Replacing main water service line - copper? PE? PEX?

lalitharJanuary 24, 2012

We are looking to lay a new main water service line from the meter in the street to the house (about 275 ft). This was completely unexpected cost on top on the ongoing remodeling. The old line was 65 yr old galvanized 2.5" pipe that was completly corroded and for watever reason under the fence that I share with my neighbor. The line broke when the fence repair guy dug in several places to repair the fence posts and now we are living with relatives waiting for the new line to be done and water to flow again.

The city guy recommended copper and the plumber is willing to do copper or plastic. The copper estimate is $10,800 for 2" line which is on top of $2500 for the trenching and refilling (This is in Northern CA). I am in sticker shock but want to make sure that we do this right with right material and right installation. I would greatly appreciate some advice from the experts here in the forum. I need to make all the decisions urgently as we need the water service to be restored so that we can move back home.

1) Are copper lines safe and long lasting? What kind of copper. My plumber said something that comes in a roll to avoid joints.

2) Is plastic equally safe and proven? what kind? Generally want to avoid future health concerns due to chemicals in the plastic (yes this is an uneducated fear but I have it and am willing to be educated)

3) What is the best practices in installation? Do we need a layer of sand below? above? The plumber says it is not required. What kind of joints last longer and minimize chance of leaks? I am asking this as rusty screws and joints seem to be a common issue in plumbing repairs.

I read some suggestions on older threads to use a PVC sleeve as a first layer of protection. Is this commonly done? Is is worthwhile?



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Continuous plastic that the code in your area allows.

No joints to fail, and with the typical burial depth used no real hazards to the plastic as long as the fill is appropriate (usually sand to cover the line for at least a decent cover).

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 5:06PM
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A 2" copper line seems like overkill to me, 1" plastic, PEX or similar should be cheaper. $12,000+?? I had a deep well installed with over 400ft of 1" plastic line to 3 well heads (for gardening), Total cost was $6200 (5 years ago). I'd get a another estimate, just trenching in 300' of plastic and hooking it up at both ends is a day job. 2 cents

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 5:59PM
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Cost of copper has gone up dramatically in 5 yrs. A second estimate will probably be similar. PVC is cheaper.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 7:49PM
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thanks for the feedback. I appreciate all the education. Due to price consideration, we are leaning towards plastic. I have some more questions and hope someone can educate me.

Brickeye --> Is continuous plastic same as PVC? What is the difference between PEX, PVC and PE?

I am waiting for a couple more quotes. One of the guys is an unlicensed plumber but he has done other work for me and is reliable. Is this too complicated to risk with an unlicensed guy?

My plumber says that sand is not required. If I were to insist, how much sand is necessary? How many inches below? How much coverage above? If you don't mind, what is the purpose of sand? Is it any particular type of sand? The plumbing in the house is copper. What is the best way to connect to this from plastic?


    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 12:47AM
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If code allows it, you want PE, polyethylene. Like your plumber says, only two joints. No health concerns that I am aware of, unlike PVC/CPVC.

Why 2"? Unless you live on a ranch or have large elevation changes.

PE is fairly tolerant of burial conditions,i.e. sharp rocks, jagged edges, unsupported spans. Sand just makes installation easier ( by guaranteeing cushioning) and can act as a warning for future backhoes. If you have a clean ditch and ease the first layer of fill over the line you probably don't need it. PE has a high crush rating. And you don't need sand, can be any fine gravel;around here, "screenings" are often used, basically small bits of rock.

You do need to be below frost line. I always add yellow caution tape in the fill above any line to wake up unknowing excavators.

PE fittings always have a barbed end X pipe thread, either male or female. Can be had in nylon, stainless, brass. If you have acid water, first two probably best. I would put the joint in an easily accessed location inside the house.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 7:54AM
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Everyone seems to be struggling with the fact that they are specifying a 2" line, but in all truth, we simply do not have sufficient information to determine the actual size.

How many fixtures are in the house?
Do they have irrigation?
What is the static head pressure at the municipal main?
What is the elevation differential from the municipal main to the house?
Keep in mind that the length of run is 275'

Out of curiosity I did a workup for a common house with two bathrooms, laudry, kitchen with dishwasher and only one outside hose bibb. That works out to a peak demand of 32.75gpm (code requires we size for peak demand in a residential structure).

Now I examined the friction head loss tables for P.E. pipe @ 30gpm

1.25" pipe the loss is 11.8psi/100ft (0.118/ft)

1.5" pipe the loss is 5.6psi/100ft (0.056psi/ft)

2" pipe the loss is 1.7psi/100ft (0.017psi/ft)

For the 275ft run the friction head loss would then be:
1.25" pipe = 0.118 x 275ft = 32.45psi loss

1.5" pipe= 0.056 x 275ft= 15.4psi loss

2" pipe = 0.017 x 275ft= 4.67psi

The minimum allowable static head pressure at the main water shutoff in the structure is 40psi so in order to achieve code minimum with 1.25" pipe the static head pressure at the meter would have to be 72.45psi. (code minimum + friction head loss) and this does not even consider any vertical static head losses whereas with 2" pipe the minimum static head pressure at the meter would only need to be 44.67psi, which is about typical for a municipal main.

Due to the length of the run a 2" line makes perfect sense to me and I am in full agreement with Alphonse on the choice of materials. P.E. pipe would be my first choice only I would specify that they use stainless steel clamps on all the fittings.

If you do elect to use copper I would insist that they use roll copper, which comes in 60ft rolls at 2" diameter and I would insist that all joints be brazed rather than soldered but in truth, P.E. pipe has a much longer anticipated service life than does copper.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 9:42AM
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I called my water dept, and according to their data, the water pressure at my meter is between 50psi and 75psi. The house has 3 bathrooms and a half bath all on the first floor. There is a tankless water heater (Navien with 11gpm flow) and a water softener (Kinetico). There are 3 external hose bibs and one irrigation line. There are 3 90 degree turns in the main service line and 2 45 degree turns. One possibility we have to factor in is that we may need to install a fire sprinkler system

I am trying to figure out if the code allows PE. My plumber said that the code requirement is Schedule 80 plastic pipe. Is PE pipe schedule 80? From what I googled, schedule 80 seems to mainly address PVC/ CPVC pipes.

What should I ask for so that I get a good quality PE pipe? Pardon me if this is a dumb question, but are there reputable brands? Or are there criteria like thickness of the pipe etc? My plumber has never seen stainless steel fittings but said he will check in the plumbing store.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 12:56PM
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I'm no plumber, don't play one on TV, and didn't stay at a Holiday Inn last night but it seems you might want to get estimates from other licensed plumbers cause it seems that your plumber isn't up on the available options for this job.

I'd think a competent, licensed plumber would know what code requirements are and what products are approved along with what sizes and terminations are technically correct based on the plumbing and fixtures in the house. You shouldn't be investigating code requirements, your plumber should know them or be looking them up. I'd also be considering the variables like "we may need to install a fire sprinkler system" in the calculations.

Lazypup mentioned "stainless steel clamps" not stainless steel fittings.

Your best option might be to send lazypup a plane ticket ;-)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 1:45PM
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I wish I could just do that :) Lazypup --> You ion Nor Cal by any chance :)

Clearly the plumbers we have talked to so far are unwilling to exert themselves to do the necessary homework. He wants to basically do what he has done usually. But as a homeowner, I just have to hustle down and make sure it is done right. Hopefully with more details, my plumber will be incited to do a more through job. Here is what I did.. I called the water dept to send a guy out to get a more accurate psi measurement at the water meter. I called the city and spoke to the inspector who did listen to me and looked up the California code. He called me back and confirmed that PE is approved in our city!! YEAH!! I can now specify it to the plumber. The city inspector also seemed to be happy to hear 2" pipe given the length and the angles and the remodel plans. I did say that we will need to get the psi data before we size the pipe. We also will need a tracer wire or tape 18 gauge metal to be laid on top of the PE pipe.

I called a specialty plumbing store in my area where the master plumber listened to me and said that yes they can supply the stainless steel clamps and whatever fitting is required. He said that also have brass as an option. PE pipe is much more affordable than copper obviously. Depending on the psi requirement, PE pipe seems to come in different wall thicknesses (160psi?? was the one that the plumbing supply store said I should consider). The end hopefully is in sight.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 1:59PM
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Consider this... by inserting yourself between the plumber and the code and the inspectors there is an increased possibility of error that will come back to bite you who writes the checks. It is the plumber's job to spec the job, pull the permit, do the job, and pass inspection, not your job or the voice at the plumbing supply who will bear no responsibility for incorrect advice.

If your plumber is unwilling to spec the job according to code and give you the available options then you need another plumber. It is that simple.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 2:10PM
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When they say '50 to 75PSI' is the pressure, which side of the meter do they mean?

In my neighborhood, the street pressure is around 100-150psi at the meter. The Pressure Reducing Valve is located inside the house and lowers the pressure to '50-75PSI'. In your area, the PRV may be within the meter on the house side.

BTW: I wouldn't suggest strict 90* bends or joints. There will be a minimum radius for a bend depending on the thickness of the pipe.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 3:27PM
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QUESTION: "When they say '50 to 75PSI' is the pressure, which side of the meter do they mean? "

ANSWER: Municipal water service pressure is created by the vertical static head pressure from the municipal water storage tanks. When the municipal supplier gives you an estimated pressure, that pressure will always be the theoretical line pressure on the street main at the point of tie in to the structure. Note that they give you both a maximum and a minimum presssure because the actual pressure will always be in flux depending upon the actual level of the water in the storage tank at any given time.

As a rule the municipal supplier will locate the tanks at points were they will provide the proper max/min pressure to the largest number of structures in the service area without the aid of Pressure Reducing Valves or Boost Pumps at the structures,however in hilly areas the actual requirement for a PRV or boost pump will be determined by the elevation of your property in relation to the average elevation of the service area.

Here is an illustration that shows how the pressures may vary within a community all fed from the same water tower.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 4:51PM
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Residential fire sprinklers are a really good idea.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2012 at 5:26PM
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I wanted to report back and thank all the folks here for their advice. We did end up using a 2" PE pipe. The interesting thing was that my plumber had never used it. Neither had 4 other who I got quotes from. They were willing to use PVC or PEX but other than my plumber, no one was even willing to look into PE. The city inspector had never seen it and had to check the california code book to see if it was even approved (It is). The local plumbing supply stores (big box and speciality) did not have it or have in the length that I needed (280ft). So the plumber took his van up to San Francisco to buy it. The plumbing supply store also told him that he has to use a special machine for the joints that he can rent but he had to get trained before he could do that. So my plumber did get trained, rented the machine, got the pipe. It took him a few hours to lay the pipe, wrap some 18 guage wire (CA code for non-metal service lines). He connected to an existing copper for a cottage, connected to a landscape faucet, and the main house. The cost was much more reasonable than Copper. We are in middle of a remodel, so we did not need a special permit.. just an inspection. Saga over.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 2:57PM
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Good for you.

My friend's house has PE between his well and the house. My father and I ran PE from the house to the garden for irrigation, about 150' over 40 years ago. The only issue was when someone (ahem) ran into a standpipe with the lawnmower and broke one of the plastic barbs.

I'd like to think it would work better for an earthquake zone.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 6:20PM
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Service lines are one of the places that the correct type of plastic is netter than any metal line, or a jointed plastic line.

Even the plastic inside water lines did not have problems with the pipes themselves, but the fittings.

The wire 'tracer' is to allow the line to be fpund by detection equipment.

Paper records have a nasty way of getting lost, so having a tracer line allows detection equipment to find the line again.

The plastic is very stable, and without any joints or seams is less likely to leak than just about anything else.

The lines are typically manufactured at nearly net shape and size from a plastic extrusion machine.

The corrosion resistance is also well above metal lines.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 10:22AM
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Is there any BPA in PE pipes?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 9:13PM
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BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic bottles & epoxy resins but it is not in PE pipe

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Does this site put ads on certain words on this forum or does my computer have another malware?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 7:32PM
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