Few building conditions will produce more phone calls quickly to a building managers office than a failure of the potable water supply pipes. An even low pressure in water lines will likely prompt urgent calls from affected tenants. Municipal water supplies have become so reliable, fingers get quickly pointed right at the building manager when an interruption occurs. Providing tenants with reliable, clean and safe potable water is one of a building’s basic services and failures must be addressed quickly. Problems are not only an inconvenience, if an interruption occurs because of a large leak in a supply line, costly building damage can occur swiftly.

Let’s take a look behind the wall at potable water pipes.


Potable water supply pipes are generally made of copper, galvanized steel, PVC, or PEX. Many older buildings in the Chicago area have a significant amount of copper pipes, which for many years, were considered the standard in plumbing. If your building has copper pipes, you likely have already experienced some of the common problems that can occur with them as the years pass. These problems include corrosion, blockages, and pinholes. Copper pipes can also experience problems when they are not grounded properly, not hung using appropriate hangers, or when repairs include different metals. Many times, previous repairs were simply improperly performed. Galvanized steel can also experience corrosion. More recently, PVC and PEX pipes have been used especially in retrofits and pipe run replacements.

Likely Locations of Failure

Water supply lines can fail just about anywhere. Most failures, however, occur at connectors, T’s, bends, and where control valves are installed. These occur more frequently at these locations due to corrosion through the use of different metals, substandard repairs, and because they are more likely locations for clogs and pressure related leaks.

Problems Associated with Failures of Potable Water Supply Pipes

Results of problems with potable water lines can be discolored water, or in the case of copper corrosion, even blue tint on clothing or even blue hair. It can result in foul smelling and tasting water and low pressure. Small pinhole leaks may take days or weeks to detect and can cause thousands of dollars in damage in the meantime. A large failure can cause complete service interruptions to a single unit, an entire floor, or even larger sections of a building. In cases of cross contamination, it could lead to illness, and if associated with neglect or lack of maintenance, could even result in legal action. Emergency repairs are particularly expensive to handle, and cannot be managed as well as planned maintenance or repairs.

Preventing Failures in Potable Water Pipes

There are steps you can take to prevent or at least minimize failures in potable water pipes. Here are a few:

  • Inspect pipes often, looking for discoloration, drips, condensation, and leaks.
  • Use a trusted, experienced plumber, and use him for all your repairs.
  • Exercise shut-off values to keep them from corroding and “freezing”.
  • Find the source of pipe noise quickly.
  • Take water spots seriously.
  • Pay close attention to rising annual plumbing repair costs.
  • Keep an eye on a month to month water usage numbers. A large increase could mean a hidden leak.

The Nu Flow Option

Nu Flow Midwest offers an alternative to pipe replacement. We use an innovative, safe epoxy pipe-relining process that gives new life to potable water pipes of 1/2” or larger. Pipe relining is much less invasive than pipe replacement and is less expensive. If you are managing a Chicago area building that is experiencing increasing problems with its potable water pipe supply lines, contact us. Let’s discuss your options with Nu Flow Midwest.