City new water service lines

14 Replies | Chicago, Illinois

Hoping for some insight perhaps from contractors or big developers who may read this forum.  We have two adjacent properties, one of which will be undergoing major rehab and will require a new water service line (due in part to demand but also due to the idea that Chicago is pushing homeowners to bear the cost of replacing the lead pipes...).  The hydrant is on the other side of the street so we'll have to pay to break up the street, etc.  Since we need to pay for this both in permit costs and with contractor costs, we'd really like to know if we have any option to perhaps run just to the b box (buffalo box where water can be shut off in the parkway) for the other property.  Eventually we'll be undergoing a similar project at the other property.  

Any ideas on how to approach this with the city?  I"m sure we could find a contractor willing if we can get it permitted.  

Thanks for reading. 

Hi Jerry,

We had a similar situation come up recently and the answer was no. According to the city regarding the two properties I am referring to, each property required a separate service however, it was less expensive doing them both at the same time. The idea of "stubbing out" your second property if I am understanding you correctly will likely get shot down by the inspector. Just my two cents hope it helps.

Thanks @Robert Leach .  You have the idea.  Did you try this as you were working on building #1 or did you try to get permits for it?  Curious about that.  We want to try to get permits for it at the same time as building #1 so down the line with building #2, we won't have the extra expense or any hassles.  Any extra insights would be appreciated.

Because they were separate addresses with pins they required 2 different permits. In my experience the city won't allow you to combine permits unless it's a condo building or duplex.

@Robert Leach is spot on.

We are GC here in Chicago as well as a licensed sewer and water contractor. These will be viewed as 2 separate projects, for which you will need 2 separate sets of permits (building dept permits, water dept permits and sewer dept permits - all separate depts). The city will sometimes allow the re-use of an existing sewer line for a re-hab if you televise the sewer line with a city inspector present and it is in good working order. For new construction, you will be installing a new water line (and a new sewer line). 

The city now requires an open cut all the way to the main, so another piece to find out is if the street is a moratorium street (much higher permit fees). In my experience, there is no negotiating with the water dept and I would truly not waste my energy. It will more than likely be an exercise in frustration. If these are older properties, you will more than likely have to install a new service at each location. If you want to economize, doing both at the same time may save you money depending on locations of the services and the main. Hope that helps!

Originally posted by @Jerry N. :

Hoping for some insight perhaps from contractors or big developers who may read this forum.  We have two adjacent properties, one of which will be undergoing major rehab and will require a new water service line (due in part to demand but also due to the idea that Chicago is pushing homeowners to bear the cost of replacing the lead pipes...).  The hydrant is on the other side of the street so we'll have to pay to break up the street, etc.  Since we need to pay for this both in permit costs and with contractor costs, we'd really like to know if we have any option to perhaps run just to the b box (buffalo box where water can be shut off in the parkway) for the other property.  Eventually we'll be undergoing a similar project at the other property.  

Any ideas on how to approach this with the city?  I"m sure we could find a contractor willing if we can get it permitted.  

Thanks for reading. 

You will have to do separate copper lines, one to each address. The city will force you to put in a 3x5' meter vault in the parkway (or under the sidewalk if you have a big parkway tree in the way). This will cost you between $14,000 and $17,500 a line and there is no getting around it. The city will force you to pay heavy fees, install the vault, run the new line, cut the street, and repair the street. Source: I literally just replaced the water lines to two buildings I own right next to each other. The city makes water lines such an awful process that only three subcontractors are left in all of Chicago that tap residential water lines. One of the requirements of a water line permit is for the contractor to put a $5,000 deposit down that they don't get back for several years. 

I had the lead service line from the bbox into my house replaced in 2016 at a cost of about $9,000. To go from the bbox to the water main would have involved going across the street, and cost an additional $10,500, plus permit fees of about $3,000. The deposit that the plumber has to put down is substantial, and he doesn't get it back for years.

Eventually, I'll get the bbox to main service pipe replaced.

The whole problem is that the City REQUIRED the use of lead pipe up until 1986, even though the dangers of lead pipe have been known for centuries. It was a sop to the plumber's union, since lead is harder to work with than copper, and the plumber's union, for all its faults, does have a good training program. It meant more jobs for union plumbers (you can be a licensed plumber without being a union-trained plumber).

I wish the City would waive the permit fee. Inspect, sure, but free installation inspections is the least the City of Chicago could do after ignoring the health of its residents for so long.

Thanks @Ann Folan , the street isn't under moratorium thankfully.  Both are 100+ yo properties and we fully expect we'll have to get the new service at both properties (eventually), which is why we are hoping to economize.

Thanks @Joe H. .  Who did you use or did you have a GC?  A contractor who was working on our block last year doing a street cut told my partner that if there was a common area in the basement where the meter could be placed you didn't have to have the vault in the parkway saving $$$.  We have a common mechanical area planned for both specifically for that reason.  Don't know if that information is factual but it has guided our design.  

Thanks too @John Clark .  We didn't think the city would let you go just from the B Box inside.  Any insights how you were able to?  

My partner's dad is an old timer retired union plumber who worked mainly in the city his entire career.  He jokes that everyone he used to work with is dead so we don't have too many contacts from him.  But he has exactly the same gripes about the lead pipes with Chicago.     

My understanding is that it is quite common to go from bbox to house and keep the lead pipe from main to bbox. The plumber will have to install a new bbox ($125 or so?) in all probability, and fiddle the connection because it's two different metals, but I think the City of Chicago is finally getting serious about lead pipe after Flint, Michigan, and  letting people get rid of it in stages. Eventually Chicago will start replacing main to bbox lines because of public concern. 

I signed the contract to do my bbox to house pipe a few weeks before Flint, Michigan, hit the news. I imagine plumbers have raised their prices due to increased demand.

If I remember correctly, the permit fee for bbox to house was about $600. Bbox to main is more expensive since usually there's a street cut involved, and now you're talking about directly working on city infrastructure. Governments are real touchy about that.

Pipe size remained the same, 3/4 inch to 3/4 inch. No self-respecting plumber would connect a smaller source pipe (main to bbox) to a larger pipe downstream (bbox into house). The water pressure drops tremendously and nothing works right, and water doesn't flow properly from the main into the house. That may be why you're running into resistance from the city of Chicago. Were you in fact planning on increased pipe size from bbox into house from what you have now?

Lead is not against the code what drives the upgrade is the number of fixtures and the flow.  Everything new is 1.5”.   Plenty of guys do this work in the city.   Shop around the prices vary by 1000’s.   

"Lead is not against the code" -- If you mean grandfathered lead pipes in use pre-1986, I agree with you, you don't have to take them out. You cannot put in new lead pipes, though. As for 1 and 1/2 inch copper service, that sounds awfully large for a single family residence. I have 3/4 inch service for my two flat and my water pressure is great. Are you talking about three flats or such?