What’s this elbow? Should I replace it?

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Paul Stephenson

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I am considering replacing (with PEX) all of my home’s remaining indoor galvanized water supply lines (at least 40 and up to 95 years old, showing rust at threaded joints but not yet springing leaks) and the existing main valve (see picture). Not at this time planning to replace exterior buried water supply line (again somewhere between 40 and 95 yoa) which is copper as it exits street water meter, but unknown material where it enters below grade through concrete basement wall.

I need advice on where to stop replacing vintage pipe/fittings, and if the elbow needs to go how to connect new to old. Attached image shows the water supply line entering basement wall (bottom) through some slathered on waterproofing (again unknown material). The first plumbing visible on interior is a brass (bronze?) elbow. The elbow is then connected to the main gate valve (installed backwards, with drain on street side) through a short (galvanized) nipple.

What is the elbow? How is it likely attached to the exterior pipe? Should I replace the elbow or leave it in place and endeavor to unthread the short nipple and commence PEX immediately after the elbow? The closest thing I’ve found online is a radiator union elbow (not as I understand it an appropriate fitting for water supply).

Thanks in advance!

upload_2021-12-7_10-46-18.jpeg
 

wwhitney

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That elbow may just be a brass Schedule 40 street elbow, not sure.

Can you figure out what material that hex female fitting emerging from the waterproofing is? Maybe by scrubbing, sanding or scratching it a little? If it's copper, that would be a good sign, as plausibly your water lateral is all copper (but no guarantee).

As to replacing that elbow, the first question is whether you could physically get a hex wrench on that the hex fitting to hold back while you unscrew the elbow. If doing that is prohibitively difficult, and the connection doesn't show signs of leaking, leaving it there seems appealing.

Cheers, Wayne
 

Jeff H Young

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Looks like brass hit it with a file and or a magnet on the nipples. hoping brass 90 that's where I'd want to stop for now. If gate valve works reasonably well you still have your meter shut off and could hold off replacing valve .
The best would be to replace everything all the way to the meter. if you're not doing that then you can just leave whatever it doesn't matter twisting on old pipes can turn disasterous but if you got a brass threaded 90 If feel safe taking it right down to the top of the 90
 

Tuttles Revenge

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Typically when we replace water systems in old homes we look for the best usable fitting. Only fittings have threads that are likely to be in good enough condition to be re-used. Pipe threads are thinner and more likely to break off in the fitting. Any brass fitting would be good enough to use. But be very very cautious of disturbing that last fitting before it exits the home.. if you break that, then you're going to have to replace the water service at the same time. We often leave the old gate valve in place, remove the nipple and start our repipe from there with a new ball valve installed on top of it.

The gate valve and that elbow are not likely to be the original to your home in seattle if it were built in the 20's. So maybe there is already a copper service? The elbow is something that looks like it has a nut on it to use as a Bulkhead fitting of some sort. Something I've never seen used in that application.

Seattle water dept uses a copper pigtail from the meter to the property line at the sidewalk in 99% of the times and will almost always provide a threaded Ford fitting that they used to adapt onto old steel or copper water services.
 

Tuttles Revenge

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It looks like a water meter fitting... or some sort of flare fitting. Maybe the bulkhead nut is just the flare nut embedded in the foundation?

The water service looks like its been replaced. That dark patch is new and the flare nut is likely embeded in the patch.

WaterMeterFittings.jpg
 

Paul Stephenson

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Thanks to all who replied. Very helpful. Your replies prompted me to explore the water supply line (after living in house 35 years). I carefully dug down 3 feet outside the foundation wall and voila reached a shiny reddish pipe: copper! So obviously not the original supply line from 1927 construction. Hope you all agree no reason to believe buried water supply line needs to be replaced as part of interior recipe.

I also took a stiff wire brush to the interior elbow. It is clearly brass (or bronze) based on color, and consistent with green patina. I also learned I was mistaken in original post: there is no galvanized nipple between the elbow and the valve. The elbow itself has male npt end connected to valve.

I like the idea that the hidden end of the elbow is a flare connection with the copper supply line. But I take your replies to mean that it doesn’t really matter so long as I make the transition to PEX after the elbow or even leaving the existing valve in place (and adding a new ball valve).

One final question for you experts mostly out of curiosity: can you tell from the valve body shape in pic above whether it is a gate valve or compression valve? And in either case if I confirm that it is not fully functional, would you recommend trying to rebuild (assuming I am leaving it in place) or does this risk making matters worse? If I could not get the parts back together and watertight that would necessitate removing the valve, increasing risk of disrupting the flare joint.

Thanks again.
 

Jeff H Young

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No problem with leaving that brass 90 on new nipple and shutoff valve recommended.
Leave that old underground copper until you have leaks is fine. But if you were tearing up your yard and or putting concrete down or some other4 expensive landscape I'd like to replace the main.
 

Terry

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It's a gate valve, and I would leave it alone if you can.
The copper water service can be left in. It should last a long time.
It would be best to have a 1" line from the meter, but that has been working. Adding an expansion tank helps.
 
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