Nothing lasts forever. On a long enough timeline, every plumbing pipe and fixture in your home will need to be replaced -- including your plumbing system’s primary artery, the main water line leading to your home.
Buried underground, this is the line that connects your household plumbing to the municipal water supply. You might not know its age, its length, its location or even the material from which the pipe is made, but this information may come in handy even if your water line has decades of service left in it.
What’s At Stake
From washing the dishes to flushing the toilet, it all depends on the main water line. When that line experiences a problem, it affects every plumbing fixture and appliance in your home. And should the line collapse or become damaged beyond repair, running water is off limits until replacement can be completed -- usually a process taking several days.
If you’re lucky, your home’s water line will last 70 years or more. But that depends on a lot of factors, and even if those factors are largely in your favor, damage can still occur.
Considering how disruptive and costly it can be to replace a main water line, it’s best to have as much lead time as possible before replacement becomes necessary. The smart way to stay on top of this is to schedule a camera inspection of your main line about once every two years. As we’ll explain below, the greatest threats attack your main line very slowly, and the head-start offered by a camera inspection can put you in charge of the project timeline.
What Can Go Wrong
You might assume your main line is fairly well protected under all that dirt, but it faces threats from the outside and the inside. From the outside, the greatest threat is often tree roots. They creep toward the pipe over a matter of years, sometimes breaching it and causing leaks or collapse. And if anyone digs in your yard without knowing exactly where that line runs, it could be a shovel doing the damage.
From the inside, sediment buildup can effectively make the pipe smaller and smaller until the water pressure becomes untenable. And rust can form on virtually any metal pipe material after decades of water flow.
What to Do
Whether and when to replace your main water line is a decision best made with the input of a knowledgeable plumber. If your main line is made from iron -- or worse, lead -- a plumber will recommend replacement. Iron lines are prone to rust and and lead is highly toxic. Today’s new water lines are primarily copper or PVC.
If you have an active breach, time is of the essence. If your line is in fairly good shape overall, a repair may be preferable to replacement. But since either job can involve digging up the lawn, breaking up concrete and even cutting down trees, it’s often best to pursue total replacement if there’s a reasonable chance you’ll need to take that step within the next 10 to 20 years.
The best time to prepare for this job is when everything is working well. Choose a licensed, local plumber to help you locate every foot of your main line, assess its condition and verify the pipe material. With this homework done and biennial inspections, you’ll be ready for the worst when replacement time arrives.