Burst pipes are a common and destructive plumbing emergency. Every year, about 250,000 American homeowners experience a burst pipe in their home. The damage from all of those burst pipes is estimated to be as much as $500 million. Burst pipes can happen to anyone, and if you're not careful, your home could be next. Here's what you need to know about this common plumbing emergency.
Why do pipes burst?
There are two main reasons that the pipes in your house will burst: clogs and freezing.
Clogs are very common around the home, and they're a major cause of burst pipes. When water can't get through the clog, pressure builds up, and if your pipes aren't in good shape, they'll burst. Old or rusty pipes are particularly prone to bursting due to clogs like this.
Freezing is another major cause of burst pipes. Many people think that this happens because water expands as it freezes, but that isn't actually what breaks your pipes. When the water in part of your pipe freezes, it pushes the liquid water in the pipe towards the closed faucets in your house. Rather than bursting out of the closed faucet, the water bursts through the side of your pipe.
Why are burst pipes so damaging?
A burst pipe releases a lot of water. Even a tiny (1/8") split releases a devastating amount of water: 250 gallons every day. That water spills out into the walls that surround the pipe, possibly ruining your electrical system or HVAC system. The water then soaks through the wall and onto your nice hardwood floor or carpet. The damage will only keep getting worse if the pipe isn't fixed quickly.
It's even worse if the pipe bursts when you aren't home. If you're at work, or worse, away on holiday when the pipe bursts, most of the contents in your home could be damaged by water by the time you discover the burst pipe.
Is there anything you can do to prevent this?
Both causes of burst pipes are preventable. There are things that you can do to prevent clogs and freezing from ruining your pipes and your home.
Most clogs can be avoided simply by being careful about what you flush down the toilet and pour down the drains in your house. You should never flush paper towel, personal hygiene wipes, or feminine products; only human waste and toilet paper can be safely flushed. You should also avoid pouring cooking fats down the drain, or using a garburator to dispose of your food. Some clogs, like those caused when a tree root grows through your pipe, are unavoidable.
You can also prevent your pipes from freezing by making a few simple changes. Insulating pipes that are exposed to the cold (such as pipes in the attic, basement, or crawlspace) will help keep the water inside above freezing. Keeping your faucets open enough to allow water to trickle out is also a good idea. That way, even if the pipes do freeze, the excess pressure will send water out of the faucets, instead of out the side of your pipes.
How do you fix a burst pipe?
If you discover a burst pipe in your home, your first step should be to shut off the water supply to your house. This will keep the mess from getting any worse. Your next step should be to call an emergency plumber.
Burst pipes are very common, but they're also very destructive. The best strategy for dealing with burst pipes is prevention, so try to avoid creating clogs or allowing your pipes to freeze. If the worst happens, call a plumber from a place like Shakley Mechanical Inc right away.