Household water leaks can happen at any time, and not just in the winter. Copper piping first started to appear in the 1930’s replacing lead, nowadays, most houses use copper piping for their hot water, cold water and central heating systems, with up to 100 metres of copper piping in the average house.
Toilet cisterns and some taps are connected to the cold water mains supply. The hot water cylinder and cold water storage tank together with the central heating header tank are storage vessels connected to water supplies with the use of copper piping.
Many older terraced properties still have lead piping supplying the incoming mains water from the water board, however lead piping eventually wears away from the inside, even though we drink the water which flows through it!
When a pipe leaks, we usually find out when water comes through the ceiling and the panic is on to find the forgotten about and covered up stop cock that’s often in the cupboard under the sink, and then guess what now won’t turn! The brass stop cock has probably sat there quite happily for 30 years or more, and now its asked to actually do something, it won’t budge! The stop cock on the old lead on the cellar wall in the older terraces will also often not budge and might have sat in damp conditions for over 100 years.
Plumbing and Leaks – So if a leak occurs, what do you do?
The first thing you do is turn the stop cock off. Great, no more water coming into the house! But what about the gallons of water now sat in the pipework?
Turn on all hot and cold taps, which will help drain the water from the cold water pipework, the cold water storage tank/central heating header tank, and the hot water cylinder (houses with a combination boiler will not use a cylinder or header tank). Although this will not drain the central heating system.
Most leaks on copper piping are from a failed joint. Jointing is done either by heating solder which runs between the pipe and a fitting, to then form a joint when it cools or by use of a compression fitting in which a brass “olive” inside the fitting is physically compressed to make a seal.
However, steel nails or screws in a floorboard rubbing against a pipe as the board moves when people walk on it will eventually cause a leak, and it’s not unknown for an electrical cable to have been damaged by a floorboard nail or screw and short out and blow a hole in a copper pipe.
The good news is in that case; the water leak usually puts out any small fire the short may have caused under the floorboards.