No one wants to think about it, but a pipe can rupture at any time. Any time. If you're very lucky, it'll be during your local plumber's business hours and they will be able to fit you into their schedule - after-hours or emergency calls almost always cost more than regularly scheduled appointments. So what are your options if you're unlucky, and your pipes spring a leak at 2am on a weekend? One option is to attempt an emergency repair yourself. The following methods will hopefully provide a temporary repair to the leak, keep your water running, and allow you time to arrange for a plumber to come during business hours for a real fix.
First things first...
The first thing to do is shut off your water supply. Once this is done, turn on the faucet at the lowest point from the pipe to drain any remaining water, and relieve any pressure. Clean off the damaged area of pipe and wipe it dry.
Be extremely careful when handling the pipe, and when performing your short-term repairs - the pipe may be more damaged than it appears and could potentially collapse or break when handled.
Simple Short-Term Repair
For very small holes ("pinholes"), wrap electrical or duct tape around the pipe a few times, and keep it tight using hose clamps at both ends of the tape. This is a quick and very temporary fix - about long enough for you to get a hold of an emergency plumber. Depending on the hole and the condition of the pipe, it may look like this "fix" will hold up for a day or two - don't let yourself be fooled! Repair the pipe posthaste.
If the hole is a bigger one or you have a leak at a fitting joint, epoxy putty is a versatile and easy way to plug it. Sold in almost any home improvement store (and on our site), it usually comes in a two-part "stick" form, and is activated by kneading the two component materials together. After the section of pipe has been cleaned and dried, put on a pair of gloves, break off a suitably-sized chunk of the epoxy, and prepare it. Work the putty into the hole and around it, using a putty knife if necessary to guarantee smooth coverage. Let the epoxy cure according to the manufacturer's directions (usually under an hour). Once fully hardened, turn the water back on and check for leaks. Re-apply if necessary.
If you don't have any epoxy lying around, or the store is closed, you can use hose clamps to effect a temporary fix. This simple technique uses hose clamps and a patch of rubber – an old bicycle inner tube will work, as will a length of old garden hose – to patch the hole and create enough pressure to keep it from bursting. All you need to do is cut a large enough piece of rubber/inner tube/garden hose to cover the hole and an area a few inches around it. Depending on the size of the hole, you may be able to seal it off using only one clamp, or you may need one around each end and in between as necessary. Although superior to using tape and clamps, this method is another that should not be tested for long.
A product designed specifically for these situations is the pipe repair clamp. These consist of two metal plates, often include a rubber sheath, and function in the same basic way as the hose-clamp solution. Once the plates are placed over the hole and around the pipe, they are tightened together with screws. Some repair clamps can act as a permanent fix provided the rest of the pipe is in good condition. The pipe repair clamps we offer include a rubber sheath, and can function as either a temporary or longer-term repair depending on your situation.
Should neither of these options be available to you, but you do have a C-clamp, you're still in good shape. After cutting out a piece of rubber to cover the hole with, take a wood block and place it over the rubber: this will spread the pressure of the clamp, keeping it from collapsing the pipe. A second block can be used if you're worried that the walls of your pipe may be too thin to take the pressure. Tighten the clamp until contact is made with the wood blocks (or one wood block and pipe), then only about 1/4 or 1/2 turn further. Once the clamp is tightened, the leak should be sealed off. Turn the water on and check for leaks. If the 1/4 or 1/2 turn more doesn't stop the leak, you may need to reposition the patching material and try again.
The stopgap solutions mentioned above take advantage of items you may already have in your home. If you don't have these things handy, or would like to have something designed specifically for long-term pipe repair among your supplies, we offer a few different easy-to-use repair kits that will set your mind at ease.
Utilizing special resin-permeated fiberglass tape, these repair kits make quick work of emergency pipe repairs. Fully cured between 40 and 90 minutes depending on the kit, all you need to do is prepare the pipe surface, activate the tape with water, and follow the application instructions. Within minutes, these kits create a permanent repair without the use of tools. Keeping a few of these in your arsenal can help stave off the potential debacle of a late weekend-night pipe emergency, and the cost of a professional repair!
Another option for long-term repair on copper pipe is to use a Sharkbite fitting. Sharkbite fittings are a convenient solution when soldering and other options are impractical. For holes 2 inches or less, a single slip coupling can be used. Cut out the damaged section using a rotary pipe cutter to ensure a clean cut, or use a hacksaw if you do not have rotary pipe cutter. Keep in mind the cut edges must be smooth, round and free of burrs or shavings so that the coupling's o-ring will not be damaged. Sharkbite offers a specialized de-burring tool, which also doubles as a depth gauge for their fittings.
You'll need to make sure there's at least one inch of pipe available for either end of the coupling. Slide one end of the pipe as far as it will go into the "slip end" of the coupling. Using a properly-sized demount/disconnect clip or Sharkbit tongs (either of which applies pressure on the release collar, splaying the teeth inside the fitting) slide the other end of the coupling over the adjoining pipe.
If your hole or damaged section is larger than 2 inches, use two Sharkbite straight couplings with a piece of pipe in between. Again, you'll cut out the damaged section and de-burr the remaining ends. Slide a coupling over each end of cut pipe, then insert your replacement length of pipe. That's it - your pipe should be repaired!
While these tips can help avert flooding and water damage - in addition to saving you money - we do not recommend relying solely upon them. With the exception of the Pipe Repair Kits and Sharkbite Couplings, these are temporary emergency repairs, and you should always seek out the expertise of a professional to ensure there are no other problems present. Replacing the damaged section of pipe with new is almost always the best solution. It will allow a professional to check the cause of the leak and possibly prevent future leaks from deteriorating pipe and should always be your end-game.