Pipes bursting can be a frustrating and could result in a water damage problem in any home. As homeowners, it’s important we understand what leads to pipe bursts so we can try to prevent them. In this article, we’ll walk through the most common causes of pipe bursts and steps you can take to minimize your risk.
One of the most frequent causes of burst pipes is freezing temperatures. When water in pipes freezes, it expands. This expansion puts pressure on the pipe walls and can lead pipes to break open. Pipes that run along exterior walls or in uninsulated areas like attics and crawl spaces are especially prone to freezing in cold weather.
To prevent frozen pipes, make sure to insulate any exposed water pipes in your home. Wall insulation may not be enough – consider wrapping pipes with specific pipe insulation or heating cables. In extreme cold, letting faucets drip can keep water moving through pipes and prevent freezing. Know where your main water shutoff valve is so you can turn off water immediately if pipes do freeze.
Sudden spikes in water pressure can also lead to burst pipes. Events that strain the water supply system, like water main breaks in your area, can raise pressure past what pipes can handle. High water pressure from malfunctioning appliances like washing machines or dishwashers may have the same effect.
Installing a whole house pressure regulator helps maintain steady, consistent water pressure to prevent pressure spikes from damaging pipes. These devices are installed where the main water line enters your home. If you suspect an appliance is causing pressure issues, have it inspected by a professional to identify any problems.
Defects in the material or installation of pipes can leave them vulnerable to bursting. Common material problems include:
- Old, corroded galvanized steel pipes that have rusted from the inside out.
- Lead pipes that have weakened and become brittle over time.
- Low quality or damaged plastic pipes with thin walls.
- Copper pipes with small pinhole leaks that have expanded due to water erosion.
Replacing old, damaged pipes with new copper or plastic lines can eliminate leak and burst risks from material defects. Ensure pipes are thick enough to withstand pressure – many experts recommend using copper pipes with 1⁄2 inch or thicker walls. Proper installation is also key to prevent stress on joints.
Movement in the surrounding soil or settling of your home’s foundation can shift pipes and cause breakage at joints and connections. This may happen slowly over many years or suddenly due to earthquakes or floods in your area.
Burst pipes from ground movement typically happen at elbow joints or connections with appliances and fixtures. Inspect these areas carefully for small leaks that can warn of weak spots. Install flexible couplings and fittings to help compensate for shifting and prevent future leaks or bursts.
Damage From Freezing
Beyond freezing itself, the ice that forms inside pipes can lead to burst pipes when it melts and water starts flowing again. The force of flowing water against cracked, weakened ice formations leads to blowouts.
Clearing frozen pipes properly is key to avoiding this type of bursting. Never use direct, open flames to thaw pipes – this can damage them further. Instead, use a hair dryer on a low setting or wrap frozen sections with hot towels. Fully thaw pipes before turning the water back on.
High Water Temperature Settings
Having your water heater temperature set too high can put strain on your home’s pipes. Most experts recommend setting water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Higher temperatures raise the hot water expansion rate, which can damage pipes over time.
Inspect your water heater and check the current temperature setting. Consider turning it down to 110 or 120 degrees, especially if you have older pipes. This small change reduces strain while still providing comfortable hot water for tasks like showering and washing dishes.
Deterioration From Corrosion
Corrosion both inside and outside pipes can lead to weak spots prone to bursting. Water naturally corrodes and eats away at metal over many years of contact. Some contributing factors that speed corrosion include:
- Acidic water – Certain minerals in water interact with pipe metals to cause faster corrosion. A water quality test can identify issues.
- Stray electrical currents – Currents traveling through pipes accelerate corrosion. Check your grounding wiring to rule out any stray electrical flows.
- Bacterial corrosion – Bacteria that forms biofilm inside pipes releases acids that break down metals. Flushing pipes regularly helps clear bacteria.
Check pipes for green residue, rust spots, small leaks and pitted surfaces which can indicate corrosion problems. Where possible, choose non-metal plastic pipes to avoid corrosion risks. Promptly replacing any sections already degraded prevents future bursts.
Damage From Tree Roots
As roots from nearby trees grow, they can infiltrate and damage underground sewer and water pipes. Root growth exerts force and shifts pipe alignments, often breaking pipe joints. Cracks and fractures lead to leaks, and roots entering the cracks further expand them until pipes fail.
Keeping trees and landscaping trimmed back from water and sewer lines can help avoid root damage. Signs like slowed drains or damp spots in your yard may indicate existing root intrusion issues. Inspecting pipes with a sewer camera can identify any cracks or root blockages. Severely damaged lines may need replacement to resolve root damage.
Mistakes made when initially installing pipes can come back to bite you years later in the form of bursts. Some key installation problems include:
- Improperly aligned pipe joints – Misalignments add stress to joints that eventually fail under pressure.
- Inadequate pipe hangers – Not enough supports leads to sagging and broken pipes.
- Lack of expansion loops – These help pipes flex with natural expansion and contraction.
- Over-tightened fittings – Excessive tightening damages threads and seals.
If you’re undertaking any DIY plumbing work, take care to install pipes to code and manufacturer specifications. For major re-piping projects, hire experienced plumbers to ensure proper installation that will last.
Leaks and Cracks
Small leaks and cracks that go unaddressed can worsen over time until a major burst occurs. Dripping from joints or pinhole leaks in pipe walls indicate a weak spot. Freezing and thawing cycles in winter open existing cracks further.
At the first sign of a water leak, identify the source immediately. Seal cracks and leaks with epoxy compound. If the affected section is corroded or damaged, replace it to prevent enlargement of the problem. Catching leaks early is the best way to stop burst pipes down the road.
Blunt Force Damage
A forceful impact from an object can damage pipes and make them prone to bursting later on. For example, a pipe gets nicked by a tool during maintenance work, struck by a vehicle in your driveway or hit by a falling object in the basement. While the pipe may continue working after the impact, cracks have formed providing a starting point for future breaks.
When doing any work around plumbing, take care to avoid inadvertently striking pipes with equipment. Inspect areas where pipes may have suffered impact damage from past incidents. Adding insulation or wood boards around exposed pipes also helps shield them from direct hits.
Signs Your Pipes Are At Risk
Along with being aware of the common causes of burst pipes, it is helpful to know the signs of pipes that are vulnerable and at risk of failing:
- Visible corrosion like green buildup, rust and pitting
- Previous leaks, even if temporarily repaired
- Plumbing making hammering noises as valves turn on and off
- High water pressure readings over 80 PSI
- Older galvanized or lead pipes that have not been upgraded
- Major dents, damage or cracks in sections of pipe
- Water discoloration or unusual odors coming from taps
- Soft spots in sections of pipe indicating corrosion
Pipes displaying these warning signs should be preemptively replaced to avoid major damage down the road. It is much less costly to deal with a small leak or section of pipe than to repair flooding damage after a catastrophic burst.
Preventing Burst Pipes
While we can’t avoid problems like freezing temperatures and ground movement, there are many proactive steps we can take to reduce the chances of pipe bursts:
- Insulate water pipes in basements, attics and crawl spaces
- Install copper or plastic pipes rated for your water pressure
- Use flexible pipe fittings to reduce stress on joints
- Have a plumber install pressure regulating valves
- Drain irrigation systems and exterior faucets before first freeze
- Seal cracks and leaks immediately to stop expansion
- Keep water heater temperature at 120°F or less
- Monitor your property for tilting and foundation issues
- Keep trees and shrubs trimmed back from water lines
Making pipe maintenance and replacement part of your regular home upkeep is wise. Identify and address potential issues now, so you can avoid paying thousands of dollars down the road for emergency pipe repairs. Know the locations of your home’s main water shutoff valve and individual fixture shutoff valves in case quick action is needed to stop a burst and flooding.
While bursts still may happen on occasion despite preventative care, understanding the root causes allows us to take action to reduce their frequency and severity. Heeding warning signs, making upgrades to outdated plumbing, and practicing year-round pipe maintenance gives our home’s pipes the best chance of lasting for decades without catastrophic failures. Stay vigilant against pipe bursts, and your home will be better protected.
If you have a pipe burst problem around North and Central Georgia, contact Southeast Water Restoration immediately!