Is your water service line made out of lead?

21 October 2021

It’s important to know what your water service line is made of, because some, like those made of lead, can be hazardous to your health and should be replaced.

What’s a water service line?

A water service line is a pipe that transports water from the town water supply system to a property. It can be made of lead, copper or plastic and is controlled via the main water shutoff valve. The municipality is responsible for the line along public roads, but property owners are responsible for the portion inside their residences.

How to tell

If your building was constructed before the 1970s, there’s a good chance that the line shutoff pipe is made of lead. Your building’s water line shutoff pipe is made of lead if it:

  • Is grey in colour
  • Doesn’t resonate if struck
  • Doesn’t attract a magnet
  • Shows no rust

What’s the risk?

There are many health risks associated with lead pipes that supply drinking water. Lead is harmful to the nervous system and can have minor effects on the intellectual development of infants and children under 6 years of age. It’s also dangerous to the fetuses of pregnant women.

How to get it replaced

There are currently two methods for changing water lines: excavation and pipe pulling. Excavation consists of digging a trench along the water line pipe running from the line shutoff valve (curb stop) to the opening in the building foundation where the main service line valve is. The pipe pulling method consists of digging just two holes—one inside the building and one where the curb stop is. You then cut the ends of the lead pipe off and removed the pipe piece by piece. A new replacement copper pipe is then inserted from the other hole.

Who pays?

The municipality will generally pay to replace the portion on the public domain while the owner must pay for the portion on their private land. Tenants should not have to pay anything for this. Some cities, like Montreal, will replace both the public and private portions of lead service lines and then charge the owners for the work on the private portion. See your municipal website for more information.

Rough cost of replacing a water service line

The cost of replacing a water service line varies on average from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the nature and complexity of the excavation and the plumbing, grading and paving work needed to complete the job.

Cities with lead water service lines

Several cities in Canada have a large number of lead water service lines that must be changed, including:

  • Quebec City
  • Laval
  • Montreal