The Risk of Repairing a Water Main VS. Replacing The Entire Pipe

November 22, 2014

A water main leak is a common occurrence that happens throughout the five boroughs of NYC on a daily basis. The top three reasons for a leaking water line are:

  1. Due to natural wear and tear of an old and corroded water line
  2. If a fitting was used in the previous water main installation, the pipe is more susceptible to leaking. A new water line should be installed using one length of copper, with no separations.
  3. When you experience a change in temperature, the ground tends to shift which may lead to additional stress on your pipe.

Old & Corroded pipe removal
Old & Corroded pipe removal

When fittings are used underground
When fittings are used underground

In many cases the water line is made of lead or galvanized pipe, and there is no other option but to replace the water main as per NYC DEP requirements. In the event that a copper water line is leaking, it is usually suggested to replace the water line as well, only due to the fact that it is impossible to determine exactly where the pipe is leaking. If the water leak shows up on the sidewalk, it does not necessarily mean that the pipe is broken at that point. A water leak seeks the weakest point in the ground and will travel underground until it finds the point where it can rise to the surface.

If a pipe is leaking on the sidewalk and the surrounding area is completely solid, the water leak will travel until it finds a crack or hole at another point in the sidewalk, roadway, or on the property. The time that it may take to find where the actual break or crack is on the pipe may cost more than deciding to replace the pipe from the start.

Recently, a NYC homeowner had experienced his water main leaking in the roadway. This came at a complete surprise to him as he replaced the water main only three years prior. For this reason it made more sense to attempt a water main repair at the point where his pipe connects to the city water main. It is common for a new pipe to leak at this point due to a faulty washer or the wrong type of fitting used to connect the pipe. The owner took a gamble and attempted to repair the pipe in the street, with the understanding that it will cost him more if the leak is at another point. Luckily for this owner the pipe was leaking at the connection, a new washer was installed and the leak was resolved.

Fighting the water leak
Fighting the water leak

Successful tap hole repair
Successful tap hole repair

Another property owner in NYC was not as lucky. His water main was replaced just two years prior and decided to start excavating at the point where the water line was leaking in front of his property. After digging for two hours, the leak was nowhere in sight, the water was traveling into the excavation from another location. The owner now had to make a decision as to whether he wanted to continue and explore for the leak, or replace the entire main and assume less risk.

First sign of the leak
First sign of the leak

The leak continues
The leak continues

He decided to continue and explore and the leak was located just 2 hours later. It turns out that the previous work done two years prior was only a repair; this was the exact point where the pipe was leaking. For this reason he decided to end up having the entire pipe replaced as he did not want to deal with any leaking water mains in the future.

The previous repair
The previous repair

The new water main is installed
The new water main is installed

Most of the excavation work had been completed and the new water line was installed five hours later. The owner ended up paying an additional $3,300 from the original repair quote, but now had piece of mind for many years to come.

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