How Long Do Copper Pipes Last

I recently noticed one of the copper pipes in my home developed a pinhole leak and wondered whether my copper pipes are nearing the end of their life. I decided to figure out how long copper pipes typically last, and here’s what I found.

As a general rule, copper pipes will last 70 to 80 years before they need replacing. However, some copper pipes have been known to last much longer and can be in working condition after 100 to 150 years. When copper pipes are nearing the end of their life, they will develop pinhole leaks.

I’m also interested in whether I should replace them with PVX/PEX pipes rather than copper pipes as I heard it’s cheaper and easier to install. I was curious about other warning signs that my copper plumbing needs to be replaced. 

So, in this article, I will cover everything you need to know about how long copper pipes last, how to know when they need to be replaced, and whether copper is still a good option for home plumbing.

When Should Copper Plumbing Be Replaced?

When your pipes burst or a small leak develops, it can soak into the walls or floor and create a costly repair. So, then how do you know when copper pipes are at risk of developing a leak, and when should they be replaced? Here’s the advice from expert plumbers.

Copper pipes should be replaced when they develop pinhole leaks. A pinhole leak is a tiny hole in the surface of the pipe where a thin jet of water sprays out of the pipe. It is easy and inexpensive to repair. However, it indicates that your pipes are nearing the end of their life.

A common thing that can happen with copper pipes is that a green coating called patina develops on the outside. When you first see it, you might be a bit alarmed and concerned—patina forms from a chemical reaction between the copper and the oxygen in the air.

It’s perfectly natural. The famous Statue of Liberty in New York has a copper coating and appears green like the outside copper pipes. It’s generally not advised to clean it off as it will expose a fresh and clean surface on the outside of your copper pipes.

When that happens, it promotes more of the green residue to form. Therefore, it’s best to leave it, and it doesn’t indicate whether your pipes need to be replaced. Interestingly, I found out the green residue is known as verdigris.

Pipes bent or broken

As you may know, if your pipes are bent or crimped due to an accident that happened to your house, for example, if a tree crashed into your house, then you’ll typically need to replace your copper pipes.

As metals like copper are bent, they lose their structural integrity but can still last for a long time. However, if your copper pipes are bent to the point where holes have formed, and water is leaking, you should replace them. 

Other than that, though, they should last for an incredibly long time. Once copper pipes need to be replaced, though, there are a few options to replace them. I’ll include the details of whether you should replace them with new copper pipes or use another material below.

Do Plumbers Still Use Copper Pipes?

Copper pipes are found in older homes and historic buildings, and copper pipes are very durable. However, I’m curious about whether plumbers still use copper or there is now a better material? Here’s what I found most plumbers agree about.

On the whole, copper pipes are still widely used by plumbers for minor repairs. Plumbers now commonly use PEX piping to repair large areas of copper with a shark bite fitting. Pex is a flexible pipe material that is cheaper and easier to install than copper. The downside is PEX doesn’t last as long as copper pipes.

Therefore, there are a few factors that influence which kind of pipes you use for your plumbing. Here’s what they are…

1. Existing home or new build

If you’re installing copper pipes in a new build, it typically makes more sense than if you’re installing them in an existing home. Copper pipes are rigid, and you can NOT easily bend them to fit in tight spaces such as behind and into walls.

Because of that, it’s typically challenging to install new copper plumbing in an existing house. And in an existing home/building, it’s best to replace them with PEX, a flexible, and therefore, much easier to install and get into tight spaces.

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2. Whether you’re keeping the home or are planning to move house

If you’re settled in one location and are planning to retire there, or are planning on keeping the property in your family, then it can be a good idea to install copper pipes. Whereas, if you know you’re going to sell the house or not keep it for that long, then PVX plumbing is typically better because it’s cheaper and easier to install.

3. Cost of installing copper is high

On the whole, installing PEX pipes costs around half the price of copper pipes. However, they last about half as long as copper pipes.

Therefore, they cost around the same to install. The significant difference is you won’t need to install replacement copper pipes as soon as you do PEX pipes. Copper plumbing will last 80 to 100 years, whereas PEX plumbing will last 25 to 40 years.

On a side note, some sources believe that PEX was invented around 1968, and before that, copper pipes were used almost exclusively for plumbing.

How Often Should Copper Pipes Be Replaced?

You may be curious about when you need to replace copper pipes and if there’s an ideal length of time copper pipes should last.

On the whole, you should replace copper pipes every 80 to 100 years. However, if they show pinhole leaks, then it’s a good indication you should replace at least a portion of the copper piping rather than replacing the entire plumbing.

In some cases, build-up inside the pipes can’t be cleared using tools. Therefore, you can remove the affected part by sawing either end of the copper pipe and then using special fasteners to secure a new section of copper pipe.

An early warning sign, though, is that you get pinhole leaks. It’s very inexpensive and easy to repair a pinhole leak. However, generally, once you repair one pinhole leak, more pinhole leaks will develop. And it is an indication that your copper pipes are almost completely worn out and need to be replaced with new copper pipes or PEX.

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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