In order to find copper pipes in your walls, use an electronic stud finder with a metal detection feature. Slowly scan the wall starting from one corner and moving toward the other. When your stud finder indicates it has detected a metal object, mark both the left and right edge of the object. After scanning the entire wall, mark any metal objects that could be copper pipe runs. Then, use your stud finder to follow the path of these lines. By paying close attention to when your stud finder detects metal, you can follow trace the path of in-wall pipes.
Can a Stud Finder Detect Copper Pipes?
A good stud finder is capable of detecting copper pipes easily. Choose a model that has a metal detection feature and deep scanning mode. These two features allow you to scan deep enough to find pipes and identify metal installations in your wall.
- This stud finder is excellent for locating copper pipes in your wall.
- Choose an electronic stud finder that has a deep scan mode as well as metal detection.
- Good stud finders can detect electrical wires, which makes it easy to tell metal pipes apart from wiring.
- A magnetic stud finder is not capable of detecting copper pipes.
Don’t use a magnetic stud finder to attempt to detect copper pipes. Copper is a non-magnetic metal, so it won’t react to magnets. You must use a stud finder that is capable of detecting metal, regardless of the type.
How Close are Water Pipes to the Wall?
Water pipes are typically recessed 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) behind your drywall. This prevents inadvertent damage to both the drywall and your plumbing during installation and use. However, it can make copper pipes harder to detect. That’s why it’s essential to use a stud finder with a deep scanning mode. A scanning depth of 60 millimeters (2.36 inches) is adequate for detecting plumbing.
5 Steps to Trace Copper Pipes in Walls
You can easily trace the route of your copper plumbing using only a stud finder. However, it’s important to note that the steps below are intended to detect copper and other metal pipes. If you’re searching for non-metallic pipes, check out our guide on how to find plastic pipes in walls.
Use a High-Quality Stud Finder
When choosing a stud finder to help you detect copper pipes, it’s important to select a high-quality tool with the appropriate capabilities. Your stud finder should have the following features:
- Must be an electronic stud finder.
- Has metal detection, so you can tell pipes and conduits apart from wood studs.
- Includes deep scanning mode so it can detect pipes an inch or more behind drywall.
- Can detect electrical wires, so you can tell what is an electrical component vs. plumbing.
Although there are some expensive wall scanners and wall x-ray tools that provide even more pinpoint accuracy than a stud finder, these can cost as much as 10 times the price of a good electronic stud finder. So, we prefer to use this stud finder.
Scan the Wall from Left to Right
To locate pipes, start at the lower-left corner of the room, about 12 inches (30 cm) above the floor. Set your stud finder to “deep scan” mode. Then, slowly slide your stud finder along the wall until it detects an object. Use a pencil to mark the left side of the object. Then, continue scanning until the object is no longer detected. Mark the right side of the object.
- Set your stud finder to deep scanning mode.
- Begin scanning at the left corner of the room, 12 inches (30 cm) above floor level.
- Slowly scan from left to right.
- Mark both the left and right edges of each object you detect.
Repeat this process as you move from left to right along the wall. Mark each object as you go. With your wall fully mapped, you’ll be able to easily trace the path of copper pipes in the following steps.
Mark the Locations of Metal Objects
It’s essential to make note of what material each object you locate is made of. The stud finder we chose will tell you whether it has detected wood, metal, or a live electrical wire. Use a pencil to mark any metal in your walls with an “M.”
- Use a pencil to mark all areas where your stud finder detects metal.
- When searching for copper pipes, you can ignore all in-wall objects that the stud finder did not identify as metal.
Mark objects in pencil so you can erase the marks later. For now, it’s a great idea to have metal objects marked. You can ignore any items that aren’t marked with an “M.”
Identify Copper Pipe Runs
Once you have marked the metal you’ve detected in your wall, go back for a second pass, focused on these objects only. Scan the wall to the left and right of the object, as well as above and below. If the object’s path seems to lead toward a plumbing fixture such as a sink or shower, it’s likely to be a metal pipe run. If it’s not running towards any plumbing, it may be a metal electrical conduit.
- Scan the area around where you first detected metal to get an idea of the path of the pipe or conduit.
- Pipes will run towards plumbing fixtures (sinks, toilets, showers).
- Electrical conduit may not run toward plumbing fixtures.
- If your home is more than one story, in-wall plumbing may be running upwards to feed fixtures on the floor above.
Keep in mind that if you live in a multi-story home, copper pipes may be running up through your walls to supply the toilets, sinks, and showers in the rooms above. Keep the layout of your home in mind as you scan the walls. You may have in-wall plumbing in places you wouldn’t have expected.
Follow the Pipe’s Path With Your Stud Finder
Now that you have a good idea of which metal items in your wall are copper pipes, trace their path to determine exactly where they run. Begin at the location where you detected the metal, then attempt to follow it toward the closest plumbing fixture. Remember, pipes in your walls may turn, split, or pass through studs in your walls. Remain patient and place your stud finder back on the path whenever it loses the signal of the metal object.
- Trace from the point where you detected metal towards the nearest sink, shower, or toilet.
- If your stud finder stops detecting metal as your trace, slowly return it back to the last place where you did find metal, then try a different direction.
- Plumbing lines often have bends and intersections.
Mark the path of the pipe as you go so you’ll know where it is after you’re done tracing the path. Once you’ve tracked the copper pipe back to a sink, shower, or toilet, return to the starting point and trace it in the other direction to see where it leads. In just a few minutes you’ll be able to pinpoint the copper pipes in your wall.
How Do You Find a Copper Pipe in Your Wall?
In order to detect a copper pipe in your wall, you should:
- Use an electronic stud finder with deep scanning and metal detection capabilities.
- Set your stud finder to deep scan mode.
- Slide your stud finder along the wall from left to right, marking each object you detect.
- Clearly mark metal objects you detect.
- Trace metal objects toward plumbing fixtures to confirm they are pipe, not conduit.
- Mark the wall as you use your stud finder to follow the path of your in-wall pipes.
This system is the best way to find the exact location of copper pipes in your wall without using a wall scanner that costs hundreds of dollars. A good stud finder will make it easy to tell a metal pipe apart from a wall stud. From there, it just takes a little patience to find exactly what path your pipes follow.