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
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.
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:
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.
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:
- DC Water: Guide to Identifying Household Plumbing
- EPA: Advice to Chicago Residents about Lead in Drinking Water
- Philadelphia Water Department: How to Check Your Service Line Material
- Water Testing
Cincinnati Water: Visual Scratch Test
Source: Cincinnati Water