Material for replacement buried main water line from the curb?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by greendog, Feb 16, 2011.

  1. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Hi,

    I am getting ready to replace my 80-year old galvanized plumbing in my house due to very low flow, and am going to start with the buried line from the sidewalk to the house.

    What is the best material for this job? I want to have the best chance of never touching this pipe again in the possibly 30+ years we'll be in this house; I figure the cost of materials is almost negligible compared to the labor and hassle.

    Here's my setup: the house is about 25 feet from the sidewalk. There is a 3 foot tall rockery a couple feet back from the sidewalk. There is a 3/4" copper line from the meter (on the far side of the sidewalk) that comes up right at the base of the rockery, and a fitting that joins it to the galvanized pipe. I'd like to avoid digging through or under the rockery, so I was going to get a piece of larger diameter steel pipe and hammer it into the ground from above at a 45 degree angle, maybe flushing water through it to help, and hopefully aim that at the copper line from the city. Then I'll dig a 2 feet deep trench from there to the house, and drill a hole through the foundation where it will come into the basement (near the old pipe, but not as deep (it was 3.5 feet deep) and larger diameter).

    So my question is what material pipe should I use?

    I was thinking about rigid copper because it is the only pipe I have experience with (from a previous house), and copper pipe lasts a very long time. But I was chatting with a contractor at a party and he said that oftentimes copper doesn't last that well because the solder joints go bad, due to earth settling, expansion/contraction, etc. He recommended polyethylene. I thought about soft copper, but I'm not sure I could get it through the rockery without digging a much larger hole. And it is expensive and I'm afraid of kinking it and ruining it. How easily flexible is soft copper? Could I get it straight enough to push it through another pipe (of slightly larger diameter)?

    The other thing I was considering is PEX. My biggest concern with PEX is that it is relatively newer than the other materials on the market, so there is less data available about its longevity. If I did PEX outside, I would continue with PEX inside. If I didn't do PEX outside, I would do copper inside.

    So between hard copper, soft copper, polyethylene, and PEX, what do people recommend? Or is there something else I haven't considered that is better?

    Thanks for any help or advice!
  2. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,125
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    The easiest pipe to put through that hole is going to be hard copper. If you use Lead Free solder, the joint is going to be very strong. In the old days of 50/50 you could have broken a solder joint. With Lead Free, the pipe will twist and break before the joint will.

    You could also use soft copper for most of it, and use the ridgid under the rockery.
    If you PEX it, remember that it's smaller then either copper or poly.
    A standard copper size would be 1", even though the pigtail from the meter is 3/4"

    If you only have to go a little way through, you should be able to use soft copper the entire way.

    If you use poly, or PEX, you just solder on the right fitting onto the pigtail that the city has.
    Some Seattle water meters have a five sided post for the shutoff key.
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2011
  3. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,227
    Location:
    Maine
    Most municipal water supplies to the house are being done with HDPE plastic. It is rugged, much less expensive than copper and easy to install.
  4. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Thanks for the info. That's good to know that the joints shouldn't be a problem.

    After the piece under the rockery, I should be within 20 feet of my destination, so I don't think it is worth switching to soft copper since I can do it in one shot with no additional joints. The other problem with this hard copper is making joints at odd angles. I can use a street elbow and a regular elbow together to make a fitting for any angle, but will that reduce my flow much? I'm planning to use 1" pipe, which should be more than adequate for my needs (2 full baths, kitchen with dishwasher, washing machine, two hose bibs, 2 utility sinks). So maybe I can get away with it. Although if I did switch to soft copper, I'd have at most 1 ugly connection like that (to the city's gooseneck).

    Would type L copper outlive me, or should I use type K?
  5. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Do you know how long it typically lasts? How does one transition from HDPE to copper?
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,831
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    I seldom use hard copper for the line from the meter to the house. Soft copper, when it is new, is fairly flexible if you treat it with care.
  7. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,227
    Location:
    Maine
    It typically lasts longer than any of us will ever have to worry about. There are several ways to transition but the most common would be an insert male adaptor
  8. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Messages:
    3,249
    Location:
    Land of Cheese
    Up north a lot of our water mains were 10+ feet in the ground. When the galvanized pipe is still fairly solid, the plumber would attach new copper to the old line in the house and the excavator used the backhoe to pull the new copper through to the street without trenching at all. The only digging was the hole at the street connection.
  9. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Would I be able to push it through my 10 foot ram-rod pipe to get it under my rockery? If it is too stiff or too bendy, it would be difficult.
  10. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Yes, I've heard about that technique. But I think it isn't cost effective here because pipe is only required to be buried 18 inches, and in my case the soil is soft and really easy to dig. And besides, I don't own a backhoe (sadly).
  11. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    If I were going to dig up the entire area, I would definately use soft copper instead of hard, but I don't know that I can feed soft copper into my ram-rod pipe.
  12. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,125
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    Greendog,
    The hard copper will be fine for that section. I've done the same thing when I've had to.
    I tried pulling galvanized out from under a driveway before with a tow truck, the fitting pulled off the end of the pipe, and I went with a "Mole". Air compressor set up that pounded a hole under the drive.
    They used the same setup to install a T-1 line to my home a few months ago which I'm using for phone lines. I wound up with eight phone lines.
  13. greendog

    greendog New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Would you recommend K or L copper?
  14. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,125
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    Type L will be fine.
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