics after he opened up the wall, so we could show the process on my blog. Good husband award!

Still drips!  Now, I was convinced we were going to have to replace the galvanized pipe (and the rest of the plumbing system).  I used my “this is not what I had in mind for a Sunday” speech on Katie, but she wasn’t having it.  Then, just like that, she went off to the mall with her mom for some Mother’s Day girl time and I was left alone to deal with the torture device. 

To get a better look at the galvanized pipe, I had to get into the wall.  I may not have a lot of plumbing experience, but I have full confidence in my ability to tear open a wall. 

pipes in wall

What did I find ?  …  Copper! This meant that our house was not plumbed with rust-prone galvanized steel pipes and I no longer envisioned re-plumbing the entire house. I quickly texted my wife the cryptic “Hallelujah! Thank the lord its copper!”   


After a few Google searches, it was apparent the previous owner was probably in error when using the galvanized pipes.  For one, galvanized pipe has the aforementioned rust problem.  And second, copper and galvanized pipe have a corrosion problem when used in combination, called electrolysis (see the green part in the photo above?).

A lot of material on the web suggests that you can simply place a brass fitting between the two metals to prevent the corrosion problem.  Despite the brass fitting placed between the copper and galvanized pipe in our setting, there are still visual signs of the metals corroding.  A small brass fitting does not separate the metals at a great enough distance.

It is amazing how much the galvanized steel pipe had rusted but the brass fitting looked almost brand new.

clean threads of pipe

I used a wire brush to clean off the threads.

It was very promising to see the brass fitting in such good shape.  All that was needed were replacements for the rusted galvanized pipes, which we replaced with brass.  This was a natural choice because of the brass fitting already in place and because it won’t rust.  A trip to Home Depot and 10 bucks later, we had our replacement pipes. 

This time I felt confident a few wraps of Teflon tape and a pipe wrench was all that would be needed to make the seal. 

wrap teflon tape

This is about where I lost Matt. Turns out he doesn’t love blogging like I do.

After Matt reattached the new brass pipes, he had to detach the drain to replace the drywall.

detach drain

He then put the drywall in place and used Teflon tape to reattach the shutoff valves.

replace drywall by plumbing

It was nice because the drywall still moved a little so we could get our hand in the wall and make sure there were no drips on either side.

After a lot of trial and error, the fix was a success!

In summary, here are our tips that will make basic plumbing a little easier  (especially if your house is older, like our 1975 home):

1. If the pipes look corroded on the ends it could be the sign of a bigger problem. Its worth a little drywall repair to open up the wall and make sure everything else is good.

2. When connecting new pipe to existing ones, make sure the connection follows code. In our case, the brass fitting wasn’t nearly long enough to separate the copper and galvanized pipe (I think 3 inches is a good rule of thumb).

3. How you apply Teflon tape makes a difference. Start at the end of the pipe (but don’t have any hang over the edge), and wrap in the direction of the threads. Two or three layers is enough.

4. Once you hand-tighten the pipes, use a pipe wrench to go one half to one full rotation (but no more than that). This will make sure the connection is tight without tightening too much and damaging the threads.

5. Don’t tell your wife you can “just re-plumb the house in a day” and expect her not to look really, really worried.

Also, I can’t resist adding this picture. Look at Matt’s helper. Carl jumps on his back like that all the time.


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  1. This is such a great post! We came across plumbing problems of our own a few weeks ago and sure could of used your how-to guide. :) I'm bookmarking this for future reference in case we have problems when we start remodeling our kitchen soon. Thanks for sharing!I saw your link on DIY Showoff and I'm a new follower. :)


  2. Can I rent Matt? Dallas is so not into this stuff and I have a leaky (and rusty) faucet in my main bathtub. I think that I may not be as lucky as you with regard to the copper piping, however. The only thing that keeps me sane is knowing that I have homeowners insurance when all the pipes in my house bust open.

  3. You really did a great job on that problem. There's a lot of tips in the internet. Just google it, and your problem will be solved.

  4. I got post on Facebook "Google+Wikipedia=all work done" After having I found we can get information but can't solve the work unless we are not qualified to do that. But I really appreciate your work that I could realize through above images.

  5. Different elements combined together are more prone to corrosion. If I'm going to pick among those kinds of pipes, I do prefer to use the brass ones because it has high tolerance against chemical reaction.

  6. So the previous owners used galvanized, brass and copper pipes? It may have been the cause as to why your pipes corroded, as they aren't compatible with another. And yes, Matt should not have told you that he can "re-plumb the house in a day"; things like these should really be checked and assessed properly before going in with the fix.
    George Fryer @

  7. I really appreciate for your efforts you to put in this article, this is very informative and helpful. I really enjoyed reading this blog. Keep sharing and give us updates.

  8. I really enjoy reading your blog and waiting for your next update. I appreciate all the work you put into this site, helping out others with your services.

    Pewter Repair


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