WHAT TO DO, HOW TO PREPARE FOR A PLUMBER, AND WHY IT HAPPENED
Water pipes keep us connected, clean, and healthy. We use them every day in our homes, and often don’t give them a second thought. However, it’s when they break that we really take notice. If you’ve ever had a pipe burst in your home, you’ll know the feeling of panic as you see water flooding in, combined with the fear of damage, and the threat of a large bill. However, while it’s not possible to absolutely prevent a pipe from bursting, it is definitely possible to take steps to minimize water damage, as well as be prepared for when it does happen.
This guide will walk you through the causes of burst pipes, the best prevention strategies, and what to do when the worst does happen. After all, preparation is your best strategy when it comes to reducing the damage from pipes bursting.
CAUSES OF BURST PIPES
There are a number of different potential causes of burst pipes. Almost anything can, given time, damage a pipe and lead to it bursting – hence the best precaution is to regularly maintain and replace your pipes. However, the vast majority of burst pipes are caused by one of the following.
As water freezes, it expands – as you’ll know if you’ve ever left a can of soda in the freezer too long. The expansion of water can exert a great deal of lateral force, causing even strong pipes to eventually break. Even if the pipe is strong enough to withstand the initial force of the expansion, over time, the constant freezing and thawing will lead to cracks in the pipes. Eventually, a small crack will become a large crack – and a large problem.
CLOGS AND BLOCKAGES
Water can be a very powerful force (even in a liquid state). A clog or a blockage in a pipe will lead to water building up and seeking an alternative route to escape. This can therefore cause a leak elsewhere in the pipe – usually at a weak point (which can be as a result of previous damage, or freezing, and so on).
As with clogs and blockages, water that is at too high of a pressure will also seek alternative routes of escape.
Tree roots – or in some cases large plant growth – causes roots to spread large distances through the soil. Although tree roots may not seem strong enough to break through a pipe, they can be highly effective at boring through pipes. Once they have made a small hole, they will continue to grow through it (particularly if it leads them to a water source).
Many older pipes were made of metal. Over time, these pipes get corroded by water, leading to them rusting, cracking, and, ultimately, breaking.
If a pipe bursts, it’s often crucial to act sooner rather than later – to minimize the damage and the mess caused. Although a burst pipe may be directly visible, in some cases, a pipe may burst underground or in an inaccessible place. When this happens, the following are the signs to look out for.
If you notice puddles suddenly appearing on your lawn, your wall, or your ceiling, it can be disconcerting – and rightly so. This is usually a sign that there is water leaking from somewhere.
Low water pressure
If the water coming out of your faucet or shower suddenly loses pressure then it can mean that there is a leak somewhere in your pipes. It’s effectively a sign that not all of the water is reaching the right place, which is usually a good indicator that it’s leaking out somewhere.
Discoloration of water
Sometimes when a pipe bursts, water can pick up impurities from the ground around the pipe as it flows past. This will lead to discolored water coming out of your faucets. Sometimes discolored water can have a more innocent cause – to test, run the water for two minutes or longer. If it’s still discolored, it’s time to act.
High utility prices
If you don’t notice any of the above symptoms, but suddenly see a leap in your utility prices, it can be a sign of a leak. The good news is that you may have avoided the damage that comes from a burst pipe – the bad news is that a) you’re paying for water that you’re not using and b) there’s a leak somewhere relatively inaccessible.
If you hear gurgling sounds in your home, particularly coming from the sinks and the bathtub, it’s a good indication that there is a burst pipe nearby. You may also notice a different smell coming through the pipes as well. If you do, you’ll need to act fast, particularly where wastewater is involved.
HOW TO PREVENT A PIPE FROM BURSTING
If the above has made a burst pipe seem unappetizing, then don’t worry – all is not lost. Although burst pipes can occur at any time, and seemingly with little cause, there are steps you can take to make it less likely to happen. You can’t prevent it per se, but you can minimize the likelihood of a burst pipe. The below steps will help you avoid the most common causes of burst pipes.
Keep pipes running when it’s cold
Although it may seem a waste of water, keeping a small amount of water flowing through your pipes when it’s cold will prevent the water from remaining static in your pipe. Static water is more likely to freeze and burst your pipes than flowing water.
Use your heating
You should aim to keep your home heated to above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, at the very minimum, at all times. If you plan to be away from your home for some time (to go on vacation, for example), leave the heating on in your home; this doesn’t have to be full heat, just as long as your home doesn’t dip to 32 degrees, causing the internal pipes to freeze.
Cabinet doors open
During cold weather, keep your cabinet doors that enclose pipes open. That will allow the heat of your home to keep the pipes from freezing. Even if your home is at a warm temperature, the pipes in cabinets can cause the surrounding air to cool, leading to pipes freezing. In general, circulating air is good!
WHAT TO DO IF A PIPE BURSTS
If you do notice that a pipe has burst, don’t panic – there’s plenty that you can do to mitigate and undo any damage. The following points will walk you through the key steps to take as and when the worst happens.
1. SHUT OFF YOUR ELECTRICITY
Although your first instinct may be to shut off the water, it is absolutely essential that you cut off electricity as soon as possible. Water can cause damage, but water and electricity together can kill. The first thing you need to do is eliminate the main source of danger, which is electricity.
2. SHUT OFF THE WATER
Only once you’ve cut the electricity should you shut off the water. Use the main emergency valve and cut the water supply to your home. This will (eventually) prevent the water from leaking out of the pipe – minimizing any further damage.
3. CALL YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
If you have damage to your home, it may be covered by your home insurance policy. As soon as you’ve removed the immediate danger and chance of further damage, you’ll need to call your insurance company and explain the situation. They’ll be able to inform you of what your policy will cover, and what the next steps are. You should make sure to document everything (taking photos) as your insurance company may want evidence.
4. CALL A WATER DAMAGE RESTORATION COMPANY
Although you may be able to clean some of the damage yourself, in order to prevent long-term problems, it’s best to speak to a water damage restoration company. They’ll be able to help you dry the space, fix any damaged furniture and fittings, as well as take proactive steps to prevent mold. Even minimal surface damage can indicate deep-rooted damage below the surface, so it’s usually best to get a professional to at least survey the scene.
If mold grows in an area affected by excess water (as it can very easily do) it will readily spread throughout your home – even to areas unaffected by moisture.