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Thread: HELP! Underwater and over my head. Supply main leak

  1. #1
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    Exclamation HELP! Underwater and over my head. Supply main leak

    I nearly cried when I opened the 789.87 dollar water bill! A huge water leak and we didn't notice. Called a friend, who remembered stepping in a muddy place at the far end of the patio a couple weeks earlier and he assumed someone had left a water hose on too long. So, in the past two days, we have received estimates from plumbers and handymen from 2500 to 8,000 to find the leak that appears to be under the fairly new concrete patio ( 20x 65 feet). Some say the patio has to be dug up and replaced. Some will try with a water thing that digs holes and one guy said..um just move where the main comes into the house and avoid the house concrete expense.

    You guys helped me a couple of years ago do a bathroom remodel. And it turned out great. This time, it is an emergency and I don't have that much money to fix the darn leak. I have 3 days off and a shovel. I will spend a good part of the evening trying to research what will be involved in each of the options that my mother fielded.

    The basics: I live on 1.52 acres in the High Desert which is earthquake country. The meter is about 200-300 feet from my house. The house was built in the mid 1950's so I know I will need to replace a good deal of pipe. Most of plumbers said it was best to replace the pipe all the way to the meter to avoid having to dig it up again. I am in shock at the prices. I would LOVE to pay someone to do this job, but I honestly don't have that much money.

    There is even opinions on plastic and copper. I know copper is more expensive, but I do know that I have had so many leaks with PVC pipes ( sprinklers). I am not sure about the chemicals leaching in from plastic. I won't know until tomorrow what type of pipe is there now. All this happened while I was at work and I don't get home until after dark so I haven't seen the damage.

    I am pretty handy and made it through the bathroom remodel with your help before. For right now, we drive out to the meter and turn the water on for an hour to shower and wash dishes in the morning and leave it off the rest of the time. Not going to be able to keep this up for long.

    Where do I start? Move the whole main supply over to avoid the patio drama? Copper Tubing? Plastic? If the leak is really under the patio, why do I have to turn the water off at the meter instead of at the pressure box right before the patio?

    I promise to spend time learning the vocabulary tonight. I can take pictures if it helps.

    Thanks so much

  2. #2
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    You obviously have a serious problem. I'm not a pro, and I won't even venture a guess at what you should do other than to explore all of the options, including finding and repairing the leak. If it is under the concrete patio, remember that concrete can be cut and repaired so the entire slab would not have to be removed. This being the start of the week-end, many of the plumber pros that frequent the forum may not see this post until next week, so keep checking back. I'm sure you will get some valuable pointers and suggestions from them. But you should know that the PVC that would be used for replacing the whole main line should that be required, comes in long rolls and is not the ridged kind of PVC in your lawn sprinkler system.

  3. #3
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    HOw tough is digging there? You may be able to rent a trencher or a mini bobcat. You'd need to know how deep the pipe must be buried, this is either below the frost line, or something like 18", whichever is deeper. You need to know your local code for that. One continuous piece from a roll would be best; then you only have a connection at the meter and at the house. Many utilities use plastic pipe. The soil and water combination in some places makes copper a very bad choice. SOft rolled copper that long and big would be quite expensive. Sticks of it would require brazing, as soldering isn't allowed underground, and there would be a joint at least every 20', about the longest you can buy sticks (10' is more commonly available). Before you start digging, you should call DIgSafe, or the equivalent in your area (might be tough on the weekend, but maybe not). You need to know where buried utilities are so you don't sever or damage them in the process.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  4. #4
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    I didn't know that the plastic stuff came in rolls. I was pricing the rolls of K type copper tubing- 1 inch and it is pretty spendy for 200 feet. I am leaning toward copper so far because many of the problems here are caused by tree roots. There is a huge and beautiful tree fairly close to the house. I want to keep my plumbing destroying trees because I live in the desert and they provide much needed shade for the house and above ground pool. I have used copper sprinkles in the pipes to kill tree roots so I am wondering if I copper supply line would keep the roots away. There is a strange pipe material that leads from the meter to the house. I had a leak years ago and uncovered this thick black plastic pipe and we could not find any fittings for it. The water company came out and said it was their pipe and they did not know how I ever got that on my private property. So, I imagine it is that stuff. Will let you know once I get warm enough to go out there and start digging.

  5. #5
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    My gas line comes from the front of the house. My electricity is overhead. So I just have the water supply and the two septic tanks. Digging should be more frustrating than difficult. My yard is mostly soft sand like a beach. Some areas with harder dirt. So in some places digging is like trying to dig a hole in water. It just fills in with sand as you dig it out. So, here I go trying to figure it out. Oh, how I wish older homes came with a user manual.

    Update: There is a box in the middle of the patio about 6 feet from the house with a turn off and on station. Then I see a huge hole at the end of the patio in line with this box where they dug down to expose a thick mud covered pipe. I guess this means I will have to go way out to the alley to turn the water off and on at meter until we figure this out. I am trying to remember that folks have hauled water for thousands of years. I plan to fill up about 5 tamale cooking pots with water after my shower so we have water to cook and clean with the rest of the day ( and flush the toilets!)

    Update again: Measure about 300 feet from the house to the meter. The leak seems to be somewhere between the edge of the patio and that box thing. Which is about 12 feet or so. Oh, even with wonder woman strength, I don't think I could dig that trench in a week. I need one of those Huge gophers that likes to dig under my above ground pool to help me tunnel. In the hour or so the water was on, it filled that box and the 4x4 x 3 feet hole they dug in front of the patio looking for the leak. Looks like we need to shower at the neighbors house. That is a LOT of water!
    Last edited by nursedoe; 01-12-2013 at 12:14 PM.

  6. #6
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    At 300 feet from the meter, 1" is probably too small. K copper will cost you an arm and a leg. I would definitely recommend 1 1/4" polyethylene ( PE ) tubing. Very reasonable price, easy to work with. You do need to get "dig alert" in before you start digging trenches. No need to make things worse!!

    Without actually seeing your layout, all new from the street may be the best idea, and in that case consider finding a different route. If an extra 25 to 50' of pipe would avoid jacking up the new slab, then consider that for sure.

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    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    Thanks, Jimbo. I am going to take some pictures in a little while. I was waiting for the water to drain from the big hole so I can see the pipe better. I do remember that a few years ago, when the kids hit that black pipe we searched high and low for a joint of some kind and NO one had the right size. Plumbers came out saying they didn't know that size etc and a minimum of 450 to fix the 1 foot section of pipe. Water company came out while plumber was explaining the 450 charge, he jumped in the hole, attached a joint of some sort in less than 10 seconds and I swear he raised his hand like a calf roper as the pipe snapped back in place. No charge. So it is some strange pipe and pretty big and No one will be able to fix it because of the strange size if it is the same stuff from the previous leak about 100 feet closer to the meter.

    Can I put a mix of copper and plastic? I am wondering about doing just 60 feet of copper closest to the house because of the tree roots. The house was built in the mid 1950s and I often have problems with the pipes that drain to the septic ( I have two septic tanks!)...So If I have to dig up the darn patio, I will want to replace those at the same time! I should have some pictures and drawings by end of the day. Thank you so much for any advice.

    The dig alert confuses me. There is only the water supply in the back. The gas comes from the front and electricity from above. I am going to find the maps of the septic tanks and once and for all mark them with something I can always find without digging
    with that water digger

  8. #8
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    "dig alert" also known by various similar names depending on where you live....is a service provided by the local utilities to come in and mark the location of all underground utilities BEFORE you dig. You only THINK you know where everything is. If you stumble on a fiber optic line or high pressure gas main, the bill for that will not make your day. If you dig without checking first, you are liable. Call your utility company

  9. #9
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    Name:  IMG_0128.jpg
Views: 144
Size:  81.6 KB From the hole to the house
    Name:  IMG_0129.jpg
Views: 144
Size:  95.0 KB This is the pipe that is leaking somewhere
    Name:  IMG_0127.jpg
Views: 142
Size:  96.8 KB From the hole looking toward meter 300 feet thata way
    Last edited by nursedoe; 01-12-2013 at 02:36 PM. Reason: To label the photos

  10. #10
    Test, Don't Guess! cacher_chick's Avatar
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    I would rent the trencher and run a new trench from the meter to the house.

    The PE tubing Jim is talking about is good stuff, and fairly cheap. The tree roots will not effect it in any way. Make sure you buy the tubing that is rated for potable water use. You could buy one roll long enough for the entire distance and have extra to spare.

    The pipe in your picture looks like old galvanized pipe, and if so, it would not be worth trying to fix.
    It will just be leaking somewhere else in a few weeks.

  11. #11
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    Cacher_chick-

    Thank you so much for your response. I have had the day to research my options. I know that there have been a lot of problems over the years in that area with leaks and that pressure regulator. I am coming to terms with the reality of having to replace and likely move the supply line. I am going to see how much less it will be if we do the trench digging and ask the plumbers to do everything else. A nice neighbor has said my mom and I can shower at her house for now. Now, I am trying to research PE vs PEX and what the code will allow here in Apple Valley. After pricing copper, it is just not possible. I have lots of concerns about leaching carcinogens and am going to see if there is some sort of filter.
    I guess now would be the best time to start planning where I will want irrigation for the yard and above ground pool. Still, the 2500 lowest quote still has been in shock.

  12. #12
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    You can rent a Ditch Witch to dig the trench, but you will certainly need to heed the "dig alert" advice and know how deep the trench needs to be. There are different sizes of trenchers, the smaller ones only go about 24 inches deep. That may or may not be deep enough for your climate area, so a larger unit might be required. Be aware that while these Ditch Witches do not necessitate a highly trained muscle man to operate, but are they not child's play. However, even if you have to hire someone with a strong back to run the trencher, that would be less expensive than paying a plumber to do common labor. As I stated in my first reply, I am not a pro, but I do know that PE is the route to go for 300 feet of line replacement, and 1" is way too small to supply the volume of water you will want to have. There are charts that will help you determine if 1-1/4" us large enough or if 1-1/2" would be better. The pipe you have to replace is galvanized steel, and has a lifespan of about 40 years. Galvanized pipe is just not used for plumbing anymore for that reason. Galvanized pipe corrodes on the inside, cutting the diameter down. The PE does not corrode so this will not be a problem. You will likely need a pressure reducer where the household water takes off of the new line which will also require a thermal expansion tank. These are not extremely expensive, but will prevent you water heater T/P valve from tripping every time water is heated and controlling the pressure will save wear and tear on dishwasher valves, toilet flushing valves, washing machine valves, and ice makers. Just don't confuse volume with pressure. They are related but different.

  13. #13
    DIY Member nursedoe's Avatar
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    Wow, this is going to be much more complicated than I thought it would be. I will look for the charts in the morning. I tried looking through the town building codes to see what the rules are. The pipe only has to buried 12 inches in the rule book but the current rusty stuff is about 24 inches. Thanks so much for your reply, Gary. Looks like Google is gonna be my new best friend as I try to figure out how to do every thing.

  14. #14
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Default Pipe

    It is a galvanized pipe, so even if you could find the leak, it is unlikely you could repair it. A new line is the only good solution.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  15. #15
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    There is a Ditch Witch that will trench 24" deep. Best way I can describe it is that it sort of resembles a rototiller except instead of the tines that chew up the soil, it has a trencher device which rather resembles a chainsaw on steroids. The larger ones are tractor mounted. You might want to check with an irrigation installer about doing the trenching instead of renting the machine and hiring the muscle. You will want to buy a special shovel to clean out the bottom of the trench. These have a narrow blade that will fit into a narrow trench. They're pretty much worthless for actual digging, but scooping loose dirt from a trench is fairly easy.

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