What Is Electrolysis and Its Effect on Copper Water Pipes?

With various circumstances behind water main leaks and breaks, how do you determine the cause? Often, it comes down to a thorough inspection of the pipe, surrounding area, and a bit of history of other potential water main and pipe issues in the area. One common cause of water main breaks in NYC is electrolysis. What is electrolysis and its effects on copper water pipes? Take a look at the information below to learn more. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact our team of professional water main contractors at Harris Water Main and Sewer.

What Is Pipe Electrolysis?

Pipe electrolysis often occurs when a stray DC electrical current encounters a water line. In recent years, there have been reports of new fiber optic cable lines creating stray currents, which result in leaking water mains. Copper water mains are affected more frequently than other pipe materials. The stray electrical current eats away at the copper pipe, causing extreme damage—enough damage where an entire line replacement may be in order.

Example of eletrolysis

How Do You Spot Damage on Copper Water Pipes?

The effects of electrolysis on copper water pipes are easy to spot for a trained eye. There two distinguishing features that help a contractor determine if a DC current leak is the cause. The first is one or more green patches on the copper pipe. The patches can be small or spread out over the entire otherwise copper-toned pipe, turning it a light green. This is the first warning sign. The second is the presence of small holes, also called pitting. Once the damage from electrolysis begins, it does not take long to notice. Often, you’ll see a sudden increase in water usage due to the pitting. This may even cause a three-day DEP Cease and Desist notice to be issued.

Next Steps: How To Prevent Stray DC Currents From Damaging Your Pipes Again

Once the effects of electrolysis on your copper water pipe have been noted. It’s time for the broken water line to be replaced. However, you do not want to perform a normal install, as this could lead to repeat damage from the stray DC currents. So, how do you prevent electrolysis from damaging copper water pipes? One solution which has been proven to fight electrolysis is installing the copper pipe inside of plastic tubing. This additional layer works wonders in preventing further damage.

Copper pipe inside plastic tubing