Water Tap Leaks And Clogged Connections Need Sensible Solutions

Opinion & Expertise
August 2, 2013

by David Balkan

NYC DEP worker

When a water tap leaks, or gets clogged, it is first important to understand how it functions. It also helps to understand its various components. A water line connection (tap connection) is needed for a water service line to be connected to the New York City water main. A tap is installed by DEP field forces using highly specialized tools. The cost for a tap is a set fee that is charged to the Licensed Master Plumber who is installing or upgrading the service line.

After the DEP drills the city main, tap connections that are up to 2” in size are screwed into the top of the city main. Taps are threaded on either side. One side screws into the city main, the other threaded side is for connecting the service line. The core of the tap is actually a ball valve that needs only a quarter of a turn to either open or close. A tap has a notch on the side so determining if it is fully opened or closed is easy to figure out.

wet tap componentsSometimes a wet tap connection will leak after it is initially installed. But more frequently tap leaks occur at a later date. Depending on what area of the water tap is leaking, will determine what action can be taken to stop the leak. All instructions below are meant for Licensed Master Plumbers, or persons directly under their supervision. No other individuals should ever attempt to work on a live water line connection.

The Core is the Valve Portion of the Tap Connection

The core of a tap connection has a packing nut just like most valves. Frequently, if a connection is hard to open or close, the packing nut just has to be loosened. After it is loosened a half a turn or so, it should be able to be operated. If it still will not move it can be gently tapped with a hammer on the threads protruding from the packing nut. This should loosen it up a bit. Always remember to tighten up the packing nut afterwards.

Core of a water tap worn out from an active leak

Very frequently water tap leaks will be from out of the core of the fitting. The water tap leak can frequently be stopped by tightening the packing nut with a wrench (just like many water valve leaks). If the leak has been present for a while, the core may have been worn away. This happens from the running water from the leak, and the connection will then have to be replaced. In some rare instances just the core of the tap will have to be changed; but that would require the city main to be turned off.

When a Water Tap Leaks at the Base of the Fitting

Most water leaks on a tap are from the base of the fitting. This is the part where the tap connection screws into the city main. In some cases, where corrosion is not present and the tap and main seem sound, an attempt can be made to tighten the tap into the city water main. In many cases the connection can be tightened to stop a leak. It is advised to apply pipe joint compound and lamp wick to the threads before tightening.

water tap leaks
A leak at the base of a tap connection

If heavy corrosion or a heavy leak is present good judgment may dictate not attempting a repair the tap connection. In these cases it may be wise to simply replace the connection when DEP field forces are available to do so. Working on a live tap that is defective runs the risk of the tap blowing out of the City water main.

The Threads Connecting to the Service Line

In very rare cases the threads on the top of the connection can be worn or scarred. Sometimes when a water tap leaks the connection can be re-threaded by using a hand tool. Applying even and gentle pressure is a must, and advised for working on any old plumbing. In other cases using a goose neck fitting (pictured below) instead of an elbow will allow for a leak-free connection. Unlike an elbow, a goose neck connects to the tap by using a washer. A goose neck does not require as many threads as an elbow for a proper connection. A goose neck easily makes a water tight and leak free connection.

brass fitting
Approved brass goose neck fitting

Goose neck brass fittings are specialty fitting used solely for connecting to water tap connections. Although they look similar to meter coupling elbows, they are not. Meter couplings of any sort are not legal to use to connect to a tap connection. Meter coupling are a thin walled and lighter weight fitting. They are not approved or designed to be buried underground.

Removing an Existing Leaking Water Tap Connection

When a tap connection has to be removed there are two methods to accomplish that. One method is by using an extracting tool (similar to an easy-out tool used by auto mechanics). The inside of a tap connection is also threaded, only it is reverse-threaded. By inserting an extracting tool a DEP taping crew can extract a defective connection. They can then insert a new tap with minimal loss of water. The other more intrusive way to remove a leaking water tap connection is by deliberately blowing it out of the city main and inserting a plug. DEP field forces can then drill through the plug and install a new connection. Both of these methods avoid having to shut down the City water main, and inconveniencing the neighborhood.

water tap leaks
A tapped iron clamp

In some cases, particularly when the city main is damaged or corroded, a stainless steel sleeve will be placed over the plug. A new connection can then be installed in a different section of the city water main. A second option is if a taped sleeve is used. A taped sleeve allows for a new connection to be screwed directly onto the stainless steel sleeve without re-drilling the city main.

Working on water valves

Working on any type of water valve requires skill, expertise, and a familiarity with that particular type of valve. Bear in mind that connections on a city main are particularly critical. They directly involve the public drinking supply, and the integrity of the actual City main line.

NYC Licensed Master Plumbers, and persons under their direct employ, are the only private individuals permitted to work on these connections. In addition, even these approved individuals must have proper permits. Any time work involves a city water main the plumber must be in close contact with the NYC DEP inspection, permit, and supervisory personnel.

NYC DEP worker
NYC DEP tap installation crew
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David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

Dave Balkan

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