Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Bursting Water Pipes (But Were Afraid To Ask)

The holiday season is a time of joyous celebration, fireside memories and the rekindling of old connections. However, for many readers, it is also the season of freezing temperatures, snow and ice. The winter season brings tidings of good cheer, but warm moments can instantly switch to an icy, expensive inconvenience if your water pipes happen to burst. Happily, and with only a modest budget, you can take several simple steps to avoid this calamity befalling you.

Residential water pipes can burst for many reasons. The most common cause of bursting pipes is water that freezes and thus expands too rapidly, but there are several other possible culprits as well. The following is a guide to these potential hazards and how to avoid them. Understanding what can cause a pipe to burst in the first place is an important first step in its prevention.

Causes of Bursting Pipes

1) Freezing. We’ve all seen what happens when we forget about putting a soda can in the freezer. The water expands as it freezes and a big mess ensues. Now imagine that same scenario, except it’s happening inside the plumbing pipes that handle water for your home. An equivalent mechanism is to blame, but it’s a much bigger and more expansive mess than a popped soda can. The good news is you can take practical, affordable measures to prevent “the frozen soda can” phenomenon from happening to your plumbing pipes.

Common causes of freezing pipes:

● Rapid drops in ambient temperature.

● Poor insulation of water pipes.

● Thermostats that are set too low.

Helpful tips to prevent freezing pipes:

● Keep your home’s heater on to maintain warmth.
● Let the taps continuously trickle.
● Insulate the pipes with rubber-based or foam tubes. These are readily available and not expensive.
● Double check proper calibration of thermostat.
● Consider relocating pipes that are exposed to the elements.

If, despite all these precautions (or if you forget to take precautions and have to learn the hard way), the pipes do freeze, remain calm. Immediately turn off the water supply and thaw the pipes, then call a professional plumber for an inspection to deduce the extent of the damage.

2) High Water Pressure. High water pressure is also capable of overwhelming and bursting pipes. The higher the pressure of the water, the more stress the structure of the pipe endures, and long periods of high stress have a cumulative effect that can crescendo into a burst pipe.

Common causes of high water pressure include:

● Clogged or obstructed pipes.
● Incorrect calibration of pressure valves.
● Higher than normal pressure being directed by the utility company.

Helpful tips to avoid high water pressure:

● Adjust the water pressure valve to lessen strain on the pipes.
● Do what you can to keep your pipes free of obstructions and debris, i.e. be mindful of what you flush down a drain or pour into a sink.
● Install a water pressure regulator.
● Hire a plumber to clean or replace affected pipes.

If a sudden high pressure occurs within your pipes that you can’t control, turn off the water immediately and call an emergency plumber.

3) Corrosion. Metal is susceptible to corrosion, and metal water pipes are no exception. It is true that modern plumbing pipes are treated to be anti-corrosive, but these treatments wear off over time. Corrosion causes pipe damage in two primary ways, and each action feeds off and exacerbates the other. Firstly, corrosion weakens the integrity of pipes and thus lowers the maximum pressure they can withstand. Concurrently, corrosion clogs pipes, which increases water pressure. Corrosion can be a perfect storm for bursting pipes, and though you cannot avoid it completely, you can take measures to slow it down. Read on to find out how.

Common causes of corrosion include:

● High water pressure.
● High water temperature.
● Excessive minerals and chemicals in water.
● High water acidity.

Helpful tips to prevent corrosions:

● Treat your water to minimize corrosive agents.
● Keep water pressure between 45 to 55 psi. Anything above 80 psi is dangerous.
Don’t overheat your water (around 120 degrees Fahrenheit is reasonable).
● Use nonmetallic pipes where possible.
Inspect your pipes to determine if there is any corrosion or build-up of scale.

If you find that certain of your pipes are already corroded, replace them right away so that they don’t burst.

4) Ground Movements and External Pressure. Ground movements, such as shifting soil and earth tremors, can damage buried plumbing pipes and lead to pipe bursts. Water can too thoroughly saturate the ground after a heavy rainfall or a flood. This can cause the soil below a pipe to sink, with the pipe itself then following suit. External pressure above buried pipes, especially those at shallow depths, can damage the pipes. Pipes at adequate depth can lose the protective soil above them via soil erosion and become susceptible to such pressure.

Common causes of ground movements and external pressure include:

● Soil erosion.
● Extra heavy rainfall.
● Earth tremors.
● Heavy trucks or construction equipment.

Earth movements are mostly natural events outside of your control, but there are still steps you can take to mitigate this hazard.

Helpful tips to prevent ground movements and external pressure:

● Ensure proper drainage. Proper drainage is absolutely essential to many aspects of your home’s integrity, and plumbing systems are no exception. Assuring adequate drainage will help to prevent unwanted soil shifts.
● When possible, prevent any heavy equipment from operating above your pipes.

If you suspect earth movements, have had construction or heavy trucks operating above your pipes, or if you observe improper drainage, hire a plumbing professional to inspect your pipes for damage.

5) Aging. Plumbing systems and material age and deteriorate with time. Aging pipes tend to be weaker than relatively new pipes. The weakness exposes the pipes to damages that they might have endured when new. For example, an old plumbing pipe is more likely to burst due to high water pressure than a new pipe.

Causes of aging pipes:

● The cause of aging plumbing systems is straightforward: you need new pipes. Everything wears out over enough time, and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and replace what needs replacing. The upfront cost is worth avoiding the embarrassing and expensive specter of a catastrophic plumbing system failure.

Helpful tips to resolve the issue of aging pipes:

● Make an effort to understand the lifespan of your plumbing pipes, then ascertain your plumbing system’s age.
● Consult the manufacturer or hire a professional to discuss when and if your older pipes may need replacing.

Understanding the lifespans of your plumbing pipes allows you to replace them in time to avoid damages or breakdown.

Take Care of Your Pipes

A functional plumbing system is an absolute essential to our modern society. Especially as the weather gets chilly, nobody wants to be stuck without hot showers on an icy morning. Protect your plumbing pipes accordingly. Insulate your pipes that are exposed to the elements, keep an eye on water pressure and have the number of a quality plumber on speed dial. With a little bit of precaution and attention, you can be assured of a jubilant and festive holiday season, without the worry of a sudden bursting pipe raining, er, snowing on your parade.