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What is erosion and corrosion in copper pipes?

At Whywait Plumbing, we understand the importance of protecting your plumbing and infrastructure from damage caused by erosion and corrosion. These processes can cause significant damage to pipes, fittings, and other components, leading to costly repairs and even complete system failures. In this blog post, we will discuss the causes of erosion and corrosion and the steps you can take to prevent or mitigate these issues.

Erosion is the gradual wearing away of materials caused by the movement of water, air, or other natural elements. This can happen in various ways, including water flowing through pipes, air passing over metal surfaces, or even soil movement around underground pipes. Erosion can cause damage to the surface of pipes, fittings, and other components, making them more susceptible to leaks and other problems.

Conversely, corrosion is the gradual destruction of materials caused by chemical reactions to the environment. For example, this can happen when pipes and fittings are exposed to water containing dissolved oxygen, acids, or other harmful chemicals. As a result, corrosion can cause damage to the surface of pipes, fittings, and other components, making them more susceptible to leaks and other problems.

Temperature and high water pressure velocity are the leading causes of erosion and corrosion in your water pipes.

High velocity or high pressure over a long period can cause the internal pipe surface to corrode, eventually leading to pinholes in the pipes.

Your hot water pipes are even more susceptible to erosion and corrosion as they age. In commercial buildings or older homes without tempering valves, the circulating hot water temperature is usually over 60° C which, combined with high pressure, creates a high risk for erosion and corrosion.

Repercussions of eroding water pipes and the consequences

Erosion and corrosion in your hot and cold water reticulation pipes can have multiple consequences, resulting in costly plumbing rectification work. The most common issues will be:

  • High water bills with significant amounts of wasted water leaking through underground pipes.
  • Corroding pipes leads to reduced flow rates, especially if you have copper pipe or galvanised piping.
  • Failure of critical infrastructure, especially in commercial buildings.
  • Both erosion and corrosion weaken the structural integrity of pipes leading to leaks that cause damage to buildings structurally and to furniture and possessions.
  • High-pressure velocity and the breaking down of pipes internally can create failure in valves such as toilet cisterns and hot water systems.

 

Which water pipes are most at risk from erosion and corrosion?

With the right combination of temperature and high-pressure water velocity, all piping systems are at risk of erosion and corrosion. Listed below are pipe types and their risks.

  • Copper – copper piping is most at risk of internal and external erosion and corrosion. Externally mainly if laid in concrete or underground the pipe needs to be fully covered by impervious wrapping such as Denso tape. Copper is the most at risk pipe from high-pressure water velocity corroding the internal pipe surface.
  • Pex – pex piping has a much more significant internal and external tolerance to erosion and corrosion. As with all pipes, high-pressure water velocity can still damage the pipe internally over time.
  • Polyethylene or Poly Pipe – poly pipe is mainly used externally underground and, if installed correctly, has significant internal and external tolerance to erosion and corrosion. As with all pipes, high-pressure water velocity can still damage the pipe internally over time.
  • Stainless Steel – stainless steel piping is frequently used in commercial buildings as it has highly significant internal and external tolerance to erosion and corrosion. As with all pipes, high-pressure water velocity can still damage the pipe internally over time.
erosion and corrosion in copper pipes

The photo above is a pipe we removed and sent to Kembla for testing, as our client had suffered multiple leaks in both hot and cold pipes. They then cut and sectioned the copper pipe longitudinally to examine the internal surface in more detail. The interior surface was observed to have a well-formed black oxide layer partially covered in a layer of fine light brown silt. Multiple corrosion nodules were observed running the entire length of the cross-section. Most of these corrosion nodules are covered in fine brown silt. Brown silt was removed from several corrosion nodules to determine what was underneath. It was observed in many of the corrosion nodules the silt crust was hollow, with a void or air bubble immediately under the surface, under that a layer of corrosion product was sitting at the surface of the tube. The corrosion products were shown to be a loose mixture of black copper oxides and blue-green copper carbonate corrosion products.

Preventing erosion and corrosion in copper pipes

Preventing erosion and corrosion is essential to protecting your plumbing and infrastructure. One of the most effective ways to do this is by using materials that are resistant to the effects of erosion and corrosion. Stainless steel, for example, is highly resistant to corrosion and can be used in various applications. Other materials, such as plastics and copper, can also be used to protect against erosion and corrosion.

Another essential step in preventing erosion and corrosion is properly maintaining your plumbing and infrastructure. This includes regular inspections and repairs and proper cleaning and maintenance of pipes, fittings, and other components. In addition, it is essential to protect your plumbing and infrastructure adequately from the elements by using coatings and other protective measures.

It is also essential to be aware of any potential sources of erosion and corrosion in your area. This can include heavy rainfall, high water table, or even nearby construction projects. By understanding the specific risks in your area, you can take steps to mitigate or prevent damage caused by erosion and corrosion.

What do you need to do to prevent a high plumbing bill?

Individually, you cannot do much to protect your plumbing water pipe infrastructure. The critical step you should take is for Whywait Plumbing to undertake regular inspections and preventative maintenance. We need to ensure the following:

  • Your water pressure does not exceed 500 kPa by ensuring a fully functioning pressure reduction valve after your water meter. This eliminates the risks created by high-pressure water velocity.
  • Your hot water does not circulate above 50° C, requiring fully functioning tempering or thermostatic mixing valves. This eliminates the risk of internal erosion of pipe surfaces due to water temperatures over 60° C.

In conclusion, erosion and corrosion are serious issues that can cause significant damage to your plumbing water pipe reticulation infrastructure. However, using materials resistant to erosion and corrosion, correctly maintaining your plumbing and infrastructure, and being aware of potential sources of erosion and corrosion can help protect your property and avoid costly repairs. At Whywait Plumbing, we are committed to helping you protect your property from the effects of erosion and corrosion.

If you have any concerns about the condition of your plumbing and infrastructure, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation. We’re here to help and ensure your plumbing is in top shape.

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