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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Has anyone replaced a lead water pipe from mains to their house? Should I bother?

Hi

When we bought our house around 9 years ago, our survey showed up that we had a lead water pipe from the stopcock to the mains.   This was described as a "medium" concern that we should consider having replaced with non-lead piping.  Needless to say, I've done nothing about it.

We're just about to have our front garden re-tiled, and I'm wondering if I'm being a bit hasty with that work if I should really be having the lead water pipe dug up and replaced first.

We've got 3x small kids and I am (I think) being slightly paranoid that the pipe may cause lead in the drinking water which could be harmful for them.   I bought a water testing kit, which didn't seem to show any lead in the water - although I'm not sure how reliable it is. 

Has anyone else had similar issues or replaced a lead pipe coming into their house?  Even if not, any views on how risky a lead water pipe is would be appreciated.

Thanks

Ian

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If lead piping worries you, never trust a plumber. They only work in lead.  Vide plumbum et plumbarius.

Niall above has it right. As we are in a hard water area there will long ago have been laid down a protective layer between the water and the pipe, so don't worry. If you lived in the West Country, or the Pennines, it would be more of a problem. Really really not a problem in a London.

I had one replaced a while back. This happened after I needed to replace floorboards on the ground floor, on lifting the old ones we found that the Victorian lead pipe had a series of tiny holes throughout causing numerous little fountains leaking into the underfloor space. A plumber replaced the pipe into and throughout the ground floor to the requisite standards however the few inches from the stop cock to the front wall came under the aegis of Thames water. Not cheap but necessary.

Thanks Maggie

Don't do what we did - we had the work our side done, planning to get the Thames water side later but Thames water want apparently to inspect the pipes for compliance. With new applications not being accepted currently, haven't got this sorted yet.

Negligible flow difference on replacing the pipes our side.

Oh no, that sounds like a nightmare James. Hope you get it sorted soon.    Can I check please why you were replacing the pipe? Was it a water pressure issue?  Our pressure seems fine, fortunately.  

It was a long time ago, but I had a slow leak and managed to get a substantial part of the cost of replacement in blue plastic covered by insurance. Not suggesting anything.

I had my lead pipes removed many years ago when I had major works done to the house. This was on the recommendation of the surveyor at the time. The Thames Water network has a lot of old pipes including lead so on a health point of view changing yours in case you get any contamination would not guarantee your water supply being completely free. My advice if you are digging up the front and are planning on remaining in the same house for years consider changing if cost is not reasonable in case there is issues later. Otherwise don’t bother if pipes are ok and if you are worried install a water filter. You can get DIY type which will filter other contaminates too. My moto what is not broken is best left alone

Hi Ian,

We had ours replaced about 10 years ago. Nothing to to with health issues, just needed better pressure as we were having a loft conversion done and needed the pressure to have a shower in the loft. We now have 3 bar of pressure and have to regulate it down.

They don't need to dig up your garden. They use some sort of mole machine to pull the pipe through the old bore. Assuming it goes into your cellar, if you're in a ladder house it's pretty straightforward as I remember.

Raj

Hi,

we had a similar issue that came up, when the mains were changed from lead to plastic that we had lead pipes in the house too. 

I was concerned, so I call the water company and they tested our water, the results were we had small traces of lead in our water at a level they said was not harmful, but running the tap for 2 minutes there was no trace of lead.

we now do not drink the water straight from the tap, but fill up a dispenser with water after running the tap for two minutes. 

Ian you should investigate the cost.

As in Raj's post above it may not involve too much disruptive digging. So I suppose it depends on what your budget is/how much you have to spend.

Why waste an opportunity to modernise (something that won't spoil the period architecture? of the house).

I don't suppose getting quotes costs anything.

Some years back (maybe as many as 15) Thames Water installed a new stop cock just outside my front gate and replaced the supply pipe that led into my basement with one made of blue plastic.  It was explained that in future, I would be responsible for the pipe on my property.  I seem to recall that the same job was done for every house in the street under contract by Messrs Murphy.  I don’t recall what the old pipe was made of (probably lead) but this work was not done in response to anything I asked for and I afterwards discovered that they had installed an old style water meter at the same time – although my supply was not metered.

At the time my tiny front “garden” was still covered by an impermeable pinkish terrazzo surface installed, I suppose, by the previous owner in the 1960s.  To replace the water pipe, Messrs Murphy had to cut a slot right across this smooth surface which left it looking pretty bad even though they made a reasonable attempt at restitution.  Some years later when the gas pipe was replaced I insisted that the new yellow plastic pipe be put in the same trench as the water pipe -  this at least reduced additional damage to the terrazzo.

Later still, having decided to remodel the increasingly shabby front garden and, under the increasing influence of environmental concerns, we eliminated entirely the terrazzo and replaced it with a permeable surface of blocks lying on ballast and sand.  This reduces run off and looks OK – although we do have to weed it from time to time.  If it ever needs to be dug up again (eg to work on the power cable or the communications ducts) both the digging and the restitution will be easier.

As to lead pollution, I recall that lead in the environment was a hot topic when we bought our house in 1979.  A Royal Commission published a report on this subject in 1983 which was the cue, among other things, for the abolition of lead in petrol and strict controls on the standards applying to various products, especially toys and paint.  The big issue was, of course, the routes by which the stuff ended up in human bodies (mostly, food, water and ingesting dust).  We bought a copy of the report (which I must still have somewhere).  My recollection (which I haven’t checked) is that petrol itself was far and away the biggest source of lead pollution but after that, the biggest risk factor was from lead in paint.  In Victorian houses like ours this was likely to be found in house dust especially (but not only) when old paint was disturbed. Babies and toddlers are apt to come into contact with house dust so we were pleased we had disposed of tons of old threadbare carpets and went on to maximise the types of flooring which don’t collect dust and are easily cleaned. As several people have said, old lead pipes in London may not be a big risk.  We don’t have any but we do have some copper pipes connected using lead solder.  This popular form of plumbing was also discouraged because of concerns about lead and many people now use only compression joints or entirely plastic pipe work.

As an additional footnote on this topic, when most houses had a cold water cistern in the loft, it was not used to supply the kitchen sink cold water tap.  Drinking cold water from any other tap in the house was discouraged and the pipework serving them might have had greater lead content.  Many houses today have mains pressure throughout so minimising lead content could be a bit more important than it was before.  If you are really bothered about lead in drinking water, you could always get a under the worktop filter cartridge with a little tap just for drinking.

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