Different Types of Water Main Leaks Explained

When a water main leaks it is completely unexpected and in most cases, not easily identified as a water main leak upon first sight. When the leak makes itself apparent, it usually does so in the form of damaging the surrounding walls, floor, creating a sinkhole or a stream of unknown water. Understanding the different types of leaks and how they occur can assist in pinpointing the problem, and coming to a quick resolution.

Water leaking at your foundation wall

leaking water main at foundation wall

It is common to view a damp section of your foundation that slowly becomes more damp and may even turn into a steady stream of water. Most people tend to ignore the damp wall; this is understandable as nobody wants to deal with the headache of a broken water line. This type of leak usually occurs within 5’-10’ on the outside of the house and slowly travels back towards the house. The water first surfaces at the wall, which is usually the weakest point. The water will travel through the cracks or openings in the wall.

The tap hole leak

Leaking wet tap

Leaking wet tap

Working in the tap hole

Working in the tap hole

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A tap is the valve used to connect a private homes water main, to the city main. In many cases a leak will surface in the roadway at the point of where the two pipes are connected. The water leak is usually not from the tap itself; it occurs within the fittings used to connect the private water main and the tap. If the tap hole leak occurs on a lead or galvanized water main, there is no choice but to replace the entire water main. It is illegal to perform any type of repair work on a lead or galvanized water line.

Tap and goose neck fitting

Tap and goose neck fitting

If the leak is due to the goose neck fitting on a copper water main, the roadway can be opened and a repair can be completed on the copper water service.

The broken tap

The broken tap

The broken tap

In rare cases it is the actual tap that is broken and must be replaced. The licensed plumber must contact DEP who will install the new tap connection on the city main. The plumber is responsible for opening the roadway and preparing the city main for the new tap installation. The DEP field crew will arrive to drill in the new tap and leave upon completion.

DEP installs new tap

DEP installs new tap

The sidewalk leak

Sidewalk leak

Sidewalk leak

Water leak at curb

Water leak at curb

A water leak on the sidewalk is virtually impossible to attempt a repair on. Most people assume that if the water is surfacing on the sidewalk, it must be the pipe directly under the sidewalk that is leaking. This is completely inaccurate and tends to be a waste of money if a sidewalk repair is attempted. The sidewalk is usually the center point of where a water main runs, from the street to the house. A water leak can travel from either direction of the sidewalk and surface on the sidewalk. The leak will most likely surface through the cracks in the cement or at the point where the street meets the sidewalk. It may end up costing more money for the time to dig and locate the leak, than it would cost to replace the entire pipe.

Freezing weather conditions

It is common to see a spike in broken water mains in area that experience a large change in temperature. Water mains tend to expand and contrast as the weather temperature drops, this causes pipes to weaken and eventually cause a pipe to crack. Freezing ground conditions can also lead to broken water lines. As the ground starts to freeze and the water turns into ice, it will shift the soil with great force. The movement in the surrounding soil will also shift the pipes, which may lead to a broken water line.

Low water pressure

Experiencing low water pressure is not necessarily a type of leak, but is an indication that the water main may have a crack or a break. If you have experienced a sudden drop in water pressure, it is a good idea to call a licensed plumber to investigate.

Who to call for water leak?

If you have experienced any of the leaks discussed in this article, it is a good idea to call a licensed and bonded plumber contractor to investigate the leak. It is also suggested to contact DEP (311) to investigate the leaking water. In some cases, the water may be leaking into, or in front of your home, and is actually coming from a neighbor’s broken pipe. For this reason it is a good idea to call DEP for a detailed analysis on where the water is coming from. A licensed plumbing contractor is as qualified to determine the source of the leak however, may not be able to enter neighboring houses for an inspection.


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