Burst pipe: rescue tape?

23 November 2013

One of the things that we have developed to make plumbing repairs easier is rescue tape. As a concept, it is brilliant. Instead of cutting out and replacing a section of ruptured pipe, it is now possible to wrap the damaged area with rescue tape and have the pipe work fine for years to come. The technique is not, however, without limitations. There are definitely instances where a burst pipe should have homeowners reaching for a phone to call a qualified plumber instead of reaching for that handy roll of tape.

When is Rescue Tape a Good Option?

The ideal situation for a rescue tape fix is when a clean section of pipe springs a small leak. Such a leak could come from pressure caused by freezing or because something actually punctured the pipe. To be a good rescue tape candidate, the section of pipe must be accessible all the way around to allow the wrapping. Even if the instructions on the tape says it can stick to a wet surface, it is always a very good idea to ensure that the entire section of the pipe that will be wrapped is not only dry, but also clean.

When is Rescue Tape not a Good Option?

The first situation that is beyond the scope of rescue tape is when a pipe is corroded. This applies mostly to old copper lines. In cases like this, the burst was probably as much a product of the pipe walls weakening as excessive pressure. With badly corroded pipe, patching the leak is only a temporary measure because one of two things will likely happen: the original hole in the pipe will spread like a run in a pair of stockings or the pipe will fail elsewhere. In these cases, having a plumber repair the pipe is a far better option than perpetually chasing the leaks and temporarily stopping them.

The second job that is impossible for rescue tape is repairing a leak that occurs very close to a joint. The strength of any stick on patch lies in its ability to stick firmly enough to counteract that pressure it will encounter. Too close to a joint, the tape must be layered on surfaces that are uneven. This makes a far weaker repair. Having a plumber cut out and replace the entire section near the joint is the best way to guarantee that you get a lasting repair.

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