Like many old houses our water passes through lead pipes between the water main in the street and our taps.

Lead is a cumulative poison, so even small amounts build up over time. For this reason some people say that there is no ‘safe’ level above zero. Interestingly, the removal of lead pollution from paint and vehicle fumes has been linked to an otherwise inexplicable drop in violent crime. Article here.

The EU standard for drinking water is 10 micrograms per litre (μg/l), and the UK standard has just reduced to this from 25μg/l. Another improvement thanks to the EU which I don’t expect to hear championed by the Daily Mail.

If you’re concerned about the level in your drinking water you can ask your water company to test it- Yorkshire Water tested ours for free.

The result for water that had been standing in our pipes was 4μg/l, so nearly half the EU standard. The ‘flush’ sample, taken after the tap has been left running for a few minutes was much lower.

Tip – if you have lead pipes

To significantly reduce the amount of lead in the water first thing in the morning: Before drawing off drinking water, run the tap a short while to refresh water that’s been standing in lead pipes overnight.

What we didn’t

If you replace your supply pipe from the boundary of your property to your house, then the water company will replace the section of ‘communication pipe’ from the main to your boundary, for free.

This lead pipe is the mains supply for the house.
This shared lead pipe coming from next door is the mains supply for the house.

Which we’d have done… except we have a shared supply pipe- a single pipe running under our neighbour’s house supplies the whole terrace. So we’d need to get every household in the terrace to agree to, and pay for, the replacement of the lead water pipes under their floors, in order for Yorkshire Water to replace the communication pipe. That aint gonna happen.

The alternative was to pay for a new, dedicated, communication pipe from the water main to our house, but that’d cost about a thousand pounds.

You can get an under sink Reverse Osmosis Filter unit that removes over 90% of metals for £300. On the downside they waste 70% of the incoming water, which goes down the drain with the contaminants, and the running cost is £100 a year in replacement filters.

I’ve been unable to find out whether a water filter jug significantly reduces traces of lead. I’m assuming not as I’d expect the manufacturers to be shouting about it if they did.

What we did

So the compromise was to leave the lead communication pipe shared with the neighbours, but to replace the lead water pipes within our property. We live in a hard water area so the old pipe is likely to be lined with limescale anyway, which reduces lead contamination.

To save the disruption of lifting the bathroom floor the new copper pipes were laid just above floor level, but will be boxed in. The now disused lead pipes remain under the floorboards.

Non Lead Flashing

The lead flashing where the garage roof meets the end of terrace wall was not in great condition, so we decided to replace it before the external wall insulation is installed around it.

The rain water running off this flashing is collected in a water butt and used to water the vegetables in the garden, so we preferred it not to be made of toxic lead. OK, so we’re talking admittedly minuscule traces of toxin, but lead is a cumulative poison so even small amounts in the food chain build up over time. Besides which, lead that is so accessible is at risk of getting nicked.

I think it was Ubiflex that the roofers used.