Water Main Electrolysis from David Balkan on Vimeo.

Copper Pipe Electrolysis, the Copper Water Main Killer

Pipe electrolysis often happens when stray direct current (DC) electricity causes the pipe to decompose. However, copper pipe electrolysis can also potentially be caused by many modern appliances. Modern appliances tend to rely on solid state electronic systems. As an example, even a small hairdryer can create a tremendous amount of DC current. Because copper is an excellent conductor of electricity, it will attract any stray electrical current in the vicinity.

Copper Pipe Electrolysis Water Main Killer

Three year old K copper destroyed by electrolysis

Dissimilar metals that touch can also create this problem. That is why it is important to keep other unlike metals, such as galvanized pipe, from coming in contact with your copper pipes. Something as simple as a discarded nail in the soil, or in your home’s ductwork, can trigger electrolysis if they happen to touch your pipes! Copper pipe electrolysis also occurs with galvanized pipe, also known as galvanic action.

So, how will you know if your copper pipes are suffering from copper pipe electrolysis? Your copper pipe will turn green and start to show pitting. It does not take long for damage from copper pipe electrolysis to appear either. Within just a year, your newly installed pipes may start leaking.

Copper Pipe Electrolysis Damage

Copper removed from Brooklyn job site

Copper pipe electrolysis is a problem in certain areas of the city because of the DC electricity used by the MTA subway system. Leaking currents from the trains makes its way through the soil to nearby pipes. The alternating current (AC) used in homes and businesses does not pose the same threat to pipes. In some documented cases, damaged underground utility lines will also cause pipe electrolysis. In the case study below, a water main contractor actually created a condition of pipe electrolysis by performing a faulty installation.

A case of underground copper pipe electrolysis in Brooklyn

Pipe electrolysis can sometimes be a self-created issue, as a recent job in Brooklyn proved out.  The existing water service for this property had been replaced less than three years ago. Yet this relatively new copper water line was clearly a victim of pipe electrolysis. Unfortunately for the property owner, the previous water main contractor did not perform the work to code, and actually damaged underground electrical utility lines during their installation.

street leak

Defective main installed through a bank of ducts

Instead of carefully exposing underground utility lines, or installing the copper main at an appropriate depth, the line was installed 2′ deep. It was then forced through the electric ducts. By doing this, the protective transits for the ducts were damaged, and electricity was allowed to flow into the ground. Since the copper line was in close proximity, the electricity began to flow through the copper water main. Needless to say, K copper water tubing is not made to carry live electric current. Hence, in less than three years, the line was leaking and severely pitted from pipe electrolysis.

Brooklyn water line leak

Point of actual water line leak

The new installation performed by Balkan Sewer And Water Main Service was done over 2′ deeper than the previous installation, and at a depth in excess of 4′ deep. Which was well below the electric lines, and beyond the reach any stray current. This particular Brooklyn water main replacement became a primer in the importance of choosing the correct water main contractor to perform an installation. As an added peace of mind the client received an unconditional ten year guarantee.

Some solutions to prevent copper pipe electrolysis

Installing dielectric unions at the connecting points on your water supply line should provide the necessary break in continuity to protect them. However, dielectric unions, once installed, then prevent your water service line from acting as a ground for your electric service. In most cases a 2nd precaution must be taken during the water service line installation. This is typically done by installing the copper tubing inside of a larger diameter plastic tubing. Similar to copper electric wiring, it will insulate the K copper. Only instead of protecting you from electric shock, it protects the copper form exposure to electric current.

prevent pipe electrolysis

dielectric coupling

If you live in one of these vulnerable areas, it is important that you choose a Licensed Plumbing Contractor that understands copper pipe electrolysis: its causes, prevention, and treatment. It is most important that any contractor takes the proper and documented steps to prevent pipe electrolysis from reoccurring. Damage from pipe electrolysis is typically excluded from any guarantee, so hiring a trustworthy and knowledgeable professional is vitally important.

If you suspect that your copper pipes are suffering from copper pipe electrolysis, contact Joseph L. Balkan, Inc. We guarantee that your problem gets fixed and stays fixed.

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Balkan Plumbing is the largest sewer and water main company in NYC. For over 60 years, our family's 10 year guarantee* means we stand by our work long after the job is done. For sewer and water main issues throughout Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx contact Joseph L. Balkan, Inc. today for 24/7/365 service. Paul R. Balkan, NYC Licensed Master Plumber 01281

Ph: (718) 849-0900 | Espanol (718) 943-5720 | Fx: (718) 849-9570

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