Avoid a Busted Water Pipe by Taking These Simple Steps
The best way to repair a busted water pipe is to prevent it via these methods. If it does burst, trenchless rehabilitation may be able to help.
One of the most expensive adventures in home ownership is plumbing. It's a bit of a truism that plumbing doesn't break during normal business hours and that means at least double time pay for the brave soul who responds to your household emergency.
When you do experience a busted water pipe, there's a better option to digging up your yard to repair or replace it. Trenchless technology has an array of trenchless pipe rehabilitation and trenchless rehabilitation, in general, to help, learn more about that at the bottom of this article. (Also learn more in "7 Types of Trenchless Rehabilitation Methods and How They Are Used.")
If you want to save yourself the money that pays for a plumber's vacation in the Bahamas, these simple hints may help.
Why do pipes burst?
If you want to keep the water in your pipes instead of in your walls, in your yard or on your floor, you need a quick primer on why pipes burst. There are four main reasons for why pipes burst: frozen pipes, movement or water hammer, corrosion or excessive water pressure.
Water expands as it freezes, and like water, it's incompressible at pressures below 380,000 pounds per square inch. If it freezes inside your pipes, your pipes will crack. If you have ever accidentally frozen a canned soft drink that exploded and made a mess in your refrigerator, that's the same thing that happens when a pipe freezes. The pipe, unfortunately, costs more to replace.
Even worse, the ice in a frozen pipe can create a blockage that increases the water pressure throughout your home, potentially causing pipes elsewhere in your plumbing to crack. This includes pipes in attics, basements, crawl spaces, walls or even outside.
Winterizing Water Pipes
Five general steps can help you win the battle to prevent frozen pipes:
During Construction or Renovation
Make sure that piping is installed in insulated parts of your walls. This is especially something to watch out for during renovations. The inside of your home was insulated when it was built; add-ons will become part of the outer walls of your home, making them colder in the winter and more susceptible to freezing. Ensure you've included proper insulation in your add-on spaces where piping will be installed or rerouted.
You can also rely on trenchless construction to run new lines into additions to your home, guest or pool houses.
Bury Water Supply Lines
The pipes that bring water across your yard and into your house need to be kept deep enough so that they are below the frost line.
Install Water Lines Within Heated Spaces
When possible, locate pipes areas of your house that are part of the heating grid. This means, run them on the inner parts of your home, like main living spaces, rather than attics, garages an add-on rooms used for storage.
A general rule is, if the room is not connected to a heating vent or radiator, don't run a pipe through it unless it's within the center part of your home. This refers to rooms that were built into the home as protruding sections of the house; these are rooms that are exposed to the outside from three sides and act like a peninsula on your home. In some cases, these rooms are often large closets or storage places without integrated heating. They are cold in the winter and not preferred for running pipes through.
Before trying to convert one of these rooms into a bathroom or an area that will include water, be sure to insulate them heavily and integrate heating elements.
In Existing Homes
Fit pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping. Allowing a faucet to barely run or drip during the worst cold weather can prevent a pipe from bursting.
If you experience slower flow from your faucets during a winter freeze, call your plumber ASAP. You and your plumber may catch a nearly froze pipe before it has a chance to burst or cause other damage.
If you have a garden hose, turn off the water supply to the faucet and disconnect the hose. This allows the water in the pipe to drain. For the best cold-weather security for outside faucets, cover the pipe and faucet with Styrofoam faucet insulation.
Stop the Hammering
If you've ever turned off a faucet and heard a banging, chattering sound coming from the pipe, that's called "water hammer," a cutesy name for your pipes beating themselves to death. What causes this? If you turn off the faucet suddenly, the water flow stops just as suddenly – Consumer Reports calls it "abruptly" where it is: in the pipe. The pipe then moves from side-to-side; it vibrates as rapidly as the banging sound you hear unless it's secured along its length.
If the pipe isn't secured, it will bang against whatever's nearest, whether wood, stone, metal or other framing materials. This movement can crack the pipe, as metal fatigue sets in. The cure: solving water hammer takes a professional. If you hear the telltale sound of water hammer, call your plumber to avoid a busted water pipe.
Corrosion = Clogged Arteries
Just like your arteries, metal pipes – no matter what kind of metal – can become clogged with products of their own making. This corrosion results from the nature of the water flowing through them – if it's hard water, the chemicals react with the interior of the pipe, creating an oxide of the metal the pipe is made from and clings to the inside of the pipe. This oxide is essentially the same as rust, and over years or decades of use, the rust clog grows and will eventually block the pipe. This is called tuberculation. (Learn more in "Cleaning and Repairing Tuberculation in Pipes.")
When the clog finally blocks the pipe, the pressure builds and – bang! You've got a busted water pipe. Although it takes a plumber to check your pipes for corrosion, the blockage will cause rising water pressure.
If you attach a water pressure gauge to a faucet and turn the faucet on, the gauge will tell you what your water pressure is like. Do this once a month and keep a record of the pressures. if your water pressure exceeds 50 psi (pounds per square inch),] call a plumber to find and replace the corroded pipe and avoid the headaches of a busted water pipe.
High water pressure may make for a great shower, but if it's too high, it can cause your water pipes to burst. You can prevent this issue by attaching a water pressure gauge to a facet and turning the faucet handle until it's fully opened. Read the gauge: residential water pressure is between 30 and 50 psi.
If your water pressure is higher, a plumber needs to inspect your pipes to determine the cause. That's (much) less expensive – and less inconvenient -- than having the same plumber replace a busted pipe late on a Sunday evening.
Trenchless Repair of Busted Water Pipes
Trenchless technology is one way to go if you've found that you have an issue with an outside pipe or water main. If you encounter a busted water pipe due to freezing or fatigue, there are a few ways to have that pipe repaired or replaced without damaging your lawn.
Cured-In-Place Pipe for Water Lines
Cured-in-place pipe (CIPP)is a great option for water lines, it is essentially a pipe within a pipe that is slipped in and creates a new tubing. The diameter of the new pipe will be slightly smaller, but not much of a difference. (Learn more in "Why CIPP Is Growing Rapidly for Drinking Water Mains.")
Like CIPP, spray-in-place pipe is designed to be a pipe within a pipe. A robotic sprayer is launched into the pipe to be repaired, spraying an epoxy liner through it as it travels. The result is a new inner pipe surface. (Read in in "The Basics of Spray-in-Place Pipe.")
If your pipe is just too old, or too damaged to continue it's life and you don't want to dig up your yard to replace it, pipe bursting is right for you. Using this trenchless rehabilitation technique, a bursting head is installed into the existing pipe, breaking it as it travels along. This breakage is called fragmentation. Ast the head moves, a new pipe is slipped into the place of the old one, while the old one becomes embedded into the soil around it. (More in "An Introduction to Pipe Bursting.")
Overall, the best way to repair a busted water pipe is to prevent it. In the case you need to replace it after the fact, trenchless tech has you covered.
Written by Will Carpenter
A retired merchant seafarer, Will Carpenter sailed the world extensively before settling as far from the sea as possible. Now a technical writer, Will lives in the "hills and hollers" of Tennessee with two formerly feral cats.