Is it Time to Replace Your Water Main?

May 30, 2019

It is too often that our customers wait until there is a complete failure of their water main or have a terrible water leak that is flooding their house to ask. Only at his point one may ask “when should I have replaced my water main”?

It is important for all homeowners to take the initiative and gather information on their water main, this will assist in making an educated decision and potentially avoid an extreme emergency.

What is the material make-up of my pipe?

The two most common ways to determine the existing material make up is first by completing a visual inspection. If you have any experience working with water mains you may be aware of what a copper, galvanized steel or lead pipe looks like. If you are not sure it is suggested to get the opinion of a Licensed Master Plumber.

The second option would be to have your plumber obtain records from the town or village you live in. Please be mindful that these records may date back 100+ years and if they are available the information may not provide as much information as required.

In NYC these records are known as “tapping records”. The name comes from the valve (tap) that connects the homeowner’s private water main to the city water main. Your Licensed Plumber can request this information from the DEP office as part of the standard protocol.

One style of tapping records would be an older form of records which were originated by the Jamaica Water Supply Company. These records were used in parts of Queens prior to DEP taking over.

The other style of tapping records would be the most common which are released by the DEP.

Jamaica Water Supply records

DEP tapping records

These records can display information such as the year the pipe was installed, the location of the tap connection and most important is the material makeup of the pipe. If the material makeup is brass, lead or galvanized it is always suggested to replace the pipe with the current allowable material under the plumbing code. The only type of pipe that is currently used for domestic water main installations 2″ and smaller is copper pipe. If you have a pipe that is 3″ or larger it would be installed using ductile iron pipe.

How does the pipe look?

This step is just like it sounds and you don’t have to be an expert! Does the pipe look old, rusted and corroded? If it is apparent that the pipes are old it is suggested to get ahead of the potential water main leak and upgrade the material make up. It is also key to remember that the cost of installing a water main continues to increase each year.

Old and corroded lead pipe

Copper pipe temporarily patched with epoxy
Conditions within the neighborhood

Most people have an idea of construction work going on near their house and are most likely aware if several of the neighbors have had their water main replaced over the recent years. One way to determine this would be to look at the holes made in the street near your home. If you have several freshly paved patches it is safe to assumed that there have been a lot of recent water main breaks on the street.

Water main roadway patch

If you are aware that the neighboring houses are having water main issues and your houses was built at the same time, it is a good idea to consider replacing the existing water line with new copper pipe.

Is the city replacing their water mains?

Most homeowners are excited about the fact that the city is replacing the water mains fronting their homes which makes perfect sense. You are getting brand new pipes  feeding your water line and at no cost to you! Why wouldn’t you be happy? The downside is that the city actually cuts and removes a section of your existing pipe to then re-connect back to the new pipe installed on the city main.

This poses a problem as  you are now susceptible to experiencing a water main leak at the point where the old and new pipes are connected. When possible it is always suggested to install one length of pipe with no separations. If you are not lucky enough to have one length of pipe it is important to avoid attaching to different alloys of metal. When the city pipes are installed they will connect the new section of copper pipe to whatever the existing material is made of.

water main repair leaking
Water main connection gone wrong

For these reasons it is always good to have a private contractor install new pipes while the city has the roadway open. Installing the pipes at this time may save you a few dollars and more than that, will save you a headache if your pipe does end up leaking.

Is the roadway being restored in front of your home?

If you have received notice that the city is resurfacing the asphalt  roadway fronting your home, now is your chance to install the new water main! The primary reason is that it will cost your plumber a considerable amount of more money to open and restore a brand new roadway as opposed to installing a new water main prior to the resurfacing.

Even if the city is at the point that they have begun removing (AKA milling) the old asphalt, it is not too late. Your plumber can still coordinate the installation with the city crew who is resurfacing the road.

New copper pipe installed with new tap

If you are renovating the home and adding plumbing fixtures it is a wise idea to replace the water main at this time. The first reason would be to avoid breaking a brand new floor or wall that had just been finished one week or year prior.

The second reason would be to increase the size of your water main feeding the additional plumbing fixtures you are adding.  In this case your plumber should also calculate the total number of fixtures and see if it makes sense to install a new tap connection to increase the total volume and pressure into the house.

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