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A character of mine needs to cover up a murder inside an apartment without removing the body. The best solution I've come up with for this is faking a broken pipe that appears naturally eroded over time, and lighting it all up with a spark trigger.

Is this possible in real life? Or should I create a substance that can do such things?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. I have changed one of your tags, since I think the question is not really about explosions, but more about materials. If you do not agree, you can revert the edit. For the rest, take the tour and visit the help center to get a better understanding of our community. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Apr 28 '19 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ Gas leaks (which can kill on their own or just ignite given a spark) are common enough, but they don't tend to come from eroded pipes. A faulty wall heater or something like that is a lot more likely. If there was construction in the building or outside it recently, you can maybe fake a gas line cut. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Apr 28 '19 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Louise, personaly I liked the question, but it's not the best fit for our site. As L.Dutch sais, please refer to the help center, see you around. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Apr 28 '19 at 22:27
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Copper can be etched by an appropriate solution, like sulfuric acid/hydrogen peroxide, which is a solution commonly used to etch it in electronic application.

However, corrosion of copper pipes happens when they host water, not gas.

Erosion corrosion, also known as impingement damage, is the combined effect of corrosion and erosion caused by rapid flowing turbulent water. It is probably the second most common cause of copper tube wear/erosion.

The long life of copper when exposed to natural waters is a result of its thermodynamic stability, its high resistance to reacting with the environment, and the formation of insoluble corrosion products that insulate the metal from the environment. The corrosion rate of copper in most drinkable waters is less than 2.5 µm/year, at this rate a 15 mm tube with a wall thickness of 0.7 mm would last for about 280 years. In some soft waters the general corrosion rate may increase to 12.5 µm/year, but even at this rate it would take over 50 years to perforate the same tube.

But water is really hard to set on fire, since you mention a spark I think you mean that the pipe carries gas. The only way to damage a gas pipe in a building is a mechanical damage which tears it open. Usually it happens during earthquakes.

Summarizing: you can corrode a copper pipe, but if it carries gas, the corrosion won't appear natural. If it carries water, the corrosion will most likely appear unnaturally fast.

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    $\begingroup$ Also hobyists use ferrous sulphate to etch. Chemical methods would likely leave chemical traces - modern day SOC analysts would likely be able to deduce foul play. The OP hasn't stated the competence of these in their world (would depend on the country), so: +1 $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Apr 28 '19 at 10:12
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May I suggest a slightly different vulnerability?

Old fashoned lead solder 'til it was withdrawn for all but aerospace and other critical applications has a very low melting point.

Plumbing joints (copper pipe, lead solder ) occasionally fail - particularly near vibration (if the pipe passes behind a washing machine, so much the better), or hot/cold thermal cycling (by a radiator, in the sun etc.).

Turning the gas off, a pipe-joint may be heated with a heat-gun, these can produce temperatures up to 400 Celsius (750 F) - way hotter than the 183 C (631 F) lead solder needs.

If you want to go small and portable heat guns come pocket sized:

enter image description here

Attribution unknown

As the solder drips out of the joint, collect some of it, let the rest drop to the floor - the less solder the crime scene guys find after the explosion and fire, the more chance they'll believe the plumber shorted the joint doing a piss poor job. Make sure to stop before the joint falls apart totally.

Turn the gas back on again, set your candle in the next room or whatever you plan and quietly get out of there. The explosion and fire will easily be hot enough to melt all the remaining solder in the pipe joints and hide any scorch marks you may have left.

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    $\begingroup$ Routinely, when reading answers like this, I ask myself why we're not all in some police file somewhere... +1 $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Apr 30 '19 at 12:37
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Not with the gas piping, no -- but the killer could maybe replace one of the rubber junctions with an old, torn and leaky one scavenged from some landfill or junkyard.

Any investigation would discover the junction remains and undoubtedly wonder about it. But if the killer also replaced several other parts throughout the apartment, there's a chance they would consider that the victim might have been a sloppy, inexperienced tinkerer, used to do repairs haphazardly on his own, and possibly ascribe the accident to a botched repair.

Whether they'd continue to believe this would depend on lots of things.

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