How to Fix a Leaky Pipe That You Don’t Really Need Water to Go Through Anyway

Here is the copper pipe after cleaning before attempting to install a new valve.
Here is the copper pipe after cleaning before attempting to install a new valve.

Sometimes you have to cancel plans, which make you very unhappy. Sometimes something happens that makes you very glad you were home.

This morning we were getting breakfast ready when Frank heard dripping. Uh oh… We opened the curtain behind our kitchen sink to check on the kitchen skylight because it needs to be replaced and often drips a bit. However, the water wasn’t coming from the outside, it was coming from the inside. Anyone who owns a home knows this is quite possibly the worst thing you can see and with the cold weather we’ve been having, the first thing I thought was, oh dear, we have a burst pipe.

Thankfully, the water in our house really doesn’t have far to go. The water enters from the front of the house, goes 14 feet to the kitchen, then goes up to the second floor bathroom, maybe another 15 feet, if that, and ends there. The trail is short but plumbing is inside the walls so you can’t exactly see it. Immediately, we turned the main water valve off.

Old houses are built with solid walls. Really old, really small houses were never meant to have anything in the walls but wall; no wires, no pipes, nadda. So when our house was outfitted with modern plumbing, they just sort of shoved it in wherever it would go. Plus, since it’s a rather small house, absolutely no space was spared. If anything goes wrong, which it inevitably will, it is very hard to maneuver to fix it. Thankfully the plumbing is in the modern part of the house and dates from 1979, so not very old at all. Still, plumbing does not last forever.

Our worst case scenario was a major break-point somewhere along the line that would require multiple walls coming down. This is bad. This is expensive. So we decided to check a known problematic area first.

In the back of our house we have a spigot. We tried it once and it nearly flooded the kitchen. So we’ve left it off for the seven years we’ve been in our house, not giving it much thought. Fixing it was in the long, long term plans. Except this morning, it looked exactly like what it looks like when you turn it on; unintended water pouring through the back wall. Except no one turned it on.

Thankfully, the problematic area is a shut-off valve we can easily get to via an existing hole in the wall in our office closet. And sure enough, the sucker was dripping away. Having identified the problem, we felt some relief. But what to do?

After some research, we decided on a few options:

  1. Replace the leaky valve with a new version of the same thing, needing heating and soldering to install.
  2. Replace with a new-fangled pressure closure thing, no soldering needed. We had great success with a similar fixture on our water heater.
  3. Cap the sucker and work on the spigot another day, preferably a warmer day, also needing soldering to install.

Supplies for the project aren’t too expensive, so we decided to get materials for all three. For this sort of repair, we needed a soldering kit, new valves, and a copper cap. Our process went like this:

  1. Rip open larger hole in closet wall. Put plastic container in to catch water. I am so glad no one will see this and am equally glad I can keep an eye on the problematic area going forward.
  2. Clean up plaster board mess.
  3. Get larger plastic container and bucket to catch water. Make a sleeve out of aluminum foil to divert water into container.
  4. Remove corroded valve. Use foil funnel to divert water into plastic container.
  5. Use steel wool to clean the copper pipe until it looks like copper again. Use Dremel tool to remove mineral plaque, not unlike a dentists cleaning teeth.
  6. Attempt to install new-fangled pressure closure valve. Test water, which still dripped. Space proved too tight to maneuver the valve in correctly.
  7. Resort to plan C, because this pipe is completely unnecessary and schmear flux (comes with solder kit) into copper cap thing and around end of pipe. Shove cap on pipe.
  8. Wrap area with aluminum foil to create a heat shield since to solder you need a propane torch to heat the pipe, cap, and solder. I once read that a person lit their porch on fire using a torch so I didn’t want to take any chances.
  9. Solder a nice seam around the end of the cap. This is a little tricky in a zero clearance space. Frank used a mirror to see the back of the pipe.
  10. Wait a few  minutes for the solder to cool and turn water back on.
  11. Lear at the pipe, daring it to leak.
Here is our aluminium heat shield. The soldering is all finished and holding well.
Here is our aluminium heat shield. The soldering is all finished and holding well.

Four hours later and we have no more water! Success! Still, I will be checking on it because I can, because there is a big hole in my closet, and because I am paranoid.

Even though we’re both getting over being sick, the feeling of accomplishment was so inspiring that we also:

  • Finally moved a chest of drawers from the office closet to the Pumpkin’s room because her current drawer set up is completely falling apart.
  • Set up shelves in the office closet that have been in the bathroom closet collecting dust for four years.
  • Dropped several items off at the thrift store.

While we were such busy beavers, our dinner cooked away in the crock pot so after all was done, we enjoyed a delicious hot meal. Oh crock pot, kitchen wonder that you are! Oh, that I would compose a sonnet and sing your praises, except I can’t sing because my voice is still recovering from being sick.

I was rather disappointed because I couldn’t do more social things this weekend and I missed singing with the Pumpkin this morning but the leaky valve was about to burst. Had we not been home and noticed the dripping, we might have come home to a fully flooded kitchen and damaged walls. No one likes to get sick but Frank and I figured perhaps it was all for a reason and are quite relived.







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