What to Do When a Water Pipe Bursts
There are few sensations worse than realizing a pipe has burst in your home. Water is going everywhere and your plans for the evening are surely ruined. How do you shut it off!? What do I need to do to limit the damage?!
Take a deep breath and keep reading, together we can get this under control! Is your pipe still flooding? Skip ahead to “Shut off the main water supply” section to learn how to stop the flow!
Once the initial deluge is over it’s time to start the water removal process. There are some steps you can take on your own, but you’ll likely need professional water removal services if you want to limit the chance of mold or mildew!
Don’t have a burst pipe but want to avoid it altogether? Keep reading for our top tips!
What causes a burst pipe?
There are a few common causes of burst pipes and unfortunately not all of them are entirely preventable.
The most common cause of burst pipes is when water is allowed to freeze inside of the pipes. Frozen pipes burst because as water freezes it expands – literally ripping the pipes open from the inside out. There is a chance that the leak doesn’t happen immediately – after all, the water is frozen – but once the ice thaws, a burst 1” pipe can flow 210 gallons per minute and even a small half inch copper pipe can flow 3000 gallons in an hour!
Another common source of broken pipes is corrosion. This can come from inappropriate use of drain cleaners to alleviate clogs, or happen due to pipe age and local water conditions. Some appliances, like water heaters, are prone to corrosion as they age. Keep an eye on your water heater and replace its cathodic protection on a regular basis. If you see signs of corrosion contact a plumber.
Finally, exposed pipes are susceptible to damage from impact or misuse. Don’t let children climb on or around pipes, as an errant foot could lead to a plumbing emergency!
What are the signs of a burst pipe?
In most cases, identifying a burst pipe is going to be a straightforward process of deduction. Is water pouring out of your home and you didn’t leave a tap on? Well, then you probably have a burst pipe!
However, here are some subtle signs to look out for that may indicate an ongoing leak or a burst water line in a hard to notice area:
- Unexplainable damp patches or puddles of water in your yard
- Suddenly reduced water pressure or water flow
- Suddenly noisy or clanging pipes
- Poor water quality (discolored or bad smelling)
- Unexpectedly high water bills
- Flooding in your crawl space or basement
Shut off the main water supply
OK! Water is gushing onto your floors right now! Let’s get it stopped!
First, we need to find the shutoff valve. Usually this is located by your water meter or in a recessed box buried in your yard.
You may need to use a pair of pliers or a wrench to open the valve box.
Once the box has been opened you will see a knob that controls the water flow. Rotate the valve’s control knob clockwise until it fully stops – typically 90-180 degrees. If the valve is stuck proceed with care!
In cold environments the water shutoff valve may be located inside your home – usually close to where your water meter is.
Turn on faucets, ideally at a lower elevation than the leak, and allow them to fully drain to flush the pipe of any remaining water.
Ideally, you should locate your main valve before an emergency. Trying to find it in the midst of a major water leak will be stressful and quite possibly take a good deal of time.
Call a plumber to repair the pipe
While some plumbing jobs are fairly easy to DIY, a pipe repair is a plumbing problem where it’s best to request professional help. A reputable plumber should be able to replace the section of broken pipe or use a repair sleeve to permanently fix the damage.
It will be prudent to have your plumber assess your plumbing system for further signs of weakness as corrosion and freezing conditions tend to impact the entire system and not just a single area.
Get rid of the water
A burst pipe can flow hundreds of gallons into your home in minutes – causing significant water damage. To keep this damage to a minimum it is absolutely essential to begin extracting the water ASAP!
First things first: be aware of your safety. Water and electricity do not mix, so while your wet/dry vacuum is a great tool for removing standing water, proceed carefully and do not risk your health and wellbeing.
You will want to maximize airflow in the area, ideally using box fans and a dehumidifier. Remove any wet rugs and upholstery to help the area dry as quickly as possible. Plan on running the fans and dehumidifiers for at least a week after a significant flood event.
The best way to eliminate water is to contact a professional water removal company. They will have pumps, fans, and heater systems which are all specially designed to quickly and safely extract water from the affected areas.
While the short term consequences of water damage are serious, the real risk is further damage caused by mold and mildew growth. If humidity levels stay high for even a few days there is a very real possibility of your home developing a severe mold problem. Mold remediation is expensive and time consuming, so your best bet is to do everything in your power to prevent it!
Assess and document the damage
If your homeowners insurance covers flood damage, then water damage caused by a burst pipe is probably a covered claim. Be sure to carefully and completely document the damage. Take pictures, or better video, of the damage and contact your insurance company as soon as is convenient.
Reputable disaster management companies will be able to help you file your insurance claim.
Prevent pipes from bursting again
Keeping your pipe system in good condition is far more desirable than cleaning up after a disaster has already struck! Whether you’ve had a pipe burst or not, it is important to have routine inspections performed on your plumbing system to identify problems before they become serious.
In cold environments you want to ensure that your pipes are adequately insulated when possible. Even when your home is unoccupied, keep your thermostat set above 55 degrees. While you may save some money in the short term by completely shutting off the heat, the average insurance claim for freeze related water damage is over $11,000!
As temperatures dip into the freezing range you should allow your faucets to drip and open cabinet doors so that your home’s warm air can reach the uninsulated pipes contained within.
Dealing With Burst Pipes
As with many problems in life, a bit of preparation goes a long way in helping mitigate the impact of disasters. To prepare for a burst pipe you should take some time to locate your water shutoff valve and ensure that you have the tools necessary to open the valve box in the event of an emergency.
When a burst pipe is pumping hundreds of gallons of water per minute into your living room, even a few minutes of time saved will be extremely significant.
After you’ve stopped the flow the next steps are to contact a plumber, a water removal company, and your insurance agent. The road to complete recovery from a burst pipe is not a short one, and so you should take steps to prevent these problems from arising in the first place!