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6 Questions Every Homeowner Should Have About Water Pipes

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Homeowners protect their houses from floods and fires. Some take out warranties for appliances. Some even carry health insurance for their pets. But many do not protect themselves from costly water line and sewer line disruptions and in-home plumbing emergencies.

This year, many homeowners will experience problems with their water and sewer lines (the pipes that run from their property line to their home). Even more will deal with in-home plumbing issues. Pipe clogs, leaks and breaks are surprisingly common, and the numbers are becoming more common as America’s pipes age. The “Water is Your Business Campaign,” sponsored by the National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reports that there are 650 water main breaks per day in the U.S., resulting in a daily loss of 7 billion gallons of water. 1  The results of a residential water pipe break can have a serious impact on homeowners’ properties and their wallets.

Yet, many homeowners are unaware of the most common causes of water problems outside and inside their homes. Homeowners, not the local municipality or water utility, are generally responsible for the pipes running through their property. What’s more, most don’t know that most homeowners’ insurance policies will not cover the repair costs, leaving their biggest investment unprotected from expense.

Here are 6 water-related concerns every homeowner should be aware of in order to help protect themselves from the hassles, headaches and potentially high costs of water line, sewer line and in-home plumbing problems.

1. How old are your pipes?

The vast majority of the nation’s water pipes were installed after World War II and are in serious need of replacement or repair. In fact, a 2010 report from the National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that nearly half of all pipes in the U.S. were in poor shape. And, according to a 2012 Water Infrastructure and Sustainability fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average age of a broken water main in the U.S. is 47 years.2  Knowing the age of your pipes will help you to assess their need for repair.

2. Do you have mature trees near your water service lines?

Invasive tree roots often “follow” and disrupt service lines. Roots seek out pipes because they provide essential elements that trees need to grow - water, nutrients and oxygen. When tree roots get into pipes, they can cause clogs and blocks that lead to serious problems and need for repair.

3. Do you have clay soil?

Poor soil conditions - such as low soil resistivity and high chloride content - can cause corrosion of pipes from the outside, and lead to leaks and contamination. According to NACE International, the world’s leading professional organization for the corrosion control industry, sandy soils are among the least corrosive, and clay soils are among the most severely corrosive.3 Corrosive soil can start attacking your pipes almost immediately, with corrosion building over time. This means that although your pipes are already being invaded, you might not experience a leak or break until much later.

4. Have you been ignoring the warning signs?

Many times, it’s the deceptively small things homeowners overlook that may signify a water issue. Something as simple as a family cooking frequently in the kitchen can lead to continued grease and food disposals building up over time in the sewer and drain lines. A stammering faucet can be an indication that a water line is leaking. And, a clogged toilet or slow drainage can signal to a homeowner that the sewer line is clogged. All of these signs could point to a sudden and potentially costly repair. Detecting these easy fixes and taking care of them can save you from potential problems - and save you more than 10% on water bills, according to the EPA.4

5. Do you live where the seasons suddenly change?

Water lines are more susceptible to breaks at times of extreme temperature swings, both hot and cold. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the American Society of Civil Engineers advises that just a 10-degree change in temperature can increase stress on water mains and service lines, and increase their risk of damage.5 Pipes become brittle when water temperatures get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while air temperatures at or below freezing cause the ground to freeze. However, water main breaks often don’t occur until one or two days after the freezing temperatures arrive because water temperature takes more time to decrease than air temperature.6

6. Do you know what your pipes are made of?

A 2012 study conducted by the Utah State University Buried Structures Laboratory showed that nearly a quarter of all water mains in the U.S. are more than 50 years old.7 These older pipes were generally made from clay, steel or tile – materials more prone to deterioration over time. Additionally, Steven Folkman, USU professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering completed a comprehensive pipe materials study and discovered that “nearly 75 percent of all utilities have corrosive soil conditions and combined with a high portion of old cast iron and ductile iron pipes, corrosion is ranked the second-highest reason for water main pipe failure in the United States.” 8 If your home was built before the 1980s, it is mostly likely that your pipes are made of clay, and in need of repair or replacement.9

One more thing to worry about: the potentially high cost of repairs

Because repairs to leaking water pipes are often not covered by your homeowners insurance, you could end up paying hundreds to thousands of dollars to fix them. The cost to repair or replace a water service line averages in the $1,500s, while the typical cost of hiring a plumber can range from $250–$1,500, depending on the job at hand.10 What’s more, data presented by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling shows that 64% of Americans don’t have $1,000 in savings. As a result, funding on-the-spot emergency repairs for the home could be challenging.

How can you stay water-worry free?

Take the necessary measures to protect yourself and your home from water damage and costly repairs. Be aware of what’s going on in and under your property. Check your pipes regularly and heed the warning signs, no matter how small. And, to cover yourself in case of a water-related issue, consider enrolling in a water/sewer or in-home plumbing protection program like those offered by American Water Resources.

About American Water Resources

American Water Resources (AWR) is a provider of Water Line Protection, Sewer Line Protection and In-Home Plumbing Emergency Programs to homeowners in 35 states, and currently services over one million contracts. AWR has been providing protection programs for more than 12 years, earning both a 94% Customer Service Quality Rating and Better Business Bureau accreditation with an A+ Rating. AWR is the official service line protection provider for New York City, making its programs available to more than 670,000 homeowners in the City’s five boroughs, in partnership with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. AWR is a subsidiary of American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE: AWK), the largest publicly traded U.S. water and wastewater utility company in operation since 1886. 

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 Sources:
1 “Water is your Business: the unseen challenges eroding our economic foundation.” Waterisyourbusiness.org. 2013. http://waterisyourbusiness.org/
2 “Water is your Business: the unseen challenges eroding our economic foundation.” Waterisyourbusiness.org. 2013. http://waterisyourbusiness.org/
3 “Corrosion Severity Ratings.”  Events.nace.org. 2010. http://events.nace.org/library/corrosion/SoilCorrosion/Severity.asp
4 “Fix a Leak Week Family Fact Sheet.” Epa.gov. 2013. http://www.epa.gov/watersense/docs/fixaleak_familyfactsheet508.pdf
5 Habibian, A. (1994). “Effect of Temperature Changes on Water‐Main Breaks.”  J. Transp. Eng., 120(2), 312–321. TECHNICAL PAPERS
http://dx.doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-947X(1994)120:2(312)
6 “Winter Weather and Water Main Breaks.”  Wsscwater.com. Nov. 14, 2012 http://www.wsscwater.com/home/jsp/content/watermainfacts.faces
7 “Water is your Business: the unseen challenges eroding our economic foundation.” Waterisyourbusiness.org. 2013. http://waterisyourbusiness.org/
8 Folkman, Steven, Ph.D., PE. “Water Main Break Rates in the USA and Canada: A Comprehensive Study.”  Anteccorporation.com. 2012. http://www.anteccorporation.com/docs/PVC_Study.pdf
9 “What Makes Sewer Pipes Fail?” gateway—rooter.com. http://gateway-rooter.com/what-makes-sewer-pipes-fail/
10 Pickett, Marcus. “Understanding the Costs of Hiring a Plumber.” Insiderpages.com. 2013.
http://www.insiderpages.com/articles/understanding_the_costs_of_hiring_a_plumber