There is very little that strikes more fear into the heart of a homeowner than the sound of water where the sound of water should not be. An incessant drip drop dripping. An urgent rushing. Vehement gushing. Or worst of all: the sound of full-out flooding. And when the source of that sound comes from your main water pipes, the ones connecting the city’s water supply to your home, it comes with an added level of urgency and dread: How big is the problem? Whose problem is it exactly? And, biggest of all: who will have to pay for the problem? Welcome to one of our most frequently asked questions: What, exactly, is a water main and who, exactly, pays for it when it needs fixing?

Deep breath. Keep calm. Before you spiral down a gushing water main to to worst case scenarios, let’s start at the beginning with what a water main is, how it can break, signs that your water main has a break, what to do if it does, and how to go about getting it fixed without breaking the bank as well as the pipe in question. Bottom line? Don’t panic. With excellent service and repairs from a trusted company like Urban Water Works, with years of experience in dealing with issues like this, your water main issue doesn’t need to be a disaster. We are here to help.

What is a water main?

Water mains are the underground water pipes that carry water from your municipality’s water treatment plant to the pumping stations and water storage tanks for your city. From there, these pipes snake out to deliver a steady supply of potable water to your home, your neighbour’s homes, and the businesses where you work, shop and play.

Given the amount of work these pipes must do, transporting water to millions around towns and cities, it is not surprising that, at times, water mains can leak or break. And when this happens – well – as any homeowner who’s dealt with this can tell you, havoc can, and frequently does, ensue if the defective section of pipe isn’t quickly found and repaired.

What causes water main breaks?

Water main breaks can happen at any time of the year for a number of reasons. A few of the main reasons for water main breaks include things like:

    1. Temperature: Both ground temperature and water temperature play a major role in the potential for water mains to break. Sudden and severe temperature changes can cause water main breaks and cracks as the ground contracts and expands and puts pressure on the water pipes. It’s common sense that this kind of temperature change is more likely to happen in winter, when low temperatures can cause soil to freeze and expand, creating frost loading or force which applies undue pressure on underground pipes. In Vancouver, BC, this is less of a problem than, say, Toronto, ON, but even here prolonged periods of below zero temperatures do happen, with associated water main havoc.
    2. Corrosion: With many of the older water mains in Canadian systems being made of cast iron or ductile iron, corrosion or crumbling does happen. Not only does iron rust over a long period of time, with rust causing blockages that lead to holes or cracks, but certain soil conditions can speed up the process. What’s more, soil conditions can vary greatly over a stretch of single pipe, which means while one section may continue to be just fine for years to come, another section of that same pipe may fall prey to breaks and associated leaks. External corrosion can also cause pits to develop in cast or ductile iron pipes, weakening them over time.
    3. Age: Just like everything in life, the aging process can be cruel. As water pipes creak their way towards the end of their natural life span – nothing lives forever, not even IronMa(i)n – natural wear and tear increases the possibility for breaks and associated leaks. Age can also cause pipe walls to thin, which means they are even more susceptible to the pressures placed on them by soil and other factors. Which leads us to…
    4. Pressure: Changes in pressure in the ground around water mains can cause breaks. This could be due to temperature, as already mentioned, or due to the ground surrounding a water main eroding. It could also be due to increased pressure on pipes due to demand on the system – such as increased demand for cool water on a hot summer’s day. Pressure can also come from trees on your property settling into your soil, with the roots growing against or into your pipes, eventually damaging them to the point of breakage.


Signs that your water main is broken

Not all leaks are created equal. And when it comes to water main leaks and breaks in particular, given that they are underground, and often under your house, there are often no external signs at all until much later. There are a few key signs to watch out for, however.

  • Unexplained puddles of water, or water bubbling up in your garden or in the road or sidewalk outside your home? (I.e., it hasn’t been raining, the streets haven’t been cleaned, there has been no scheduled water main flushing for your neighbourhood, and yet there it is, a large puddle, seemingly appeared out of nowhere.) As an added bonus (with heavy sarcasm on the word ‘bonus’), these puddles often smell less than delightful. No fresh spring rainfall odours about them.
  • Your basement is flooded and it can’t be attributed to a dodgy washer or a blocked internal plumbing pipe?
  • Damp spots on your foundation wall?
  • The sound of running water inside your house, but no taps are running anywhere?
  • Or perhaps your water pressure in your taps is suddenly less than optimal? Your treasured rain shower head is emitting more of a weak drizzle than a power shower? Yet to add insult to injury, your water bill has increased?!

All of these are signs of a possible break, leak or blockage in your main pipe connecting your home to the city’s water supply.

If you notice your water main is showing any of these signs, call Urban Water Works Today! 604-359-0996

How is a water main fixed?

Okay, so you’ve seen the signs and you think your water main is broken. Now what?

Your first port of call is to shut off your curb stop and the water main valve inside your house. (Knowing where these are is important – learn more about this here.)

Next stop: give the water mains repair experts a call to find the break, assess the damage, provide advice on repairs costs and who pays for them, and the quickest, most effective, long-term fix to your problem! Here in Vancouver, Urban Water Works can do all that for you and more. Our technicians have seen it all and offer professional, done-right-the-first-time water main repair in Vancouver, Burnaby, North Shore, New Westminster and beyond.

Once we’ve received your call, we’ll dispatch an expert to determine the location, impact and severity of the break, shut off the water main flow where necessary, determine the best course of action to fixing your particular water main problem, then set about getting your water main back up and running, literally, quickly, safely, and following all approved city guidelines and procedures. To learn more about possible water main fixes, you can click here, but suffice to say that at Urban Water Works we use all the latest tools, techniques and technologies to ensure the job is done exactly the way it should be, at the least possible inconvenience to you. Speaking of which, one of the biggest players in the inconvenience factor? Undoubtedly cost!

So, who exactly is responsible for paying for water main repairs?

Who is responsible for paying for water main repairs?

It depends.

The precise answer varies with each municipality, but here in Vancouver, BC, who pays for your water main repairs depends on one thing: location. More specifically, the location of the break or problem is the deciding factor in who pays for water main repairs, with the ‘shut-off’ valve or curb stop in particular playing the starring role.


The city will pay for the water main repair if:

        • “The source of the leak is determined to be on the portion of the water line owned by the City (the shut-off valve – also called a curb stop – at the property line, and the water line that connects the valve to City water main), and
        • “No prior work has been undertaken that causes damage to the water system.”*

The property owner, i.e., you, will pay for the water main repair if:

        • “the leaks are on the property owner’s side of the water line shut-off valve (curb stop).” (Note: The City will turn off the water, if necessary, for the property owner to repair the leak.)* (As outlined on the City of Vancouver website.)

What this means is that, should you find a leak or break in your water main pipe, if the issue lies on your side of the curb stop, you are responsible for:

Whichever water contractor you choose must also be sure to:

        • obtain any necessary digging and repair permits,
        • getting clearances from utility companies,
        • repairing the leak, and
        • arranging for the City to inspect the repair and turn the water back on once repairs are completed to their satisfaction.

Regardless of what your water main problem is, and who is ultimately responsible for paying for the necessary fix, one thing remains a certainty: at Urban Water Works we are committed to getting your water main repair done safely, quickly, expertly and cost-effectively, with as few waterworks of the emotional variety as possible. Call Today: 604-790-8993