Why Do Pipes Burst in the House? We’re Glad You Asked!
Most people love a good trip to the water park, but imagine coming home to water flowing through your house! Pipes bursting is number one on the list of most common plumbing emergencies our Comfort Heroes see each day. And yes, burst pipes and water damage can be very costly. (Bet you just thought of your Homeowners Insurance premium going up!) Don’t let disaster strike. With a little knowledge and some preventive care, you can lower your risk of experiencing a burst pipe in your home. Here’s what you need to know.
Water pipes generally burst due to one of four main factors:
- Frozen Pipes
- Moving Pipes
- Water Pressure
- Pipe Corrosion
Frozen Water Pipes
Living in Phoenix, it’s highly unlikely temperatures will drop low enough to endanger more than a few plants in your home landscaping. However, water pipes in areas that experience prolonged cold temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst open. If you grew up in or previously lived in a colder climate, you’re probably familiar with the utterly disastrous amount of mayhem caused by frozen pipes.
So how do pipes burst? Prolonged, below-freezing temperatures can allow the cold to penetrate a building’s structural walls. (That’s why insulation is so important in summer and winter.) When water freezes, it expands. Any water sitting inside the plumbing pipes will begin to form ice. As the water continues to freeze, the ice expands, and pressure inside the pipe begins to build…and build…and build. Eventually, the frozen water will burst the pipe, and in turn, water from the non-frozen sections will begin pouring out. If a leaking or frozen pipe isn’t found quickly, significant damage can be caused.
The solution is relatively simple. If you find yourself in colder temperatures and need to keep pipes from freezing, turn on the faucets to allow a slow, steady trickle of water to flow. This simple step keeps water moving through the pipes so the water won’t freeze, which in turn prevents pressure from building up inside the pipe.
Another safety precaution that can help prevent frozen pipes is to insulate all water supply pipes with foam sleeves. The insulation, paired with keeping the house temperature above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, will significantly reduce the chances of a frozen pipe bursting in your home.
It’s fairly common for pipes to be unsecured inside the walls of a home, and sometimes when water is turned on or off, they can move around. If you ever hear pipes clanging or banging inside the walls or floors of your home, this is your warning sign. If left unsecured, these pipes can gradually weaken joints until one fails, and the water pressure will eventually burst the pipe. Again, the damage can be quite devastating and costly. Contact a Comfort Hero to secure any moving pipes, or one day you’ll end up paying the piper! (Yes, we just made a plumbing pun.)
Your plumbing pipes must maintain normal water pressure levels to function correctly. A significant increase in the water pressure can lead to a burst pipe or a failed plumbing fixture, such as a faucet or toilet. As water pressure increases, it puts a strain on the materials and seams. Eventually, the pipes will no longer be able to contain the pressure, causing a burst pipe.
You can easily check your water pressure by attaching a pressure gauge to a sink spout and turning on the faucet. The pressure will move the needle and display the pressure in psi (pounds per square inch). Most homes have water pressure between 30-50 psi. Avoid exceeding 60 psi as this could cause damage to the pipes and plumbing fixtures. If your home’s water pressure is too high, have a professional install a pressure-reducing valve to adjust it to safer levels.
Plumbing pipes are expected to and should last a long time, and most of them provide decades of service. However, pipes do not last forever. Years of slow-building corrosion will eventually cause pipes to fail, which could result in your home needing a repipe, or replacement of all plumbing pipes.
Corrosion could be the result of a pH imbalance in the water, which is a minor issue at first that will take its toll on water pipes over time. Corrosion buildup in older pipes can also degrade the quality of water you drink, wash, and cook with, putting your health at risk. There are also very high levels of minerals in our local Valley water, particularly calcium and magnesium. These minerals can build up into harmful deposits in plumbing pipes, and slowly eat away at the structural integrity. Hard water puts your home at risk for pipes bursting or becoming so choked with debris and buildup that water flow is blocked. Sometimes, buildup inside of pipes can be cleared by hydro jetting, other times, replacement, or repipe is the only option.
Now that you know why pipes burst, you can take steps to avoid the most common causes. And remember, burst pipes are plumbing emergencies. If water saturates the drywall or flooring, it can cause irreversible and costly damage. Shut the water off to your house immediately and contact a plumbing professional.