Main water valve replacement

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by darmstro, Mar 31, 2011.

  1. darmstro

    darmstro New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Illinois
    O Great Plumbing Sages:

    The main water valve for my 100 year-old-house is leaking. It leaks from the top of the value around the stem. The valve is connected to galvanized pipe on both the street-side and meter-side of the valve (the valve is on the street-side of the meter). A local plumber inspected the valve and has told me that he would not repair it because replacing the packing may not stop the leaking due to the age of the valve (which we believe is at least 40 years old). He also told me that he would not replace the valve because the street-side connection is galvanized pipe and he's concerned that he may not be able to remove the valve without breaking the pipe or without damaging the existing pipe threads. And, there isn't enough room between the floor and the bottom of the valve to re-thread the pipe. So, his recommendation is to replace the entire line between the house and the B-box at a cost of about $1400. Is his recommendation the best approach??? Are there any other options that could be lower cost???
  2. SacCity

    SacCity In the Trades

    Messages:
    189
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    If the valve is leaking from the packing gland.
    You could try tightening the packing gland, just see if you can snug it up.

    First a question though if the valve is on the street side of the water meter, then should not that valve belong to the city? If that is the case then they would fix it for free. Give them a call and ask, the worst they can do is say no.
    Michael
  3. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    In my area ( S. Calif) the meter is in a box on the sidewalk, and everything up to the meter is city. But I understand in 'cold country' the meter may be in the basement, but the HO is responsible for the line in from the street.
  4. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,450
    Location:
    Connecticut
    He's looked at the plumbing and assessed it as being in doubtful condition where success of changing the valve was unlikely.

    I frequently see the same thing and sell the job the same way. It is the safe thing to do.

    If he was to sell the job as just replacing the valve he may get lucky and pull it off or, it may break off and not work as he believes it will. The problem being that when the water is shut off at the curb box it is not going back on until the job is completed one way or another. Switching from just changing out a valve to line replacement will cost a minimum of a day just to get the Dig Safe, permits, equipment lined up, and maybe more. You won't like him anymore when that happens.

    Replacing the old galvanized line eliminates any variables that that will inconvenience you and ensures the job goes as planned.
  5. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    I agree with the previous answers that replacement is the best thing to do, but there's no way for us to tell if that job can be done for less. Local labor costs, depth of the pipe, and type of soil are just some of the variable that will affect the cost. You could shop around, but my guess is, the prices will be reasonably close.
  6. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,129
    Location:
    New England
    Depending on the size of the pipe and the water conditions and its age, the supply line could be the effective size of a soda straw! Galvanized eventually, rusts out from the inside (and sometimes from the outside as well). So, replacing it at some point is likely to improve your water flow. As said, try snugging up the packing nut, and if that buys you some leak-free time, use that to plan for a main line replacement.
  7. Basement_Lurker

    Basement_Lurker One who lurks

    Messages:
    668
    Location:
    Victoria, BC
    The plumber is too afraid to even attempt disassembling the valve to inspect the inside? Maybe you should get a 2nd opinion.
  8. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    I'm going to side with the plumber on this one. Are there any of us who haven't started to repair something that seems quite easy and simple only to find there were complications we hadn't anticipated? Working with very old galvanized pipe that has been buried for years could very well open a huge can of worms that could put the plumber in an awkward position. "Ya know the simple valve replacement that was going to cost $100 and take an hour? Well, sorry, but the pipe is beyond usable so it's going to be 3 days and cost $1400." I think he is being quite honest and upfront to turn down the "simple fix".
  9. Basement_Lurker

    Basement_Lurker One who lurks

    Messages:
    668
    Location:
    Victoria, BC
    Well he has a galv service, so a repipe is warranted and will be necessary in the future if not now. The valve is already shot, and an experienced plumber should be able disassemble that valve without destroying it. I haven't seen the valve, so I am just giving my opinion for what it's worth. But it sounds to me like this guy is a little afraid. But sine the only options are repipe or repair the valve, rather than jump right to the repipe if the customer is not willing, it can't hurt to attempt to work on the valve...I still say get a 2nd opinion from an experienced company.

    But I do agree with Gary, this guy sounds to be honest to say he's not going to touch the valve if he's not comfortable. Some guys push ahead when they are out of their element and create a disaster for the homeowner.
  10. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,450
    Location:
    Connecticut
    I see plenty of old gate valves on water service lines that I wouldn't touch...

    And by not touch I'm not evem going to move the handle a fraction of a turn....

    Screen shot 2011-04-01 at 12.25.34 AM.jpg
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,811
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Unless there is some obvious problem with the thread into the valve, I doubt that ANYTHING is going to happen if he tried to remove the valve. Unless it were a "steel valve" which is HIGHLY UNLIKELY, the brass valve will unscrew very easily. My initial feeling is that he thinks he would rather make $3,000 by changing the pipe, than $150 for a new valve.
  12. darmstro

    darmstro New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Illinois
    In the City of Hammond, Indiana, the HO is responsible for the waterline from the meter to the B-Box.
  13. darmstro

    darmstro New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Illinois
    I think this plumber is definitely playing it safe. . . and I'm not certain I wouldn't do the same if I were in his shoes.
  14. darmstro

    darmstro New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Illinois
    The water pressure is very good, despite the age of the line.
  15. darmstro

    darmstro New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Illinois
    I am going to seek a second opinion from another experienced plumber. I think the first plumber is being straight-up honest (and the price doesn't seem unreasonable). Nonetheless, it's ALWAYS prudent to get a second opinion from another professional who can take a first-hand look at the problem. Thanks for all of the great feedback!
  16. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Just point on the statement that the water pressure is good. Don't confuse pressure with flow. The inside diameter could be greatly restricted as mentioned earlier. The pressure would still be excellent, but the flow, amount of water per minute, greatly reduced. The second opinions is not a bad idea, but you need to realize that galvanized pipe has a life span and yours likely has just about reached that point and the line is going to need replacing fairly soon even if the valve is repaired or replaced successfully. Supply lines have to be buried below frost level, and given your general location, this is likely several feet. (Mine is 5 feet) Trenching that deep from your house to the meter will take some time, and that equals money. I doubt if $1400 is at all unreasonable. Cost of material and installation labor will not be a major cost.
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