The Answer To How Long Do Copper Water Lines Last & 4 Factors Affecting Lifespan

Water Main Service
April 20, 2021

by David Balkan

Copper Pipe Water Mains Last

Copper water main pipes are extremely durable, but they don’t last forever. Did you ever wonder how long do copper water lines last? This post will get you some on-point information regarding that plumbing question. Replacing your water service line is serious business. One of the biggest decisions you have to make is the size and the material of your new water line.

The size and fittings are, of course, determined by plumbing code and the connection to the city water, and to the home itself. The material, however, determines the performance, lifespan, and maintenance needs of your water main. In NYC virtually all homes that are about 6 family or less are required to have copper water lines.

Water Main Lifespan by Material

The quick answer to the question of how long do copper water lines last is roughly 50+ years. Copper has an inherent resistance to corrosion, rust, and water toxicity. Therefore copper water mains are the leading choice for new homes, and replacing water mains in older homes. It is common for copper water mains to last over 70 years under ideal circumstances.

Typical Water Service Line & Water Main Lifespans

  • Copper Water Main:                       50-70 Years
  • Brass Water Main:                         40-60 Years
  • Galvanized Steel Water Main:  20-50 Years
  • Cast Iron Water Main:                   70-100 Years
  • PVC Water Main:                           Indefinite
  • Lead Water Main:                          100 Years

There are several water main materials that have been commonly used in the past. Of course, your home may not have a copper water main installed right now. Your failing or failed water main just might not made of copper. It might alternately be brass, copper, galvanized steel, cast iron, pvc, or even lead; which typically differ than how long copper water lines last.

Each type of water line material has their own individual lifespan, with comparative pros and cons. As amatter of act, there are different types of copper pipes. However, K type copper is the type of copper permitted for water service lines in NYC. An added point of answering the question of how long do copper pipes last is also related to the type of copper pipes in question.

If the original water main in your home is broken or corroded to the point of breaking, then replacement will be necessary. Of course local plumbing code dictates your choice of material.

While there are types of water main that can last longer than copper, their downsides are also more significant. Cast iron, for example, is the most susceptible to rust. Lead, of course, is not used anymore because it can become the source of household lead poisoning. Lead water lines in NYC are also not legal to perform a water main repair and must be replaced in full whenever a leak or work is required for any reason.

How Long Do Copper Water Lines Last?

The quick answer to how long do copper water lines last is a lifespan of between 20 and 70 years, depending on the conditions surrounding the main. On average, a copper water main lasts 50 years, and can potentially last much longer. In especially poor conditions like stray underground electrical current, copper lines can be destroyed in a couple of years. Where highly acidic ground conditions exist, a copper water main may last 20 years or less.

In the right circumstances, it’s common for copper water mains to last 70 years and maybe more. The key factors for that to happen are proper installation, safe surrounding soil, and no presence of stray underground electrical current. 

Deciding To Repair or Replace A Water Service Line

20 Years is considered the turning point for repairs and replacement. A leaking, damaged, or clogged water main that is less than 20 years old should be repaired if possible. After 20 years, clients are advised to decide whether they want to install a new water main with a fresh lifespan.

After 20 years, certain types of damage like pinhole leaks from a water main worn thin may mean the water main needs to be replaced. Good advice is to always get pricing on both a repair and a full water service line replacement. Then let your commonsense dictate a good hiring decision.

How long do copper water lines last? Electrolysis changes the answer to that question!

The 4 Factors That Reduce the Lifespan of Copper Water Mains

While copper pipe can last upwards of 70 years in perfect conditions, there are several factors that an either wear away your copper water main or cause it to break before the natural end of its lifespan as a sturdy metal fixture. Each of the below factors will affect to the answer to “How long do copper water lines last”. To get the most from your new water main or to protect your current copper water main, watch out for the following factors:

1.Tree Roots

One potemital threat to your water main is tree roots from the yard and nearby planted landscaping. When a tree grows, its roots spread underground any direction there is nutritious soil and moisture. While the roots grow slowly, they are extremely strong when they grow. If you have trees planted within 10 feet of your water main, then the main may be in danger as those roots grow. The roots will push and push until they break into the main or pipes nearby.

2. Copper pipe Electrolysis

Electrolysis is what happens when your copper pipes are exposed to an electric current. Even wrapped in conduits, the static created by a bundle of cables or direct exposure to even one exposed cable causes a chemical reaction to copper water lines. Copper pipe electrolysis is increasingly more common, and poses a dilemma in many urban areas.

Electrolysis is a type of corrosion called galvanic action. Over time, you can see that copper pipe turns green and wears thin where it is exposed to a stray direct current. This can cause your copper water main or nearby pipes to break long before their predicted lifespan.

Galvanic action can also occur commonly when pipes of two different metals are connected. The mild electric charge created between the two types of metal can cause one or both to corrode. It is also increasingly accepted that modern sold-state appliances are a cause of pipe electrolysis.

3. Hard Water

Hard water causes pinhole leaks in copper pipe, especially your large water main piece.

Over 90% of homes in the US run hard water – water laced with extra metallic minerals like calcium and magnesium. In homes with a high degree of hard water, this can damage your pipes in a number of ways. First, hard water minerals leave scale – that chalky stuff that makes “water spots” when it evaporates. Scale builds up on the inside of your pipes, effectively narrowing them until your water pressure takes the hit.

However, those tiny metal hard-water particles can also act as shrapnel to the pipes, bombarding the inside of high-velocity pipe areas like your water main. Over time, that bombardment will wear the copper thin and cause pinhole leaks that are hard to see but can be detected.

4. Impact from Construction or Landscaping

After tree roots, the leading cause of a broken water main is careless digging. Whether the dig was for home renovations or landscaping, the hard impact of a shovel or digging machine can be fatal to your water main. This is why it’s important to always know and/or mark the location of your water main below ground so that you & others know where not to dig.

Installing a New Copper Water Line

Whether you are replacing an old water main or even installing a new water service for a building or an existing property, copper is a confident choice for new water main installation due to its durability and longevity. Copper fixtures can last 50-70 years in the right conditions. It is not toxic like lead and is resistant to corrosion, unlike iron and steel. As long as you’re careful about nearby electric wire conduits and planted trees, your copper water main could last 70+ years in great condition.

The Water Service Line Expert in NYC

Of course, a big part of the answer to how long do copper water lines last, depends on how it is installed. That is where Team Balkan comes in. After over 70 years of business and well over 90,000 satisfied customers, Balkan is The Team You Trust.

Rapid Quotes For Water Service Line Work

Do you need a water service line inspection or installation? We can help. Contact Balkan Sewer And Water Main today for an emergency installation, or to discuss your water main installation options. If the situation is not yet urgent we’ll carefully plan your installation with you. If the situation is urgent we’ll service you 7 days a week, and after hours as well, or you can use our online rapid quoting service. We look forward to hearing from you.

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David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

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