Size of water main

new_owner2011April 8, 2011

We just bought an old 3 story red brick row house in downtown Philadelphia. Our main water line is still the old (original?) lead pipe. We are thinking of replacing the old main with a new copper pipe, both to get rid of the lead and to increase the water pressure, which leaves a bit to be desired. I had 2 plumbers come by to give me an estimate. Prices did not differ much but one wanted to use a 1 inch pipe and the other a 3/4 inch.

The 2nd guy (3/4 pipe) told me we would need a new meter if we went to 1 inch. Right now, we have a 5/8 meter and going bigger is not an option due to the pricing schedule of the water company (everything that is not 5/8 is a LOT more).

1. Is that correct? I have read that 1 inch pipe with 3/4 meter is no problem, in fact it is recommended. Of course we have a 5/8 meter.

2. Does it make sense to go to 1 inch (obviously a bit more expensive) if we have a small meter? I am very concerned about the water pressure and would happily pay the $4-500 to have better pressure for the next 25 years.

Any help would be appreciated.

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While having zero background to help evaluate your situation and make suggestions, I would suggest:

You might not have a pressure problem, you may have a flow problem caused by buildup/restrictions in and the configuration of your old plumbing.

Replacing what you have with a Pex manifold/homerun system might return your taps to a very acceptable flow rate.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pex Systems

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 10:31PM
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" We are thinking of replacing the old main with a new copper pipe, both to get rid of the lead and to increase the water pressure..."

I'm not familiar with Philly, but other municipalities with lead supply piping lead me to believe that your replacement might not remove ALL the lead, simply your in-house portion of it.

You are also confusing "pressure" with flow, or volume. Larger pipe will not increase pressure (force). Too small a meter will act as a throttle on too large supply, negating desired intent of greater flow.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 7:43AM
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You would also want to know if a pressure regulator valve is also incorporated with the current meter (or next to it). Sometimes they are there, sometimes they are in the house. If you are suffering from low pressure, then this valve may be set too low, or has failed.

IIRC, here in DC, the city is replacing the lead lines. Have you checked to see if Philly will do this for you? Or are you saying that the city will replace up to the meter but you are responsible from the meter to your house?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 12:08AM
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Thanks for the responses.

The pipes inside the house are all copper and were replaced in the 1990s/2000s. However, the pipe that brings the water into the house (until the meter) is lead. It is my understanding that in Philly the owner is responsible for the pipe from the street into the house.

I understand that the larger pipes will not solve all my problems with the pressure, but having a larger diameter pipe increases the flow into the house and and also has less resistance. I believe, we may also have to change some internal pipes if I want more flow but we first have to get the water into the house. But I'm no expert, and no one seems to know for sure, not even the plumbers in this city :(

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 2:09PM
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My father-in-law owned in a 3 level row house in Philadelphia -- Northeast, not downtown. Every pipe in the place was 1/2 inch copper, and he didn't have any water pressure problems, mind you he only had one bathroom, but still no problems. Maybe you won't either. He also had the same configuration of a meter in the basement at the entry point. I have no idea what the size or material of the pipe in from the street, but, as his was a newer row house -- post WWII -- I would think it wasn't lead.

It is my understanding that the use of a 5/8 inch meter with 3/4 inch lines on either side is fairly common. A 5/8 meter may provide less resistance than a globe valve, and I've seen lots of houses with main shut-off valves that were globe valves, not gate or ball.

Also, have you checked the lead levels in your water? It was my understanding that lead pipes developed an inert crust after a while and stopped leaching lead into the water until or unless they were disturbed. That is supposed to be what happens when you use (formerly) leaded solder on copper pipe. The point is, you might just choose to postpone replacing the lead pipe until there is a symptom, or you need to disturb that area anyway.

Back to the pipe run from the house, I'm not sure if they need to do a trench. When they were replacing leaking gas lines in NE Philadelphia, they only dug up where the line tapped into the main, and at the basement wall penetration.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 10:08PM
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new owner2011,

You're talking plumbing mathamatics 101 and any licensed plumber should be able to tell you exactly what the fixtures and appliances in the house require and what size supply line and meter you need.

Perhaps the plumbers you've asked are too busy scarfing cheesesteaks, hoagies, and TastyKakes to answer your question even thought it is a requirement of their plumbing license to be able to determine exactly what you're asking.

Look for a master plumber and the older the better.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2011 at 11:23PM
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