Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

A Cautionary Tale…Replace Your Plumbing Before It Becomes An Emergency

For years, as a Charlotte Water employee, I have encouraged customers to plan ahead for the replacement of their private plumbing, especially if their pipes are nearing 50 years. I thought about replacing my plumbing, but I waited too long. Below is my warning to customers in old houses.

I started hearing a dripping sound that I hadn’t heard before. I followed the sound into the basement and traced it back to our private plumbing line coming into the house. It soon went from a dripping noise to several dripping noises.

I quickly called CharMeck 311 (704-336-7600) to request an emergency water turn-off by Charlotte Water Customer Service. The call took just a few minutes, and a field technician was there to turn off our water at the meter in less than an hour.

A Temporary Solution

We used coolers to capture and store the water leaking out of our walls and then used the water to flush toilets later.

I bought a few gallons of distilled water for coffee and a few gallons of purified water for drinking.

How to flush a toilet without water service

  1. Talk to your next-door neighbors to see if you can hook up a hose temporarily to fill containers.
  2. Lift the toilet tank lid off (see picture)
  3. Pour water to the water line mark inside the tank.
  4. You will need to pour at least two gallons per flush.
  5. I refilled containers using a hose connected to my neighbor’s house and refilled each night at a relative’s home.
  6. We put the containers by the toilets to refill the tank and reused small water bottles to wash hands.

Pro tip– designate one or two toilets as the one(s) you plan on using during the outage. Make others off-limits to reduce the number of toilets you must refill.

Pour water to the ‘water line’ mark in the toilet tank.

After replacing our plumbing line, we ran cold water first for several minutes outside spigots/hose bibs and then indoor tubs and water faucets. The water heater took more than an hour to reheat. As a precaution, we tossed out the old ice and the next batch of ice from the automatic ice maker in the fridge.

Everything changes when you don’t have easy access to flowing water. Our children appreciated tap water more and conserved water because they knew it took extra steps. We are so thankful to have a new water line and I hope my experience helps you prevent a similar emergency and provides a few ideas on how to survive it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some signs I may have a plumbing leak between the water meter and the house?

If you hear a dripping noise or notice wet spots in your crawlspace or basement or even a greener-than-usual patch of grass on the area between your meter and your house you may have a leak.

How much water do I need each day?

At least a gallon for hand washing, brushing teeth and drinking, so at a bare minimum, you will need seven gallons per person per day to drink, brush, and flush. This doesn’t include showers, laundry, or dishwashing. Consider purchasing paper plates, plastic cups, and utensils.

Any purchased water containers (gallon jugs or small water bottles) can be refilled several times to reduce the cost of purchasing water at a store.

Use any large containers you have around to store and refill toilets.

  • Wet dry vacuum to suck up any water if you experience flooding
  • Coolers
  • Dehumidifier and humidifier tanks
  • If possible, store water in a bathtub and keep a large container to scoop the water out

How can I prevent a plumbing emergency?

If your plumbing is 50+ years old, you should plan in advance to prevent this from happening to you:

  • Talk to your home insurance provider to see if your policy covers water line replacement or if it should be added to your policy.
    • Some homeowners’ insurance only covers the damage (i.e., flooding) and not the plumbing repair.
  • Research alternative insurance options, including home warranty or service line protection plans to see if they would be a good fit for your situation

Find out what your plumbing materials are made of.

  • Lead – installed 1900-1986, dull gray and easily scratched surface, although banned in 1986, installation of lead pipes was very rare in Mecklenburg County.
  • Copper – installed 1930s present, reddish (like a penny) to dark brown or green, in some cases may contain lead-based solder if home was built before 1986 and hasn’t had plumbing replaced after 1986.
  • Galvanized Steel – 1930-1980s, gray or metallic, may rust internally and externally, limited lifespan.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – 1950s – present, white, doesn’t corrode or rust.
  • Polyethylene (PEX) – 1990s to present, many colors (typically red and blue for hot and cold supply lines), flexible to install.

Don’t wait…

  • Get three quotes/price estimates from licensed plumbers.
    • Each plumber may have a different strategy to replace your plumbing
    • Ask a lot of questions
    • Plumbers are very busy and a project like this will need time to schedule.
    • Know what is under your front yard. Do you have buried fiber optic, wastewater pipes, storm drain, etc? Trees can also affect where your service line is installed. Contact NC 811 to learn about what public utilities can be marked and how to find locators that find private lines (well, septic, gas, etc.)
    • Don’t do anything to your plumbing that could possibly cause a leak.

How long will it take for plumbers to install new plumbing?

It can vary. We were without water for seven days before our new plumbing line was installed and service was restored.

Our water pipe repair damaged a sidewalk. Will the City fix the sidewalk?

If your repair requires damaging or removing the sidewalk, you will need to replace the sidewalk. Make sure to get three quotes and ensure that they are trained and able to complete the work to the city / town sidewalk specifications.

Did you know that your plumbing actually starts at the building side of the meter box? Learn more on this blog.

Understanding Homeowners Responsibility

Is it My Plumbing or Charlotte Water’s to Maintain?

Where does my private plumbing start?

Property owners maintain all water pipes beginning at the end of the meter, which is the tailpiece for a common 5/8-inch service. Property owners are also responsible for all plumbing, plumbing fixtures, and appliances in their buildings. Likewise, an owner’s responsibility for wastewater pipe (sewer) begins, as a rule of thumb, at the street right-of-way. There may be exceptions. Charlotte Water maintains the water meter, including the meter yoke assembly, meter box, and water and wastewater mains under public streets.

The above Illustration shows that Charlotte Water maintains the water pipes under the public streets and service lines from the water main to the meter box. Charlotte Water also maintains the meter and meter box. The property owner's private plumbing starts at the tailpiece or pipe that leaves the water meter box and piping under the private plumbing to the building and inside the building.
A top-down view of water pipes serving your home. Charlotte Water maintains the water pipes under public streets, public hydrants, and through the meter box. Property owners maintain pipes from the meter box to the buildings and inside the buildings.

You also have a backflow prevention device if you have an irrigation system.

backflow assembly illustration showing that a backflow preventer allow water to flow only one way with vales that auto close if water goes back toward the public water system.

If you live near Lake Norman, Mt. Island Lake, or Lake Wylie, you may also have a low-pressure sewer system (LPSS) that pumps wastewater to the public system.

How Charlotte Water Repairs Water Pipe Leaks

With more than 4,500 miles of drinking water pipe, there is always something to fix. Customers can help by calling 311 or 704-336-7600 when they see or suspect a water leak or water main break. Even after the 311 Call Center is closed customers can say or select ‘water emergency’ to reach our dispatchers 24/7.

Charlotte Water prioritizes leaks so that crews repair emergency leaks first.

The Numbers
• 2,000+ repairs per year. Most are service line repairs (between the water main and meter box).
• There are multiple pipes under major roads (serving immediate areas and zip codes).
• Less than 10% of water pipe infrastructure is over 50 years due to proactive pipe replacement efforts.

Water Pipe Repair Step-By-Step

CLTWater Field Technician installing a flag to mark the leak location.

Investigate

Within hours, a field technician investigates and attempts to repair if it is an easy fix. If it is a leak that requires a construction crew, the technician prioritizes the leak based on severity. Many repairs require coordination with other departments or towns to minimize the impact on customers or drivers.

Staff spray painting where underground   utilities are located before digging begins.

Locate

Call NC811 to have other utilities spray paint where their pipes / cables are before digging begins. This can take hours.







Staff turning water off to the leaking water pipe to maintain water to other portions of the neighborhood.

Isolate

Crews turn valves to stop water flowing through the leaking pipe. Crews may attempt to repair the pipe while keeping water in service for customers. Cones and barriers are set up to protect workers.

Excavate

Crews will uncover the pipe to make repairs or replace a section of the pipe. Crews will hand-dig portions to reduce the chance of damaging underground infrastructure.

Restore Water Service

Fire hydrants flow to test water quality before restoring water service to customers.









picture of a crew tamping soil before a compaction test during the phase to rebuild a road after a water leak underground.

Repave and Reopen

Crews will backfill soil into the trench, test compaction, and then repave the road.

Restoration

Straw is placed over dirt if the repair is in a yard. A separate crew or contractor will return several days or weeks later to complete restoration efforts.


What other factors may extend the time between reporting a water leak and the repair?

Crews attempt to repair leaks without a water outage when possible and if there is time will work on solutions to minimize the outage.

Challenges underground

  • Other utilities (fiber, storm water pipes) conflict with the repair and need to be replaced or moved including a large excavation area.
  • Pipe requires full replacement including cutting it out and inserting a new pipe.
  • Repaving depends on the weather. Air temperature is required to be a minimum of 40 degrees and rising in order to properly install asphalt.


Reducing impact on customers

  • Coordinating with Charlotte Department of Transportation, North Carolina Department of Transportation, and/or towns to plan the repair to minimize detours during high traffic times.
  • Installing new valves to minimize the number of customers affected by a water outage.
  • Above ground water pipes may be installed to serve customers if the pipe replacement will take several days to complete.

What caused the water main break / leak?

Unfortunately, since water main breaks occur underground, in most cases we can only speculate as to how exactly the pipe broke. Here are some factors:

  • Construction crews hitting mains while digging for other projects.
  •  Call 811 before you dig to locate the pipes
  • Temperature changes that can cause the soil to expand and contract, putting stress on pipes.
  • Sudden change in water pressure. Quick use of a hydrant to fight a fire or a water main break nearby can cause other pipes to leak.
  • Weak seals or a weakness where two pipes are joined together.
  • Soil conditions (movement, corrosion, extra soil on top pushing down on pipes)

What causes a water main to break?

There are several factors that can cause a pipe to break, including change in temperature, age and external damage.

Who should I call if I see a leak?

If you see or suspect a leak, call 3-1-1 or 704-336-7600 so that Charlotte Water can quickly dispatch a crew to the location. Our dispatchers are working 24/7 so even after CharMeck 311 is closed you can say or select water emergency after the audio greeting to reach our staff.

Learn more at

“Every day, Charlotte Water routinely repairs and maintains water and sewer pipes across our entire service area,” says Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles. “It’s important that we are doing all that we can to keep customers’ trust in our ability to provide clean, safe and reliable water service to the Charlotte region.”

To stay up to date on the most recent events and announcements, follow Charlotte Water on Twitter @CLTWater. For more information on other pipe replacement and restoration projects, visit us at CharlotteWater.org.

Engineering Week: Collaborative Eco-Solutions for Water & Greenway Customers

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County keep growing and growing, and because of that, more water pipes are needed to serve these growing areas. One particular area is the eastern part of Charlotte. Amy Vershel, Senior Engineering Project Manager, shares the details of this collaborative project to support the growth in our community.

Amy Vershel standing next to her Charlotte Water truck
Amy Vershel, Senior Engineering Project Manger with CLTWater

Charlotte Water (CLTWater) needed to add drinking water pipes from Idlewild Road (at East W.T. Harris Boulevard) along W.T. Harris Boulevard, Hickory Grove Road, Highland Avenue, and Plott Road to a water storage tank off of Plaza Road Extension. This project is needed to maintain water quality and reliable service for current and future customers.

During the design phase, dense housing development, other existing underground utilities, and NCDOT pavement restrictions within the proposed pipe alignment required that a portion of the alignment cross the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (MCPR) Reedy Creek Nature Preserve, a 1000-acre forested habitat and biodiversity center. At the same time, MCPR was engaging Nature Preserve stakeholders in an 18-month planning process to design a greenway in this same corridor.

Water pipe construction along the greenway
Taken by project team for City of Charlotte, Charlotte Water

To avoid significant impacts to critical woodland habitat within the Nature Preserve, the team worked together to find solutions that helped align the new pipe under the greenway trail.

The goal was to avoid large trees and rock outcroppings. Seems simple, right? Not exactly. This required changes in how the water pipe was designed and installed. Some of the changes required weighing the needs of the water system project compared to minimizing impact to the Nature Preserve.

Regular meetings, field walks, alignment tweaks, and special provisions successfully mitigated impacts to both the water system and wildlife habitat. This phase of the project will be in service by the end of 2023. Exemplary collaboration and innovative thinking enabled our interagency team to deliver an enhanced public utility and recreation resource that will build equity, ecological resilience, and community to the residents of Charlotte.

Water pipe construction along the greenway
Photo taken by inspector Brody Boone

Fast Facts

Pipe: 31,300-foot long, 36-inch diameter water transmission main

Cost: $55 million

Duration 36+ months

For more information, please visit our project website : https://charlottenc.gov/Projects/Pages/WTHarrisPlottRoadWaterMainProject.aspx