Take the lead on lead

Steve Leigh of Groundbreaker asks housing providers, is your property’s drinking water harming your tenants?

Awareness of the potential health problems caused by lead in the water supply, particularly in infants and children, is growing.

Houses built before 1970 would have been constructed with lead water supply pipes and if still in place can be causing developmental harm to young occupants.

Although the use of lead in plumbing has been banned in the UK for more than 50 years, there are still many properties where lead contamination of water is a risk. In some areas of the UK, up to a third of these older properties are still receiving their water through these original lead pipes.

In properties with lead supply pipes, the only totally secure method to reduce lead levels in the water supply is to replace the original supply with modern plastic pipe. These new materials can also provide the additional benefits of improving flow rates and reducing pipe noise.

Traditionally, any lead replacement program requires major excavations outside a property and causes huge disruption within. Resulting in mess and disturbance to householders over several days. This disruption has often been the cause of users’ reluctance to have the work undertaken, but new solutions mean it doesn’t have to be this way.

Replacing lead water supply pipes

An innovative solution to water supply pipe replacement which significantly reduces disturbance, time and cost is the routing of the new supply pipe up the external face of the building.

Traditionally, pipes needed to be within the thermal envelope of the building or buried to minimise the risk of frost damage and freeze thaw bursts.

Today’s new materials however allow for a simpler solution, that keeps pipes on the surface, reduces the risk of leaks developing, and allows for easy repair and maintenance.

Insulated ducting products, for example, are designed to provide long lasting and effective thermal protection to water pipes and fittings outside the thermal envelope of a building.

To achieve the level of protection required by British Standard 5422 and all relevant Water Regulations for frost protection, the ducting must be carefully fabricated to provide long lasting protection and should be tested and approved to Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations, Regulation 4 or listed as an approved product by WRAS Approvals.

Easy installation

Installation of a new supply using such a product can be as straightforward as the following:

  1. From the main service supply, run a single unjointed supply (up to 32mm OD), either at 750mm underground or insulated through insulated ducting.
  2. Cut a core (100mm OD) through the wall to the point of delivery inside the property.
  3. Line the core with twin wall ducting and insert the ducting.
  4. Slide the insulation and duct into the core and seal to comply with Building Regulation Part C section 5.2

This can enable most water supply replacements to be completed within a couple of hours, without the traditional mess and disruption to the householders or occupiers.

The improvement in work efficiency and reduction on the impact to occupants is a win for both contractor and customer. There is also little impact to the exterior appearance of the property, as the system provides a neat, clean finish to the job.

Insulated ducting allows the new water service to be routed up the external face of the building and connected to the internal plumbing above ground level, whether this is the ground floor or upper storey. In multi-occupancy properties, some products can also allow multiple supply pipes to be installed.


The use of insulated ducting also allows compliance with British Plumbing Employers Council (BPEC) best practice of joint free supply installation.

In their recently launched Groundworker, Service Pipe and Meter Housing Installation Training the use of joint free installation is recommended and is recognized to minimize the risk of future joint failure and leaks.

In addition to providing a simple, compliant solution to lead free water provision, insulated ducting can be used in association with surface mounted meter housings.

UK water companies are now trialing or, as in the case of Portsmouth Water, for example, moving completely to surface mounted meter housings, with a surface mounted water management system housing the meter above ground, removing unsightly street furniture and allowing for easy meter reading.

The product also allows for future proofing the network, providing the option of the installation of ultra-smart (5G) two-way metering and ‘internet of things’ (IOT) technologies.

Steve Leigh is managing director of Groundbreaker