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Why Do Pipes Burst?

What causes pipes to burst? There are a number of potential reasons why pipes inside a home can experience too much stress and break open, causing major flooding and damage problems for homeowners. But there are 4 chief causes of burst pipes:

  • Frozen Pipes
  • Moving Pipes
  • Water Pressure
  • Corrosion

Let's review some of the common causes and go over the steps to take when you encounter a pipe that has burst.

Extremely Cold temperatures

Frozen pipeCold weather can cause serious issues when it affects the water supply pipes in your home. Although cold temperatures generally cause things to contract, ice has more volume than water so when water freezes inside a pipe, it expands and increases pressure inside the pipe. The building pressure needs to escape so it literally bursts right out of the pipe. This sometimes occurs at a weak joint in the pipe but pressure can burst right out the side of the pipe wall. One way to prevent water pipes from bursting during extreme cold is to turn on your faucets to allow a slow but steady stream of water to escape. This will keep water moving through the pipes and, most importantly, prevent pressure from building up inside. To prevent frozen pipes, Insulate exposed water supply pipes with foam pipe sleeves and don’t allow the temperature in the house to fall below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow warm air to circulate around pipes. For help winterizing your home, consider reaching out to your local Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Drain Service.

Movement / Water Hammer

If water pipes aren’t secured, they can sometimes move around inside the walls whenever water is suddenly turned on or off. If you’ve ever heard pipes clanging inside walls or floors, it’s called water hammer. The pipes move back and forth and gradually can weaken joints in the pipe until one fails and allows pressurized water to escape the pipe. The resulting damage can be catastrophic and expensive.

Water pressure issues

Pressure build up can burst a pipeMaintaining normal water pressure is vital for your water supply pipes to function properly. 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 pressure increases, the pipes won’t be able to contain it, causing a rupture. If you suspect your water pressure is too high, you can check it by attaching a pressure gauge to a sink spout and turning on the faucet. The pressure will move the needle on the gauge and display the water pressure in psi (pounds per square inch). The water pressure in most homes is between 30-50 psi and in most cases it should not exceed 60 psi to avoid damage to pipes and plumbing fixtures. If your home’s water pressure is too high, a plumber can install a pressure reducing valve to adjust it down to safer levels.

Corrosion

Rust buildup in pipePipes are meant to last a long time, and the vast majority of them provide many decades of reliable service. However, that doesn't mean pipes will last indefinitely. Sometimes years of slow building corrosion will cause a pipe to fail. Corrosion can be caused by a pH imbalance in the water, a minor issue at first that over time becomes more takes its toll on water pipes. If you have hard water and your water supply pipes are made of galvanized iron, the minerals inside the water slowly wear down the galvanized coating (which itself can cause dangerous lead poisoning) and expose the iron pipe beneath. In time, the iron turns to rust (iron oxide) and gradually narrows the diameter of the pipe so that water can barely get through the pipe. Your pipe may burst or it may just close itself off and prohibit water flow altogether.

If you experience a burst pipe, it is important to determine the exact cause in order to prevent the problem from recurring. An experienced, licensed Roto-Rooter plumber can inspect your plumbing, determine your home’s water pressure and make any necessary adjustments.

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