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
- Talk to your next-door neighbors to see if you can hook up a hose temporarily to fill containers.
- Lift the toilet tank lid off (see picture)
- Pour water to the water line mark inside the tank.
- You will need to pour at least two gallons per flush.
- I refilled containers using a hose connected to my neighbor’s house and refilled each night at a relative’s home.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.