It's a nightmare that most homeowners hope they only have to dream about and never experience—a pipe suddenly springs a leak and water starts spraying. Fortunately, even though your first thought is "What in the world do I do now," there are lots of ways to deal with this situation.
The main thing is, don't panic. First, turn off the water supply to the leaking pipe. This may be at the fixture supply valve in front of the leak or at the main water supply valve itself. Shutting off the water will stop the water flow and give you time to think. If the plumber can't get there for a couple of days or you don't have time to fix it yourself, you actually do have a number of options for a quick fix until the pipe can be properly repaired.
First, figure out where the leak is actually coming from. Is it a pinhole or has a pipe split? If it's a run of copper, here are some quick fixes—depending on what you have available.
Remember, none of these are permanent fixes, but they will allow you to turn the water back on until you can get the pipe fixed more permanently.
If it is a small enough hole, stick a pencil point into the hole and break it off, then wrap the pipe with electrician's tape. Smear some plumber's epoxy repair putty over the tape to make sure it doesn't leak. Let it set for half an hour and then turn the water back on.
You can also wrap a piece of rubber (like an old inner tube) around the pipe over the hole, and then use a C-clamp and small blocks of wood to clamp the rubber wrap tightly in place. If you have them, hose clamps around the rubber covering the hole could also be used to keep water from leaking.
Don't have any old rubber that can act as a repair? Cut a piece of garden hose long enough to cover the hole in the pipe plus two or three inches on each side. Slice the garden hose lengthwise and position it over the hole in the pipe. Once again, use hose clamps to keep it in place and stop water from leaking.
These fixes take a little more time and some planning, but once you're finished, you've got a permanent repair for your leaky pipe.
You can install a pipe clamp, a tool specifically designed to fix leaking pipes. These clamps have a rubber gasket attached permanently inside the clamp, which itself is designed to fit around the leaky pipe. Simply place the clamp over the hole and tighten the integral screws, holding it in place and making a permanent seal. Pipe clamps are available at home improvement stores.
Another alternative is to use flexible/braided metal tube with compression couples on each end to provide a permanent fix. A significant advantage of this repair is it will allow you to not only fix a small pinhole leak, but it can be used to fix a longer split pipe. Because the repair tubes are flexible and will bend, they can even be used to repair a leak in a pipe elbow. These metal tubes are available in a number of lengths so you should be able to fix your pipe wherever it's damaged.
To install the braided metal tube, you're going to have to cut out the damaged section of pipe, so be sure to drain all the water out of your pipes. Next, center the repair coupling against the damaged section of pipe and mark the water pipe one inch in from each end of the coupling. Cut out the damaged pipe at the marks, slide the compression couplings onto each end of the water pipe, and attach the repair coupling. Tighten the compression fittings and turn the water back on to check for leaks.
Any and all of the above quick fixes will get you back in business quickly if you ever need to deal with a leaky pipe. Anyone living in a home with copper pipes can be thankful that leaky pipes happen very seldom.
In older homes where galvanized pipes were used for plumbing, leaking pipes will unfortunately be much more common. Since galvanized pipes rust from the inside out, you can't tell what kind of condition they are in by looking at them. However, when one starts leaking, it's logical to expect that others won't be far behind. Laying in a good supply of pipe clamps might be a prudent investment.
Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with articles published in both the United States and Canada. He has written on a wide range of topics, but specializes in home maintenance and how to's.