Our network of water mains isn’t made of lead, so there’s virtually no lead in the drinking water that leaves our treatment works. But if you have a lead pipe feeding your property or in your internal plumbing, small amounts of lead may dissolve into your water. If your house was built after 1970 or has had all its pipework replaced after this time, it’s unlikely to have lead pipework.
How to check if you have lead pipes
Inside your home: Check the pipe leading to the internal stop valve (this is usually under the kitchen sink, behind kitchen cupboards or sometimes in the cupboard under the stairs). 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. Watch our short video on how to find 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 will reveal shiny, silver-coloured metal if it’s lead
- Tap the lead pipe with a metal object: Lead makes a dull thud rather than a clear ringing produced by a copper or iron pipe
If you’re replacing your lead pipe, we’ll arrange for the replacement of any lead piping that belongs to us free of charge.
Is the water from lead pipes harmful?
Lead used to be common in the environment due to its historic use in petrol, paint and water pipes. But from the 1970s onwards, using lead in this way has been banned across Europe. We know now exposure to significant quantities of lead can be harmful to health, especially for unborn babies and young children.
Our water mains aren’t made of lead, but if you own an older property with lead pipework, you may be worried about lead levels. 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. In addition, we 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.
The current UK regulatory standard for the concentration of lead in drinking water is a maximum of 10 micrograms per litre (µg/l) or parts per billion (ppb). This applies to cold drinking water from your kitchen tap. Although there’s virtually no risk to health from these levels, the Department of Health recommends you should try to reduce lead levels even further, just in case – particularly if you’re pregnant or have young children.
If you’d like to replace your lead pipes, please read the relevant sections below.
Who’s responsible for the pipework that supplies my water?
The water pipe that joins our water main to your property is called the service pipe. This is divided into two parts:
1. Pipework that’s our responsibility
We own the pipework that starts at our water main, which usually runs to the outside stop valve at your property boundary. We’re responsible for maintaining or replacing these pipes.
2. Pipework that’s your responsibility
As well as your internal pipework, you own the pipe that starts at the outside stop valve at your property boundary and ends at your inside stop valve. These supply pipes can either be separate (one pipe per property), in which case you're responsible for the pipe 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’re on a shared supply pipe, you’re jointly responsible, along with your neighbours, for the maintenance of the pipe you share. You’ll be individually responsible for any branch of pipe that solely feeds your property.
To separate your clean water pipework from your neighbours, you may need to apply for a new water connection. If you’d like your own supply pipe, get a quote for a new water connection.
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 also collect the water you flush and put it to good use, from watering your plants to washing your car.
Do you monitor lead in the water you 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 the Environmental Health Department at your local authority straight away. We’ll let you know what we plan to do as well as share some advice on how you can reduce lead levels in your water.
Our targeted lead pipe replacement scheme
We’re gradually working to replace lead supply pipes in areas where they’re most common. Under this scheme, we remove the section of pipe that we own, which usually runs from our water main to the property boundary, and install a new plastic pipe. This programme is approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, who regulate the quality of drinking water around the country.
What should I do if I’m replacing pipework that 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 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:
What should I do if I want to replace my lead pipes?
If you’re replacing your lead pipework, we’ll arrange to replace any lead pipes that belong to us free of charge. We’re responsible for the pipework that extends from your property boundary to our water main.
1. Check if you have any lead pipework inside or outside your home
2. Find out if you have your own supply pipe or if you share one with your neighbours If you have a shared supply pipe, you have two options:
- You can speak to your neighbours about jointly replacing the whole shared supply pipe.
- If your neighbours don’t want to contribute towards the replacement of the shared supply pipe or you’d prefer to have your own supply, you can lay a new single supply pipe from your property to the point where the old lead supply joins our communication pipe. You’ll also need to disconnect your old branch pipe. This may involve crossing your neighbour’s property, and if so, you’ll need to ask their permission first.
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 ask a qualified electrician to review this for you.
4. Get quotes for the plumbing work
Need a helping hand finding a qualified plumber? Check out our approved plumbers list.
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, you can apply for us to replace the lead pipes we own.
6. Arrange for a plumber to replace your lead supply pipe
- You’ll need to demonstrate that the work satisfies the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations
- If you’ve used one of our approved plumbers, they’ll provide a certification of work such as TAPS or WIAPS
- If you’ve used an independent plumber, please contact us before burying the pipework as we’ll visit to check the work
- If you’re on a shared supply, we’ll also need to inspect any disconnected pipes
If you’ve applied for our lead replacement scheme, we’ll arrange to replace our lead pipe with a new pipe of the same diameter (minimum 25mm) after we’ve approved your plumber’s work. This may take up to three months to complete, depending on the layout of your street and its traffic management requirements. If you’d like us to upgrade to a pipe with a larger diameter, we’ll need to assess this separately, which may incur a charge.