Identifying Service Line Material
Identifying the material of a service line can be challenging: local plumbing codes vary and different pipe material and fittings were used during different decades. The materials available today were not necessarily available decades ago.
Lead pipe at a curbstop. Source: Philadelphia Water
One approach to identifying the material is to physically inspect the piping. Service line pipes may be exposed where the pipe enters the home through a basement wall or floor, at the water meter, or when discovered through excavating the dirt over the service line or where connected to the water main. Water lines are typically 12 inches below the depth soil freezes in a community, meaning that service lines are often three and half feet or more underground and much deeper in northern climates. Consequently, our knowledge of service line materials is only as good as the installation records, subsequent recorded repairs, and inspection of those parts of the service line that can be readily accessed.
If a pipe is painted, the lead kit will respond to the lead in paint. Be sure to confirm false negative test results using the “Test Confirmation Card” contained in the test kit
While lead is visibly different from other metals routinely used for water pipes, test kits approved by EPA to test for lead paint can be used to test for lead on the surface of service lines.
Information on lead testing resources are available at:
Visual scratch testing
Lead is a dull gray color and very soft. If scraped with a key it will turn a bright silver color. Even a very strong magnet will not stick to lead.
DC Water: Understanding your Water Service Pipe
Source: DC Water
More information concerning testing and identifying service line material is available at the following links:
Cincinnati Water: Visual Scratch Test
Source: Cincinnati Water