Copper Pipe Repair

I had a garden tap fitted last summer as the house didn’t have one. It runs from inside the garage/workshop (where I can isolate it and drain it down), through the wall and then along the side of the house. I opted against the insulation because the pipe was easily drained down. Or so I thought! The recent cold weather froze some of the residual water such that it burst rather dramatically, leaving quite a hole. It’s amazing how powerful freezing water is – the energy required to burst a copper pipe is quite considerable. If only pot holes were as easily fixed as this…

On closer inspection, the arrangement of the tap and the line in from the garage is such that there is an air trap and therefore it is not possible to drain all the water out. It is therefore no surprise that the pipe split and a miracle that it only broke in one location! I suspect there are several weak spots along the rest of it as a result. Time will tell.

I went to Wickes to buy some compression fittings as these are generally easier to deal with than soldering connections (which is what the original line is). I also picked up a pipe cutter for the 15 mm copper pipe. They cut very cleanly and helpfully roundover the cut ends, making it very easy for the olive and fitting to slip on.

After seeing how well it cut the offcut I had, I cut off one end after removing the adjacent two clips holding it to the wall, giving me the required flex.

The length of the break was obvious but the ice had kinked a lot of the pipe. I cut off about 6″ worth in the end. Some of the water trapped in the pipework started coming out more readily at this stage.

No need for flux or fancy brushes to clean the ends when the cut is this clean. I had a file to hand but never needed it.

Rather than just replace the broken pipe with a straight bit again, I thought it prudent to prevent the problem from arising in the future by installing a 15 mm equal tee piece, with a vertical “breather” pipe. I tried to use some of the 6″ offcut to create a stub end for the two compression fittings, which was fine after I had re-profiled one of the ends with pliers to get it circular enough to fit inside the fitting.

Side note: When I was at Wickes, they only had one compression fitting 15 mm equal tee piece. It had a hole in the bag and one nut was loose. It was immediately obvious someone had broken in to steal a single olive. Make sure you check what you’re buying as if you don’t have spares at home (I did which is why it didn’t bother me) then it’ll be another trip out.

On with the first olive.

And then the nut, tightening it up as much as possible without gouging the tee.

Repeat for the end cap.

I wanted a removable tap or some sort of valve on it to open to the air but they didn’t have any. When the line isn’t needed, I plan to leave the end cap off and drain the line down from both ends which is now possible thanks to this fix. When I need it, I will just put the end cap on and tighten it up again. I pointed it upwards rather than downwards as I didn’t want to damage the cables for the CCTV, nor do I want it draining down there. It also helps the air flow at this point by being upwards rather than downwards. Even if it freezes again and there’s water in the pipe (doubtful!), this fix, with the end cap off, will allow any freezing to occur out the end, rather than constraining it internally over the 10+ metres between taps.

Repeat the fitting process for the left side of the cut pipe (blurry pic)…

Fit the tee.

The pipe cutter is reasonably accurate but I still wanted to make sure there was enough overhang inside each fitting, so I put a spare offcut of 15 mm copper pipe inside and eyeballed the cut.

A dry fit showed about 1 mm of play between the fittings. Ideal.

On go the olives, nuts and a straight connector. The right free end was also non-circular but I was hoping the nut and straight connector would crush it into shape. Fortunately it did.

One last tighten of everything…

Quite a neat fix in the end! I’ll keep an eye out for a valve of some sort which would allow me to do away with the end cap, for which you need spanners to open/close each time. I’ll get around to cleaning the green off the wall/re-painting it soon. I also intend to tidy the wiring or hide them in a duct.

I checked the garden tap was closed and then charged the line. No leaks! Except the tap was on in the off position and turning it fully both ways did not stem the flow. After turning it off at the garage again, I took the head of the tap off to see if the recent icy weather had moved or damaged the washer inside. It had come almost completely off.

Inside it was clean and clear, no issues here so no new tap needed yet.

The washer re-seated easily and the tap opened and closed smoothly again after this. Re-charging the line gave no further problems so I opened the end cap on the tee and both taps at either end to drain it down fully.

I might still get some insulation for next time it is cold but it is quite unsightly. I would want to paint it or put it in some sort of external ducting if I did this.