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Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

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  • Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

    I'm going to try to make a long story short.

    We had a sewer cleanout installed in our front yard, so that the contractor could get access to our sewer line and blast out some small rocks (don't ask) blocking our line. To access the sewer line and install the cleanout, the plumbing technician had to go through the water line, which lies parallel to and directly above the sewer line. The original hole was probably 4' x 6' and 9 ' deep.

    The homes in our neighborhood are 70 years old and many (including ours) still have lead water line pipes.

    The technician performed the sewer cleanout installation, coupled the water line back together, backfilled the project with a backhoe and was gone. We thought everything was fine.

    A week later we wake up to a bubbling stream and flooded front lawn. The water pipe had obviously busted. We now had a water line problem (not the original problem we called them out for).

    The technician came back out w/ a mini excavator, dug the 4 feet to the water line and discovered the old line had broken at a point about 36 inches into the original ditch, about a foot from the coupling. At this point (a week after completing the original sewer project) he decided to tell us for the first time that we had a lead water line pipe and we should really replace the whole thing (this would require a much bigger hole than 4'x6' and would run the entire lawn-length from house to sidewalk, obviously). That's a much bigger job than we originally planned on.

    I asked if he'd ever seen a busted water line from an excavation like ours during his years as a plumber. He said he hadn't, it was likely a freak accident and we decided we'd be fine w/ just another coupling of new copper pipe to the lead pipe.

    Two days later (today), the lawn is flooded and bubbling again. Two water line breaks by this guy for a one day project!

    The contractor now says we really must get the whole line replaced (and pay them a lot of $$ to do so).

    My technician's contention seems to be that 1. old lead pipes and new copper piping cannot be successfully coupled and 2. you don't need to be careful when dumping dirt on top of these pipes and 3. the only fix for this is to replace the entire line of pipe for an additional $5k. He also says that since it wasn't his coupling, but the lead pipe that broke, he's really off the hook for anything further. My position is that if it happened within the confines of the hole he dug, it's on him.

    I feel like coupling a copper pipe to a lead pipe (though I realize lead is not desirable) must be a pretty routine/standard fix (especially in older neighborhoods), a bread-and-butter type of repair for plumbers, and that I've got an incompetent guy (well, it's actually the large company he works for). Especially considering he never mentioned replacing the entire lead line when he first had access to it. I also believe if he took more care when backfilling, this might have been avoided.

    Neither on the original dig or the second dig did the plumber compact the dirt under the water line to support it (he just dumped it in w/ the backhoe and mini-ex, no getting out and tamping the dirt or using any filler of any kind); did not use any type of filler to support the pipe; did not use any type of pipe sleeve to protect the pipes or the coupling, or otherwise take any care in backfilling the hole. I don't know if he used the correct couplings for copper to lead.

    A friend who is a plumber (and lives far away) has said this sounds pretty incompetent. If it was his job, he said he'd dig a hole, couple the lines with the correct type of copper to lead couplers, sleeve it, compact the dirt beneath the line, carefully fill some dirt right above the water line, compact it a bit more, and then fill in the rest with the backhoe.

    Any second, third and fourth opinions?

    I'm not trying to be cheap, we may have to have the whole water line replaced, but we sure as heck will hire a different company to do it!

    Oh, and we don't have lead in our water. We have the water co. test it annually.

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

  • #2
    Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

    Replace the line.



    • #3
      Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

      You seem familiar, do I know you?

      Yes, you do have lead in your water. WASA might say it's safe but it isn't.

      PM me if you need someone to replace line. I'm not interested in a repair.


      • #4
        Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

        I would replace the line.


        • #5
          Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

          IT'S LEAD! What part of "Lead is poisionous" don't you get? Are you insane (probably from lead poisioning)? Let's weigh this one out. Replace water main - $ 5.000.00 Lead poisioning - priceless.


          • #6
            Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

            I know of a few cities around Toronto that will contribute $1500 of the total cost as an incentive to remove the old lead pipe for health reasons. In any event, in the meantime with a lead water service make sure you are flushing the line each time you use the water for cooking purposes (let the water run for 2-3 minutes at the tap you need). Especially if you have young kids. Lead will an adverse affect on children in their learning years. Lead accumulates in the body over time, and rarely gets flushed out of one's body. Do a Google search on it.


            • #7
              Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

              Step 1 get a different plumber, step 2 get the lead out!


              • #8
                Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

                I like the two steps approach...

                1) Bore a new line...

                2) hook your truck up with a chain around the line and pull it out...

                Just kidding, if the line is in need of replacement, boring may be the better option. However, getting the lead out, (no pun intended here), you will have to dig it up cause it all will not pull out, though i've seen it done with CU.
                You may as well in the event of digging to rid yourself the lead pipe, lay in a new W/S.
                Pat Martinez
                M5 Plumbing Services LLC


                • #9
                  Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

                  That plumber who's doing the work...terminate him and explain that he's not following standard protocol.

                  Him backfilling that ditch was stressing that age old lead, thus the reason it is snapping right beyond where he reconnected to.

                  You break it, you own it and that logic fits for a lot of different things in plumbing, especially when you dig.

                  This guy could of followed the preventative notion and the second he came in contact with that line, advised you, let you know what you have and take EXTREME consideration of leaving it at your discretion or replacing it, instead of the issues of failure at this point.

                  Did that water line have leaks before he started? Most likely not.

                  It seems he's looking for job security from the way it's playing out.
                  Northern Kentucky Plumbers Twitter Feed | Plumbing Videos


                  • #10
                    Re: Main Water Line: Coupling Copper and Lead

                    What I would do is get an independent third party to put a camera down the newly installed clean out to make sure the piping was laid on a "firm bed", if there is a shift in the line due to lack of compaction, have this put on a video(Plumber Rick should like this). This will be all the ammo you will need to to have everything taken care of for you.