What is best pipe for service line

missstellaMarch 16, 2009

We are looking to replace our service line from the meter to the house and our plumber has recommended pvc over copper. The plumber also commented on the availability of quality copper pipe today. We plan to be in this home for a long time and want the use the best material for this job even if it costs us more. Our water comes from a major municipal water system so water quality is not an issue.

What material do you recommend and why? If PVC is used, will it affect the taste of the water?

The house is approximately 50 years old and while pressure is generally good when we use several fixtures water flow is compromised. We are having landscape work done soon that will involve tearing up our front lawn so we felt like this was the time to make this upgrade.


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Alot depends on what your municipality allows. Check with them first while filing for the permit, they may dictate what to use.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 4:10PM
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Missstella I read your post not because I have the answer but because I wanted to know too!

But it made me think: I would suggest that whatever pipe you settle on you inquire about "sleeving" it. That simply means that when the trench is excavated a pvc sleeve pipe is installed, a little larger than the pipe that actually carries the water. So if the outside diameter of your water pipe is 1 1/4 inches the sleeve would be perhaps 2 inches.

Then if there's ever a problem it is very straightforward to pull the old pipe out and slip new in. This probably wouldn't be of great benefit to you, but to future homeowners it could be wonderful, and is inexpensive. The sleeve also provides considerable physical protection.

More experienced minds may disagree -these are just my thoughts based on limited experience with a well supply line.

Best wishes,


    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 5:07PM
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I have no reason to doubt that the county would not allow whatever my plumber suggests--he's a stand up guy--not interested in having his licensed pulled because he didn't do things right.

He has just suggested pvc over copper, and I have always thought copper was the standard for a water line replacement (it is what was done at my last house in this same neighborhood--10 years ago). He has said he will put in copper if we want, but he has moved away from copper because the cost has jumped so high in recent years and in his opinion the quality of copper piping has been an issue.

I'm okay with pvc or something else (suggestions anyone?), as long as it is safe, and durable. I have seen suggestions for PE (polyethylene?) but have not asked my plumber about whether this is possible in our area.

Marknmt, I'm not sure I understand why you would need a sleeve if a rigid pipe is used and there is no threat of freezing here in Georgia. Also we have to dig down several feet to install and/or replace a pipe and there is not easy access to the water line once it is laid. Maybe I'm not picturing this right...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 6:36PM
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Hi again Missstella.

I don't mean to suggest that a sleeve is necessary at all, just that it can provide a measure of convenience down the road.

Around here the water lines are typically galvanized steel, and in time they react with the soil and become pitted and fail. Sometimes it is possible to dig down and hook up to the old line and pull it out with an excavator. If everything works right the new line can be pulled right along with it. So no big trench has to be dug. (Still a mess, though.)

A sleeve would make the job a sure thing is all, and is very cheap. It just means that once you do excavate you insure that you don't have to do it again.

With PVC you'd have no issue with the hydrolysis and of course as you say, no freezing in Georgia.

Sorry to have muddied the waters for you! Here in our rocky soil it seems reasonable. Where you are there may be no point.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 8:05AM
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Thanks for the suggestion as I would not have thought to ask. I could see using a sleeve for protection, but it seems that you still have to dig to get to the pipe for replacement and I wonder if it would mask a need for repairs (I'm thinking leaks). I will ask my plumber what he recommends on this.

Our existing water line is galvanized and the interior (distribution) pipes are copper. Failure due to environmental issues is not usually the problem for the water lines in our area, just age, and debris/buildup inside the pipe affecting water flow. We would have done this replacement with the sewer line replacement, but that was done with the previous homeowners. I hope whatever I put in does not need to be dug up in my lifetime.

I'm still hoping there are some recommendations for the best pipe to use for the water line. I've done searches here, but none seem to address this question specifically.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 9:11AM
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I don't know that there is "one best line" to install. As was previously stated, your local municipality is going to dictate what can and can't be installed.

Copper will last a long time but it can have issues, particularly with certain water or soil conditions. Copper is also still expensive. There are some thinner walled versions of copper pipe that reduce the cost, but aren't going to last as long.

PVC is good but can crack if there is any shifting/heaving or physical impact. PVC is also cheap.

Poly can avoid some of the issues of PVC.

So, what I would say is check with your municipality.

Also, be aware that your current metal pipe may be serving as a required grounding electrode for your electrical service. If you replace it with plastic, you will need to address that issue.

Have you considered drilling this line rather than digging it up? Drilling is often done in my area to avoid digging up the yard.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 11:55AM
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The Georgia Plumbing code is modeled after the UPC (Uniform Plumbing code). Let us begin our discussion by examining your options under the UPC.

Pipe Approved by the UPC for domestic potable water "Supply Lines" (Note- Supply lines are defined as the line from the municipal water main or well to the structure).

List of approved materials:

1.ASBESTOS CEMENT PIPE-commonly used for municipal water mains but rarely seen in a residential supply.

2.BRASS PIPE- Extremely expensive and labor intensive because it requires cutting and threading in the same manner as iron pipe. Expected service life is 150+yrs. (In my entire career in the plumbing trade I never encountered a brass service line).

3.COPPER PIPE Type K & L (no type L)
Both "Hard drawn copper" (rigid 10' or 20' lengths) and "Annealed copper pipe" continuous roll pipe available in 60' & 100' rolls. Annealed copper continuous roll pipe is the preferred material for supply lines because it can be bent to conform to slight changes in direction or elevation and it minimizes the number of joints below grade. Expected service life 60+ yrs. Disadvantage is the high cost of the material.

4. CPVC-both pipe and tubing. CPVC pipe is made to conform to the sched.40 IPS (iron pipe standard). It has the same overall dimension and pipe wall thickness as sched.40 PVC & Iron pipe. Generally only available through a commercial plumbing supply house by special order. This pipe is generally not sold to the public because the pipe dimension is the same as sched.40 PVC and there is a great risk that untrained installers might co-mingle CPVC pipe with PVC fittings. (code prohibits gluing dissimilar plastic pipes and fittings.
The CPVC commonly found in the home supply stores is CPVC-CTS (CTS=Copper Tube Standard). While CPVC-CTS is approved for supply piping, in my humble opinion the tubing wall is too thin to hold up to the rigors of direct burial, and being a rigid material it would require numerous joints. Failed joints are the leading cause of problems with a supply line.

5.GALVANIZED IRON PIPE- Expensive, labor intensive to install, highly succeptable to mineral buildup and internal corrosion. Generally not considered a good choice today.

6. PE PIPE (Polyethelene Plastic tubing). Available in 50', 100' & 250' rolls. Uses standard "Bsrb" fittings which are pushed into the pipe and held in place by stainless steel clamps.
a.Very inexpensive.
b. No buried joints.
c.Flexible so it will easily conform to an imperfect trench or change in direction or elevation.
d.Proven service life 65+ yrs.
e.Requires no tools other than a pvc snap cutter or common utility knife to cut the pipe and a common flat tip screwdriver to tighten the clamps.

7.PEX (Cross linked Polyethelene pipe). PEX is a relatively new material in the plumbing industry. It has all the advantages of the PE pipe with the exception that it requires special tools to make the joints and it may not be code approved by your local jurisdiction.

NOTE: both PE & PEX pipe can be installed with a minimal invasion of your landscaping by means of a ditch-witch type trenching machine using a 4" or 6" wide cutter bar. Some trenching machines even have a special pipe rack that will hold a roll of PE or PEX and a dispensing system on the cutter bar so that the pipe is laid during the trenching operation. This method only requires digging a small hole at each end of the run to make the final connection or feed the pipe through a footer wall.

8. PVC pipe-available in 20' rigid lengths. Requires couplings to join additional lengths and fittings to make changes in direction or elevation.
a.PVC is relatively inexpensive
b.pvc is impervious to scaling or mineral fouling.
a.Requires numerous joints which are the leading cause of direct burial pipe failure.
b. requires good straight line trenches.

In my professional opinion my choices in order would be;
1.PE pipe
2.PEX pipe
3.PVC pipe

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 12:44PM
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Jake2007 and Lazypup,

Thanks, that is exactly the type of information I was looking for! I will definitely explore the PE option with my plumber.

I'll let you know where we end up.

I love these GW forums.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 1:04PM
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Often the black polyethylene is bad-mouthed on forums. If code permits, it is my first choice. I recommend stainless steel adapters, rarely in inventory at local suppliers, available from internet sources. Use double clamps at each fitting, use 100% stainless steel clamps, not the ones with regular steel screws. "Plastic" fittings generally work well, but I have had some failures with them in buried situations after 35 years or so. Use the pipe rated for at least 160 pounds, nothing less/cheaper. Eliminate up front as many problems as possible.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 4:04PM
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To give a minor testimonial on PE pipe, my family has a 160acre dairy farm in N.E.Ohio. Our primary water source is from a spring which is about 120yds from the house. Prior to 1959 our notion of running was was when the first boy got out of bed and down to the kitchen in the morning Grandma would hand us a bucket and say "Run out to the spring and fetch me a bucket of water"

in 1959 my uncle was working for the Deming Pump company in Salem, Ohio and he bought a factory second Deming 2HP shallow well 2 cylinder piston pump. (It was a factory second for cosmetic reasons-bad paint job) The pump was installed in the basement of the house and after 2 weeks of hand digging we managed to run a 2" PE suction line from the spring to the house and a 1.5" PE pressure line from the house to the barn. Originally they installed running water to the kitchen and a mere 3 yrs later we installed a complete bathroom. (i don't miss that little old shack out back)

That pump and piping system supplies between 2000 and 3000gal of water daily to the livestock at the barn and to this date we have not had any system failure except for one electric pump motor that burned out.

In addition, a bulk truck comes in every other day to haul our milk away, and every time they take our milk they take a sample of both the milk and our water, which is tested at the dairy lab. In fifty years of service our water has never once failed the required health inspection. In fact, we received a letter from the lab stating that our water quality grossly exceeds the health standards for commercial municipal water supplies. Needless to say, I am sold on PE pipe.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 5:14PM
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The ability to install the entire run without any joints is a huge advantage.

I use PE all the time and it works very well and lasts.

Physical damage is about the only thing that can hurt it, and when installed with the correct bedding and first layers of back fill it is very unlikely to be damaged.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 7:29PM
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PE is used all the time however I've only seen SS stiffeners inside the pipe and a heavy brass compression adapter used on this WST (water service tubing) pipe that is CTS (copper tube size), not IPS that uses insert fittings that is common on well systems.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 10:45PM
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I notice neither Lazypup nor Brickeye say anything about sleeving, so I am going to assume you needn't give it any more thought!


    Bookmark   March 18, 2009 at 6:04AM
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