Our water mains aren’t made of lead, and there’s virtually no lead in the drinking water that leaves our treatment works. However, you may have a lead pipe feeding your property or in your internal plumbing, and if so small amounts of lead may dissolve into your water.
If your house was built after 1970 or has had all its pipework replaced since then, it’s unlikely to have lead pipework.
There’s virtually no risk to health from the maximum levels of lead permitted in drinking water, although the Department of Health recommends you should try to reduce lead levels even further – particularly if you’re pregnant or have young children.
What we're doing to reduce lead levels
The use of lead in water pipes has been banned since the 1970s. Exposure to significant quantities of lead can be harmful to health, especially for unborn babies and young children.
If you own an older property, you may be worried about lead levels. However, as the water in our region is hard, limescale is likely to build up within your pipes, helping to prevent lead from dissolving into the water. As a result, lead levels are usually low.
We also add a small amount of phosphate to most of our water, which acts like limescale, reducing lead levels even further. Phosphate at such levels is not harmful and is about 500 times lower than the phosphate levels in milk.
In addition, we’re gradually replacing the lead pipes we own in areas where they’re most common. Under this scheme we remove the communication pipe, which usually runs from our water main to the property boundary, and install a new plastic pipe.
Who’s responsible for the pipework?
The water pipe that joins our water main to your property is called your service pipe. This is divided into two parts.
Pipework that’s our responsibility
We own the communication pipe that starts at our water main and usually runs to the outside stop valve at your property boundary. We’re responsible for maintaining or replacing these pipes.
Pipework that’s your responsibility
As well as your internal pipework, you own the supply pipe that starts at your outside stop valve and ends at your inside stop valve. These pipes can either be separate (one pipe per property) or shared (two or more properties fed by a single supply pipe).
Many older properties, particularly terraced houses, are served by a shared supply pipe.
If you have a separate supply pipe, you're responsible for maintaining or, if necessary, replacing it.
If you’re on a shared supply pipe, you and your neighbours are jointly responsible for maintaining or replacing it. You’ll be individually responsible for any branch of pipe that solely feeds your property.
To completely separate your clean water pipework from your neighbours’, you’ll need to apply for a new water connection. If you’d like your own supply pipe, get a quote for a new water connection now.
Do I have lead pipes?
Inside your home: Check the pipe leading to the internal stop valve. This is usually under the kitchen sink, behind the kitchen cupboards or sometimes in the cupboard under the stairs. Find out more on how to find and use your inside stop valve.
Outside your home: Open the flap of your outside stop valve and look at the pipe running towards your property. Find out more about how to find and use your outside stop valve.
- Check the colour: Unpainted lead pipes are a dull grey colour.
- Look at the joints: Lead joints are rounded and swollen where two pipes meet.
- Scratch the pipe gently: Scratches on lead pipes will reveal a shiny, silver-coloured metal.
- Tap the lead pipe with a metal object: Lead makes a dull thud rather than the clear ringing produced by a copper or iron pipe.
If I have lead pipes, can I reduce lead levels in the short term?
If you have lead pipes in your property, we recommend you flush out your pipes to reduce lead levels each day, especially in the mornings or if you’ve been away for a few days.
It’s easy to flush your pipes – just leave your cold kitchen tap running for approximately two minutes before you drink or cook with the water. This will help to clear any standing water that’s been sat in your lead pipework for long periods of time. You can then use your cold kitchen tap as normal.
You can collect the water you flush and put it to good use, such as watering your plants or washing your car.
Do we monitor lead in the water we supply?
We test our water at every stage of the treatment process, including regular lead monitoring at randomly selected properties. If we ever find traces of lead above the standard in your home, we’ll inform you and your local authority’s environmental health department straight away. We’ll let you know what we plan to do as well as share advice on how you can reduce lead levels in your water.
What should I do if I want to replace my lead pipes?
If you’re replacing your lead pipes, we’ll arrange for the replacement of any lead piping that belongs to us free of charge. However, please note that in some circumstances if we find our piping is not lead and is already plastic, there may still be a charge to connect your new pipework to our network.
Before you start:
Step 1 - Check if you have any lead pipework inside or outside your home
See ‘Do I have lead pipes?’ above.
Step 2 - Find out if you have your own supply pipe or if you share one with your neighbours
If you’re not sure, we suggest asking an approved plumber (see step 4) below.
If you have a shared supply pipe, you have two options:
- You can agree with your neighbours to jointly replace the whole shared supply pipe.
- If your neighbours don’t want to contribute towards the replacement of the shared supply pipe, you can lay a new single supply pipe from your property to the point where the old lead supply joins our communication pipe.
If you decide to do this, you’ll be responsible for disconnecting your old branch pipe. This will avoid a ‘dead leg’, which stagnant water could collect in and be drawn into neighbours’ supplies. This disconnection may involve crossing your neighbour’s property, in which case you’ll need to ask their permission before starting work.
Step 3 - Check your earthing connection
If your house was built before 1966, it’s possible the pipe we need to replace provides the main electrical earthing, which is an essential safety measure. You’ll need to ask a qualified electrician to review this for you.
Step 4 - Get quotes for the plumbing work
You must ensure the work satisfies the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations.
We recommend you use an approved plumber, who’ll carry out the work in line with these requirements and provide a certificate for their work, such as the Thames Approved Plumbers Scheme (TAPS) or Water Industry Approved Plumbers Scheme (WIAPS).
Step 5 - Apply for us to replace the pipes we own
If you’ve decided to replace your lead pipes and you’re planning to start the work in the next three months, please complete the application form below for us to replace the lead pipes we own.
Step 6 - Arrange for a plumber to replace your lead supply pipe
If you use an independent plumber, please leave the trench open and contact us before burying the pipework, as we’ll need to visit to check the work.
When laying a new supply, please don’t disconnect your current supply. Lay the new pipe alongside the existing one, so your water supply remains active. If your outside stop valve is in the pavement, please make sure your new supply pipe is long enough to reach it.
If you’ve applied for our lead pipe replacement scheme, then once your plumber has completed the work and we’ve approved it, we’ll replace our lead communication pipe with a new pipe.
The new pipe we install will be the same size as our existing communication pipe – unless this is below the industry-standard 25mm diameter. If our existing communication pipe is narrower than this, we’ll replace it with a 25mm diameter pipe.
This may take up to three months to complete from the date we approve your work, depending on the layout of your street and its traffic management requirements.
If you want us to install a communication pipe with a wider diameter than the existing pipe – for example, to improve the flow – we’re not able to do so under our free replacement scheme. You’ll instead need to contact our Developer Services team, who will charge for this work.
What should I do if I'm replacing pipework which provides my electrical earthing?
If your house was built before 1966, make sure you’ve checked your earthing connection before you replace any pipes. In older properties, a lead pipe sometimes provides the main electrical earthing, which is an essential safety measure for your home’s electricity supply.
If you’re unsure, we recommend contacting your electricity supplier or a qualified electrician. They may recommend that you have your earthing checked, and they could charge for this service. In most cases, they’ll only need to take a quick look at your wiring.
To find a reputable local electrician, check out the Association of National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation or the National Professional Inspectors and Testers.
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