From the Forum – Just Found Out Our Service Pipes Are Lead

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Just Found Out Our Service Pipes Are Lead:

“So, we just found out the service pipe coming into our row-home from the street is lead. A plumber we had in to do some maintenance just pointed it out. We bought our house 2.5 years ago, and it was basically a total renovation. The seller even replaced the retaining wall, so I’m baffled as to why they wouldn’t have replaced the service pipe as well. The inspector we had check things out before the purchase also never pointed it out. Since then, we’ve been drinking the water regularly and we’ve had one baby with another on the way. Needless to say, we need to take care of this ASAP.

What I’d like to find out from the PoPville community is what other people’s experience has been with lead pipes, and whether anyone knows if we might have some form of recourse (against the seller, or the inspector). This isn’t going to be a cheap fix, so I don’t want to be left holding the bag if I don’t need to be.

Thanks in advance for any help!”

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42 Comment

  • Having a lead pipe isn’t illegal. Nearly half DC sf residences still have them. People who renovate houses aren’t under any obligation to replace it, nor is any inspector under any legal obligation to point it out. There is no recourse against anyone unless you were specifically told it was done, which doesn’t appear to be the case.

    DCwater will provide a testing kit for free upon request. I would be your water tested to see wha if any your lead levels are before spending the thousands of dollars to replace it.

  • Man, that sucks. Maybe someone else has better advice, but I don’t think you’d have recourse against the seller. I’m pretty sure that the disclosure laws all relate to lead paint, not pipes, so the seller wouldn’t necessarily have to say anything. Also, there’d be no way for your inspector to know unless the pipe was in plain view. They don’t tear open walls or dig up lines leading to the house, and the inspection report no doubt has a disclaimer to that effect.

    A few years ago when WASA was replacing service lines they offered homeowners the chance to have the service lines from the property boundary to the house replaced at homeowner expense. Apparently your home’s previous owner chose not to, which strikes me as cheapskatey, but you’re likely holding the bag here.

    The bright side: lead service lines aren’t as much of a hazard as flaking lead paint and lead paint dust. So your baby is probably fine. Doesn’t help with the expense part of it, but it should put your mind at ease.

    • saf

      Actually, only certain homeowners were offered that chance, and they took it back in many places. I had to fight to get them to work with us.

      • Really? Even at your own expense? I didn’t have to, as my line had already been replaced, but they pushing to get me to commit to paying. Up until WASA’s contractor pulled me aside to point out that my line wasn’t lead WASA would have gladly taken my check.

        Of course, no allegation of WASA incompetence surprises me.

        • saf

          Yep. And once they agreed to work with us, they screwed up, dropped us from the schedule, tried to get out of doing their side, tried to fine us for going ahead with no permit (we had a permit that THEIR contractor had pulled), and tried to leave us without water for over a week.)

          I HATE WASA.

          Oh, and let me note that when our water was tested, we had a very high lead level – more than 300x the EPA acceptable level. They sent the health department out to test our blood. And they still made it difficult for us to get the supply line replaced.

  • That’s not lead – those are “flavor crystals!”

  • I think this is pretty common… not replacing the service line. At least our house was the same, though our inspector noted it for us, so we have been dealing with it since we moved in.

    Did your settlement include lead disclosures? Our newly renovated house did, probably for the lead service line since there are no other sources. If so, they probably feel like they are covered. I’m not sure they have a responsibility to specifically disclose it… but I’m no expert.

    I would recommend that before you stress about the kids, you get the water in your house tested… DC Water’s website has a number to call… they send you test bottels and pick them up… it’s really easy and gave me piece of mind. Not that we had zero, but it was much lower than I thought.

    The next step is to think about how to deal with filtration… anything from brita to a faucent filter to a whole house filter is an option if you choose not to replace the service line.

    You should also find out if replacing the service line will help with bringing levels to zero or if you’ll still have to deal with the fact that DC service lines have lead. I don’t know the answer here, but I do know that the massive effort to replace city lead service lines stopped short of full replacement and there are still many areas, guessing my street, that still have lead service lines.

    • The lead disclosure form is a standard real estate form required for transactions involving houses built before 1978. It is specifically (and only) for lead based paint. It does not mean that the house has lead based paint; a seller is required to disclose any known lead-based paint hazards in the house.

  • Lead service pipes aren’t as scary as people think. It’s sort of like having old asbestos floor tiles; the worst thing you can do is mess with it. Bottom line is get your water tested to see if there is an issue, but you may find that there isn’t in which case just live with it.

  • We have the same thing, but it was pointed out to us by our home inspector. We filter any water we use for drinking or cooking. As others said, it’s not uncommon and certainly not illegal. Lead in the water is a problem in DC, but a only if you ingest it. Too many people freak out at the mention of lead, when you can take some pretty simple steps to avoid it.

  • As others have noted this is quite possibly a non-issue, so I’d get the water tested before you freak out any further.

    Regardless there is no requirement that the lines be replaced nor does the existence of a lead piped connection render a dwelling uninhabitable under DC code. DC’s lead disclosure requirement (which is much stricter than the federal requirement) only covers paint hazards. So get your water tested, and if there is a serious problem with your water quality you can take advantage of the WASA program to replace the pipe, but in all likelihood it isn’t harming anyone and no one can veritably be blamed for it.

    FWIW I have lived in 4 homes in DC with lead service pipes and only 1 was replaced during my residence (not at my request). The home I live in and own has a lead service pipe and the level of lead in my water is basically zero.

    • “you can take advantage of the WASA program to replace the pipe,” – er, what program specifically are you referring to? As far as I know the city doesn’t subsidize or assist the homeowner in replacing the service pipe on the homeowner’s property.

      • WASA will replace the portion of the lead service line that’s not on your property at the same time if you replace the portion that is on your property. Otherwise they won’t replace the portion that isn’t on your property. So no they don’t pay for the part on your property, but they won’t do their side if you don’t do yours.

        • saf

          Actually, that is not how the program started. That’s what it seems to have become, as they are no longer replacing service lines as they promised they would.

          It started as being able to do your side for much cheaper when they did their side.

          • Okay, thanks for that additional bit of history I guess. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve ever looked up the information it’s been as it is now.

          • saf

            Initially, after the whole EPA debacle, WASA was supposed to replace ALL the lead service lines in the city. They set up a schedule and set up the program where you could replace the private side simultaneously with the public side. This saved lots of money in staging, permitting, and digging.

            But because it cost money, a lot of people didn’t do their sides. And that made lead levels higher, as the transition between pipe materials and the disruption of cutting the line affected the absorption.

            Then the shit hit the fan (almost literally) about the combined storm sewer system, and they pushed the lead abatement down the priority list, making the program what it is now.

            And next time the District fails an EPA assessment, people will say they had NO IDEA there were still lead supply lines here. You know they will.

          • I believe that because WSSC changed the water treatment chemistry, the problem with lead leaching out of the service lines was greatly diminished. I vaguely remember WASA and EPA reaching some kind of settlement to discontinue/scale back the lead service line replacement project. My apartment building took part in the shared cost replacement project even though independent testing showed we didn’t have a lead problem. It was thankfully more straight-forward than others experienced, but still probably a bit more headache for only a little extra peace of mind. My advice to the homeowner is to only go down the replacement path if you know for certain there is a problem with lead leaching into your house’s water. The permitting process alone for replacing the service line is horrendous, and on top of that you will have to pay for the excavation/repair of the street, which is very expensive.

        • We took advantage of that program, and it cost us $900 for our part of the replacement, which was from our retaining wall to the house. I thought it was a fair deal.

      • Also the person you replied to didn’t actually say that WASA would subsidize replacement of the homoeowner’s portion, just that there was a WASA program to replace the pipe, which is true.

  • You could also look into cheaper options than replacement. In our condo building, where the zinc coating was wearing off the inside of galvanized pipes, they found it cheaper to line the inside of the pipes than replace them all. Instead of tearing out the pipes, they just filled the pipe with some epoxy-like substance and turned off the water for a few days to let it dry. I’m not sure if this works for lead or if it would be cheaper than replacement on a small scale, but lining the pipe might be something to consider.

  • brookland_rez

    It really isn’t that big of a deal. I have one in my house. My refrigerator has a filter and I normally just drink the water out of it.

  • Our Capitol Hill house has the same thing. Our inspector pointed it out, and he and the realtor said its fairly common. They said it is pretty expensive to have replaced, around $10-15,000.
    As others suggested, you can get the water tested. We just use filters for anything we will drink. Unfortunately, there are no Point-of-Entry (filters the water right out of the service line, so does the whole house) that will sufficiently filter lead (they can’t get high enough flow rate). I even emailed the NSF, who does water filtration certification, and they confirmed:

    “At the present time, there are no whole house systems certified to meet American national home water treatment standards for lead reduction. In order to earn certification for this purpose, a product must be able to effectively reduce both dissolved and particulate lead by at least 93% and maintain this level of reduction for the complete service cycle promised by the manufacturer. Because particulate lead particles are so small, they are very difficult to mechanically filter (i.e. trap in the pores of a filter). At present the only products certified to be effective at reducing both types of lead have a flow rate of less than 1 gpm, which would not be suitable for point-of-entry applications.” – NSF

  • Buy a Brita. You and your kids will be fine.

  • There’s almost always so much calcium/other gunk that builds up on the inside of pipes that in many situations, water doesn’t actually come in contact with the lead.

    That’s what I’ve heard, and that’s what I tell myself….

    So sure, get your water tested, but again, this could be a non-issue

  • Call Otto Seidel plumbing, he’s a no nonsense MASTER plumber with 40+ years of experience. Exceptionally affordable 1354 Florida Ave NE Washington, DC 20002
    (202) 397-7000

  • We got our water tested when we bought our house. It had slightly elevated lead levels and we have a small child, so we decided to get bottled water for drinking and cooking. We have had Deer Park water delivered for years now.

    We bathe, wash and water plants with tapwater, but the dentist has suggested that our child needs to get some fluoridation. We balanced lead against fluoridation and chose not to expose the child to lead, but we have not found a fluoride solution (other than toothpaste).

    The band-aid fix was easy enough to not truly consider paying to replace the service line, the expense of which we only vaguely heard years ago (sorry not to have that data point to pass on).

  • Lead testing is standard in the district at 1 and 2 years old; has your kid been tested and, if so, what are the results?

    To the pp, I mentioned my worry about fluoride to our pediatrician and she mentioned that she could prescribe multi-vitamins with fluoride.

  • We replaced our lead service line when we renovated our house (before moving in). We went through DC Water’s voluntary replacement program.

    See here:

    Essentially, you pay for the portion of the line on the “private side” (your property) and DC Water will pay for the portion on the public side. Fortunately for us, most of our front yard (typical rowhouse) is actually owned by DC – we only own about 5 feet. So we paid for 5 feet (about $1000) and DC Water paid for the rest (about $4-5k).

    In 2010-2011, Corinthian Construction was the contractor used by DC Water. Be prepared for a long, uphill battle. Our replacement took over 6 months (and not until I contacted DC Water’s office of public affairs). The big holdups were (apparently) from DC Water and from DDOT (who needs to issue a public space use permit to dig up the street).

    I will say that Corinthian (for the most part) was great – they bored the new pipe under the yard and didn’t do any damage to the sidewalk, retaining wall, etc. In and out in a day.

    The first step is to contact DC Water, they should be able to guide you through the rest. Good luck!

    Oh, here’s the old PoP thread from when I asked about this a few years ago:

  • Welcome to home ownership! 😉 2.5 years in, you’ve got the bag . . .

    • Exactly. I know people who got left holding the bag for problems with renovated homes that they discovered less than 6 months into ownership. Two and a half years is way late to stick a seller or inspector with the bill, assuming that a valid claim could be asserted.

  • You and half of the District have this “problem.” More often than not (from what I’ve read and from what our inspector told me), sediment builds up on the inside of the pipes and sort of “filters” most of the lead out. Have your water tested to see if that’s happening. If they find lead, there may be cheaper ways to avoid it than replacing the service line (water filters, bottled water, and other things that people have suggested) – which I believe costs a pretty penny. And no, you don’t have any recourse against the seller or inspector – your energies are better focused elsewhere.

  • Shortly after I bought my current house, I discovered the same thing.

    Ultimately, I bought a mail in lead test from Home Depot ($10 for the kit, $30 to get it tested) and found that there is no significant lead content in my water, so I’m not going to worry about it.

    If there had been a problem, instead of replacing the pipe, my plan would have been to get a central water filter in the house. Not only is it potentially the cheaper solution, but I would say it’s the more thorough solution as well. Wouldn’t you filter your drinking water anyway? And who’s to say what’s lurking in the pipes prior to your individual service pipe?

    Anyway, hope that helps.

  • Go to Lowes and purchase either the Whirlpool Undersink Filtration System or the Whirlpool Reverse Osmosis system. Both will filter pretty everything. The RO system is better but not environmentally friendly, if that matters to you as it uses 4 gallons of water for every 1 gallon of purified water it uses. The non-RO system uses a newer technology and doesn’t waste water like the RO system. I use the RO in my kitchen and the non-RO in the bathroom. Both are great. I think HomeDepot sells another brand. Any of the water filters should cost around $200-$300 for a plumber to install, but you will save that ten times over in the future instead of buying bottled water. One word of warning, you cannot hook up a Reverse Osmosis system to your fridge. The pressure is too low and it will void your fridge’s warranty. The non-RO filter (Whirlpool) should be fine to hook up to the fridge.

    This will solve your problem. And if you put one in the bathroom as well, then lead problem solved. Plus you will never have to taste chlorine again.

    I have been using RO filters in every home I purchased in the past 10 years. You never know what crap is in the public water systems these days.

  • We have been down this road. DC mandates lead testing for children at their 1st and 2nd year doctor appointments. Our first year was fine (due to breast feeding I guess) but the 2nd year test was very high. We had our house tested and determined it was the water. I would warn people about using the kits at Home Depot. We did that and it came back no lead, but the DC WATER test (which includes 2 Liters of water) showed high levels. DC Water had replaced their portion of the line a few years ago and we didn’t have kids at the time and didn’t take their offer to do our portion (which was lead, as our inspector had pointed out). We used Creative Pipe Solutions and the cost wasn’t too bad (about $4K) but it depends on how long your line is.Bonus is that it really improved our water pressure. We had our son retested at 2.5 years and it really made a difference. I would recommend everyone get their water tested by DC WATER so you know what you area dealing with. We also switched from Britta to PURE water pitchers which has a higher standard for lead levels. Filters are a little more expensive than Britta.

  • My house growing up had lead service pipes. My father worked for the city waste water department and always said it wasn’t a problem. From what I understand, lead takes a while to leach into the water, so if you get up an flush your toilet, you’re essentially flushing the service line as well, since they really don’t hold much water. Then you probably use enough water during the day so that water doesn’t sit in the pipe long enough to collect any significant lead.

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