Ladysmith resident Bonnie Cook lost the use of most of her basement and her backyard after experiencing a major water leak. (Cole Schisler photo)

Ladysmith resident Bonnie Cook lost the use of most of her basement and her backyard after experiencing a major water leak. (Cole Schisler photo)

Drip by drip: water line leaks lead to big repair bills for Ladysmith homeowners

Nearly all reported leaks occur on old copper lines that have been bent or manipulated

Bonnie Cook’s water problems started about eight months ago when she had her water pressure regulator replaced after the component had started spraying water ‘all over the place’.

That was nothing compared to the flood that consumed her basement just over a month ago when a water service line on her property started leaking.

“It had gone right down at the concrete level. They had to dig out my entire backyard,” she said. “It’s a big old mess.”

Cook’s floors have been ripped up too. She’s still dealing with her insurance company which is covering a majority of the costs, but so far the repairs have cost about $25,000 to $30,000.

“The first day the excavator was here he was here for 12 hours straight. The plumber and his guy were here for eight and a half. And that was just the first day,” she said.

Work is ongoing. Cook says that she’s going to have to bring in drain rock, topsoil and sod to bring her backyard back to its original state. She had to rip up multiple shrubs in plants in her backyard and she’ll have to replace her retaining wall. She also had to have a large tree removed from her property because the excavation work disturbed the tree’s root system.

Although her ordeal has been challenging, Cook became concerned for other residents who may be experiencing the same problem. Cook took to the Around Town Ladysmith Facebook forum to see if other residents had experienced similar issues. So far, 15 people have commented saying they’ve experienced issues with service lines.

One of the commenters is Brandon Gonzales. His problems started in March when the copper in his hot water tank started leaking. He then had leaks on other copper lines throughout the house. Gonzales said that the Town of Ladysmith came to his home and told him that his water usage was up 10 times his normal amount.

“There was a water leak in my line from the road to the house. We had to replace that one. At this point I’ve replaced everything with plastic from the road to everywhere in my house,” Gonzales said. “There’s not an inch of copper in my house now. We knew there was going to be an event if we didn’t replace all the copper.”

The repairs cost just under $5,000. Gonzales couldn’t afford to finish the repairs with a professional, so he ended up completing some of the repairs himself. Luckily, there was no interior damage to his home because the leaks occurred in his basement, which is unfinished.

“They were small leaks. It would start with a drip, but over the course of a week of us trying to deal with the drip, it got larger. It didn’t ever blow, it was all slow and steady.”

The biggest challenge for Gonzales was having to go without hot water intermittently while the repairs were being completed. Components needed to fix his hot water tank took longer than usual to arrive due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another Ladysmith resident, Lynne Halkett, is still waiting for repair work to be completed.

Halkett first experienced a water service line leak 10 years ago when she had a ‘major’ leak from copper service lines in her ceiling, which completely flooded her basement. Since then, there have been four more pinhole leaks. Those pinhole leaks started around Thanksgiving of 2020. Halkett’s hot water tank blew on the same day.

Halkett said that she’s had to tear out multiple walls and portions of the ceiling in her home to get to the copper service lines and replace them.

“The problem was the person who built our home, when they put the copper pipes through the joist they barely cut the holes enough, so the joists are always rubbing on the pipes. That’s where they wore through. And in a couple of places rather than using elbows, they just bent the pipe,” Halkett said.

The leaks were occurring in the walls and ceilings of their bathrooms, so Halkett and her husband saw the repairs as an opportunity to renovate the bathrooms. Halkett says that they incurred $5,000 in costs just to replace the copper pipes and a couple thousand more to tear out the walls and ceilings. She estimates the total cost will be over $10,000 when the work is completed.

“We don’t know what the full costs are going to be. With all the construction stuff going on we’re waiting and waiting,” she said.

Ladysmith resident Dave Judson has also had to rip up his floors because of water leaks from copper service lines.

“My house is 30 years old. On New Year’s morning, I came downstairs to a ceiling full of water and a collapsed pipe. I patched it to keep the water, within the next two weeks I had seven lines blown out,” he said.

Judson said his neighbours experienced the same problems and said that three service lines blew out on his street as well.

“All around Belaire Street and Root Street — Davis Road — lines were broken.”

The repairs cost Judson $3,000 and the leaks caused $4,500 in damage to his home. Judson said that his insurance company counted the subsequent leaks as a separate claim, which would have doubled his premiums. Because of the costs, Judson opted to finish some of the work himself. Like Halkett, Judson found that the leaks were happening at places where his copper lines had been bent or manipulated.

Ladysmith-based plumber, John Goodman of Goodman Plumbing said that issues with aging copper lines are fairly common in Ladysmith. Most of the lines that fail are 30 to 50 years old, which is the average life expectancy of copper water service lines.

“A lot of the failures are on cold-bends… back in the ’70s and ’80s, people would bend them. You’re not supposed to cold bend copper, you’re supposed to heat it up and bend it or else it stresses the copper,” Goodman said.

Goodman recommends replacing leaky copper lines and polybutylene pipes with PEX piping — which is made of cross-linked polyethylene, a fairly common piping material. Goodman has been replacing polybutylene pipes in Ladysmith for the last decade but said he’s seen a sharp increase in copper service leaks in the last year.

“We saw a lot in 2020 and we’re seeing it still a little bit now. It has petered out, but we were doing quite a bit earlier this year in 2021. The last month and a bit it hasn’t been too bad,” Goodman said.

Leaks in copper service lines have been an ongoing issue in Ladysmith. The Town of Ladysmith tallied 75 leaks on town-owned copper service lines in 2020 and 30 leaks so far in 2021. The frequency of the leaks has slowed down since early 2021.

RELATED: Town says water service line leaks have slowed down

Director of Infrastructure Services Geoff Goodall told the Chronicle previously that nearly all of the reported leaks have occurred on aging copper service lines, but the cause of the leaks is still unknown.

The Town of Ladysmith declined a request for comment on this story.