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Expert mains leak guidance for homeowners

Dealing with a damaged water mains pipe can be a daunting task, with thoughts of worst-case scenarios flooding your mind, if not yet your home.

Your mains pipe plays a critical role in supplying water to your property making it extra important that a solution to any damage or disruption is decided fast.

Water main issues can manifest themselves in various ways, from visible leaks and the pooling of water, to reduced water pressure and high water bills.

One of the key questions you may ask yourself is whether to repair or replace your water mains pipe. After all, would you repair a tyre on your car for it to only puncture again six weeks later?

In this guide, we’ll help you make an informed decision about the best course of action for your leak, help you to understand the signs that require attention and explain the processes involved in water mains leak detection.

Key Takeaways

  • Recognise when your water mains pipe requires attention by regularly checking for visible leaks, water pooling or reduced water pressure.
  • Weigh up the pros and cons of repairing or replacing your mains pipe based on cost, the potential of future leaks, the deterioration of the pipework and your responsibility as the homeowner.
  • Consult a specialist leak detection company that is familiar with underground pipe work to address water mains issues most effectively.
Water mains leak repair before and after

Understanding water mains

As a homeowner, it’s essential to understand your responsibilities concerning your property’s water mains pipe. Water mains are the primary pipes that transport clean water from the water company to your home. These pipes often run underground and connect your home to the public water supply system.

In the UK, the responsibility for water mains pipes is split between the homeowner and the water company. Your water company is responsible for the main network of pipes up to the boundary of your property, including all maintenance, repairs, and replacements. Once a water main crosses the boundary of your property, the responsibility typically falls to you, as the homeowner.

It’s important to know the location of your water mains pipe, as well as the boundary between your property and the public network. This can help you determine whether a problem with your water supply is your responsibility or the water company’s. You can often find this information in the deeds of your property or by contacting your water supplier directly about your leak.

Problems with water mains can result in costly pipe leaks, poor water quality, and low water pressure. Identifying these issues early can help to prevent more significant problems later down the line.

The condition of your pipework should be one of your core considerations when evaluating whether to repair of replace your water mains.

If your pipes are generally in a good condition and the issue is a minor leak, a repair should be sufficient. However, if your pipes are old, corroded, or made of lead, it’s often better to consider replacing them completely.

It may even be necessary to consider enlarging or relocating your water supply lines to help meet your household’s water needs.

Signs that your mains pipe needs attention

The most common and obvious sign that your mains pipe needs attention is that it’s actually visibly leaking water, but this is easier said than done when the pipe is buried underground.

Visible signs of a mains leak include:

  • the pooling of water on the surface of the ground outside your property
  • the consistent creep of mould and damp inside of your home
  • the presence of rust in the form of discoloured tap water
  • persistent low water pressure

Note that if you experience a sudden decrease in water pressure, it’s probably more likely to be the result of a leak or blockage in your pipes, rather gradual corrosion over a sustained period of time.

All of the above symptoms may might indicate that your pipes are deteriorating and could require urgent repair or replacement.

Repair or Replace?

There’s no simple right or wrong answer as to whether you should repair or replace your water mains pipe, however from our experience, short-term solutions usually lead to longer-term problems.

Firstly, we strongly advise that you replace any lead pipes. Lead pipes are now considered hazardous due to the harmful effects of lead on health and there are many alternative modern materials to choose from.

Copper pipes, for example, have a long lifespan and are highly resistant to corrosion, while plastic pipes have become popular for their affordability and ease of installation.

In some cases, repairing your supply pipe may be sufficient. If you experience a minor leak or damage to your copper or plastic pipes, a repair can usually resolve most problem effectively.

Replacing your pipes becomes necessary when there’s significant damage or severe corrosion present, or if they’re at the end of their working lifespan.

A complete replacement of your water mains pipe ensures a more reliable and durable water supply, reducing the risk of leaks and other issues in the future – but it is more expensive at the outset.

Regardless of your initial preference, we highly recommend having your situation assessed by a professional before any course of action is decided.

The mains pipe repair process

When a leak is suspected in your water mains pipe, the first step is to accurately locate it. We highly recommend using a specialist leak detection company to find your leak instead of a general plumber.

Detecting underground water leaks can be incredibly difficult and requires a range of dedicated leak detection technologies that most plumbing companies do not carry.

Accurate leak detection is not only more time and cost-efficient, it also helps to avoid unnecessary digging and damage to your property.

Once your mains leak has been located using non-destructive methods, your leak detection company will excavate the affected area to assess the severity of the issue. This process is often referred to as trace and access by insurance companies.

If a repair is deemed appropriate, the company will proceed with fixing the leak, carefully removing, securing, strengthening or replacing the damaged section only. The repair process itself can vary in duration depending on the complexity of the issue, but can usually be completed within one to two hours.

The mains pipe replacement process

The process of replacing a mains water pipe when a leak is suspected is very similar to that outlined for repair above.

You’ll still need to hire a leak detection company to find the leak and then subsequently access it. However, should a repair not be deemed to be the best option, a full mains pipe replacement would be instead be considered.

There are various ways to replace a mains pipe from the traditional method of trenching (simply digging a trench the length of the pipework) to the less destructive and tenchless process of impact moling (the use of a machine to tunnel underground).

Once the method has been established, your old pipes will be replaced with new, approved pipework, laid at the correct depth and following all relevant regulations.

After the pipe replacement has been completed, the excavation site will typically be restored by backfilling any trenches with soil and compacting it to the original level, or reinstating the moled ground to its previous state.

Finally, your new pipework will be thoroughly tested to ensure that it’s functioning correctly and delivering water to your home efficiently, at the correct pressure.

Mains water leak pipe repair

The lifespan of water mains pipes

Water mains pipes have varying lifespans depending on the materials they were made from, how long ago they were laid and the environments in which they were installed.

Below is a breakdown of the average lifespans of the most common mains pipe materials :

  • Lead pipes: Lead pipes were regularly used for water supply in the UK until the 1970s, but are no longer installed due to serious health concerns. Regardless, many lead pipes still supply water to older properties due to their long lifespan of around 100 years.
  • Iron pipes: The lifespan of cast iron pipes is around 100 years. Ductile iron pipes, which are used in modern installations, have a lifespan of around 50 to 75 years.
  • Copper pipes: Copper pipes are commonly used in modern installations. The lifespan of copper pipes is around 50 years.
  • PVC pipes: PVC pipes are also popular in modern installations. The lifespan of PVC pipes is around 50 to 75 years.

It’s important to note that these are average lifespans, and the actual lifespan of a water pipe can vary depending on various factors, including:

  • Creep – The slow deformation of a material over time, causing pipes to weaken and eventually fail. In buried underground mains pipes, creep could be the result of the weight of the soil above or persistent internal stress and pressure.
  • Environment – Water mains installed in areas with high levels of corrosion or soil movement may have a shorter lifespan than those installed in more stable environments.

Overall, it is important to regularly inspect and maintain your mains pipes to ensure their longevity and prevent costly repairs or replacements.

Region-specific guidelines

In the UK, the question of whether you should repair or replace your water mains pipe often depends on local guidelines and regulations, as much as it does on the advice of your leak detection company.

In England, water mains pipes in areas like Hertfordshire, Surrey and Essex follow the guidelines set by the local water authority. Similarly, London has its specific rules and regulations for dealing with water mains pipes due to the age and historic status of its buildings and infrastructure.

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, you should also adhere to local water authority regulations. Keep in mind that winter conditions in Scotland can be harsh, and proper maintenance of water mains is vital to prevent pipes from freezing and avoid costly repairs.

Why use Miracle Leak Detection for your water mains leak?

At Miracle Leak Detection, we’ll visit your property for free to assess your specific situation, give you a fixed quote for the work and not take any payment until the job is complete.

In addition, our No Find, No Fee Guarantee means that if we take the job and are unable to locate the leak in your mains water pipe, you won’t pay us a penny.

Still not convinced? Read our five star reviews on Checkatrade, Trustpilot and Google, or call us for free on 0800 037 7078.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I decide between repairing and replacing a water mains pipe?

When deciding between repairing and replacing your water mains pipe, consider factors such as the age of your pipes, the frequency of leaks, and the overall condition of the pipe. If you have frequent leaks and the pipes are older, it may be more cost-effective to replace them. Alternatively, if the issue is isolated, repairing the affected section might be more appropriate. Consulting a professional leak detection company will help you make an informed decision.

What factors affect the cost of water mains repair and replacement?

The cost of water mains repair and replacement depends on factors such as the extent of the damage, the type of pipe material, the complexity of the job, and location of the pipe. Additionally, labour costs and local rates for materials and services can influence the overall cost.

Are there grants available for lead water pipe replacement?

In some cases, local authorities or water companies may offer financial assistance or support for replacing lead water pipes. It’s essential to check with your local water company to explore any available grants or support schemes specific to your area.

What is the process for trenchless water main replacement?

Trenchless water main replacement is a method for replacing underground pipes without the need for extensive excavation. It involves inserting a new pipe within the existing pipe or installing a new pipe alongside the old one using techniques such as impact moling. Trenchless water main replacement can minimise disruption and is often quicker than traditional open-cut methods.

When is it necessary to replace old water pipes?

It’s essential to replace old water pipes when they show signs of wear and tear, corrosion, or frequent leaks. Issues such as discoloured water, low water pressure, or persistent damp spots in your property can also indicate the need for pipe replacement. Implementing preventative maintenance and seeking professional advice can help you determine the best time to replace your old water pipes.