Locate and Repair a Water Main Leak or Water Line Break – A How to Guide
May 7, 2013

A water Line break can be both confusing and stressful as there are many factors to consider when determining if there is a leak, where the leak is and how to repair the leak. leak_in_roadwayThe most common sign of a water line leak is when you can physically see water coming up in the street, on your sidewalk or coming in through your foundation wall.  If you see water coming up in-front of your home, it does not necessarily mean that the leak is coming from you water line.  Water travels and seeks the weakest point in the ground as its source to exit to the surface; it is common for a water main leak to travel 10’-20’ from the source of the leak.

Steps to determine if you have a leak:

  1. Listen to the water line at the point where the pipe enters into your home, the location is usually within 1-2’ of your water meter.  It is important to make sure that nobody is using water in the house to properly perform this test, once you confirm that the water is off, you can then listen to the pipe which should be completely silent.listen_for_noise_labeled_2_  If you here any vibration or a rumbling noise on the pipe, there is a strong chance that your water main is leaking somewhere in-between the meter and your pipes connection to the city main in the roadway.
  2. Call the NYC DEP (dial 311 on your phone) if you see water or if you hear a noise on your water line. The DEP will come to the house (free of charge), listen to the pipe with a special device and go into the surrounding neighbor’s houses, if needed to assist in determining where the leak is coming from.  It is possible that you may hear a vibration on your water main yet it may be your neighbors pipe that is leaking, in some cases both you and  your neighbors pipes may be located extremely close to each other and your neighbors leak may be creating a noise on your water line.Note- the DEP has a 99% accuracy rate when it comes to determining water main breaks and issuing 3 day notices, it is not common for the DEP to have any error when determining the source of a leak.
  3. Call a NYC licensed plumber for a 2nd opinion in verifying the source of the leak, most licensed plumbers will make a free on-site visit and provide an estimate with no obligation

Should you repair or replace the water line? 

The 3 primary facts to consider are:

  1. The material of your existing water line
  2. The installation date of your water line – how old is the pipe?
  3. Have you had any previous repairs to the pipe?

Most NYC property owners experience one water line replacement in their lifetime.  The leading factors in assisting this decision are usually the overall cost of the replacement or repair and reputation of the contractor.   The cost to repair a water line is most often less expensive than replacing the entire pipe however, it is strongly recommended to analyze the overall cost benefit or repairing vs. replacing the entire pipe.  The majority of the cost included in a water main repair includes, restoration of the roadway/sidewalk, permits, labor and material, which is included in both a repair and full replacement.

The overall cost of making two water line repairs in a lifetime is much greater than the cost of replacing the entire pipe at one time, for this reasons it makes much greater sense to eliminate the risk and replace the entire pipe at one time.  The repair options should always be discussed with a licensed plumber; there are situations where a repair may make sense on a newer ductile or copper water line.

Is repairing the pipe an option for your water line?

corroded_labeleed_water_main_1If the existing material of your water line is made of lead or galvanized pipe, repairing the pipe is not an option as it is 100% illegal to make a repair on a pipe of either material.  It is also very risky to attempt a repair on a galvanized or lead pipe; both materials become corroded and extremely brittle over time which may turn what is expected to be a simple repair, into a costly emergency situation!