What do you do if your water pipe breaks in your house?
A burst water pipe in your home will cause damage eventually, depending on the location and severity of the pipe damage. Whether large or small, a burst pipe and resulting water will damage your walls, floors or belongings until the water is shut off and drained from flooded areas.
A burst pipe, whether it’s just a leak or major breakage of a pipe first creates water damage in interior and exterior walls. Inside the wall, insulation may grow saturated with water. Electrical wiring exposed to water may short out electricity and increase risk of fire caused by sparks. Exterior house walls may be affected as water coats and saturates plaster, wood or stucco. If water accumulates or saturates timbers and structural components for a long period, structural weakness may occur.
Following pipe damage, floors in the surrounding area may become flooded, depending on the location and rate of flow of water leaking or gushing out of the burst pipe. Carpeting, wood flooring and even cement floors may become damaged by water. Wood and linoleum floors warp and crack and carpeting turns moldy and smelly. Cement floors exposed to long-term water damage may crack or settle.
A burst pipe may cause the accumulation of water in your bathroom, bedroom or kitchen or other living areas, saturating the bottom of furniture. Water soaks into the lower edges of furniture fabric and may destroy upholstery several inches or higher in such pieces of furniture. Electrical outlets may short out, as will plugs attached to lamps, televisions and other indoor appliances. Even if water damage is minimal, damp drywall and wood is a breeding ground for many types of molds, which may lead to illness, especially for those with lung or asthma conditions.
Homeowners living in colder climes should always turn off well pumps that serve the furnace when a house is vacant, even for a short while. When leaving for vacation, turn off the water to the house if possible. If you have an active pipe leak and can hear water running, even if you can’t see it, turn off the main water valve to the home. This may help reduce water damage until the utility company or repair person can come repair the burst pipe. When vacationing, or leaving a house for more than a few days, ask a neighbor or friend to come check on the house.
Common causes of plumbing failure
- Exposure to pressure If something blocks up a pipe, whether it’s inside your house or in your outgoing sewer line, pressure will build up behind that clog. Common causes of clogged plumbing include pouring cooking grease down the drain and flushing paper towels or sanitary products down the toilet.
- Age of plumbing Many homes in the US were built in the 1950s and 1960s, meaning a lot of plumbing is over 50 years old, and older pipes are more susceptible to breakage. Furthermore, many of these pipes were made of cast iron (which corrodes over time) or clay (which is more susceptible to cracking as the ground shifts), increasing the chances of broken pipes as they age.
- Mature trees near water lines Tree roots seek out water and nutrients from buried water and sewer lines and are a common cause of plumbing clogs and breakage.
- Clay soil Heavy clay soils compact easily. They also have poor drainage. Both of these factors can lead to damage to plumbing over time. Furthermore, clay soil tends to be more corrosive than sandy soil and minerals in the soil can weaken pipes.
- Flushing corrosive materials Pouring materials like paint remover or other solvents down your sink, or regular use of drain cleaners, can weaken your indoor plumbing and your sewer lines.
- Freezing Cold weather is the biggest cause for pipe failure. When water inside a pipe freezes, it expands, and that can cause pipes to burst.
First Steps to Take When a Pipe Bursts
- Turn Off Your Water and Drain the Faucets
The first thing you need to do when you find a burst pipe is shut off your water. The sooner you can do this, the better your chances are of minimizing water damage. Your main water shut-off valve is likely located near your water heater, in a crawl space or in your basement.
Once the water has been shut off, you should open your faucets to drain the remaining cold water in your pipes. This will relieve pressure in your pipe system and can help prevent additional areas from freezing. Then, flush all the toilets in the house. Once water is no longer running from the taps, any leaks should stop.
Depending on the location and size of the leak, you may also need to shut off your electricity. If you suspect the leaking water came into contact with any electrical sockets or your fuse box, this is an important precaution to take.
- Locate the Burst Pipe
Your next step should be to figure out where the pipe burst. If it appears to have been leaking for a while, be careful entering rooms and look for bulging ceilings and other warning signs that water damage has already occurred. If you catch the leak early enough, place a bucket underneath to catch dripping water.
- Call In Professional Help
As soon as possible, call in the experts to handle repairs. Hire a professional plumber to fix or replace your burst pipes, and if you have any damage to your electrical system, you should bring in a reliable electrician.
Cleaning Tips on Your Own
Similar to repairing the pipes, in terms of cleaning up the mess it has caused, it is wise to call in an expert restoration services provider who can handle water damage. However, there are steps you can take while waiting for them to arrive to help make the cleanup process go faster.
First, use everything and anything you own that can help soak up the moisture. Mops, towels, wet/dry vacuums. Whatever you have, use it. Check thoroughly and make sure that you have all wet spots covered on the ground: every half hour or so, swap out the wet towels for new ones.
Next, turn up the heat (only do this after you’ve drained the remaining taps) or use a hair dryer on the area where the pipe broke. On top of this, open any cabinet doors or other doors where your pipes are located to help warm air continue to ciculate throughout the house.
Steps to take when your happy home faces water damage
Water damage, whether from a natural disaster or plumbing issues, can ruin your floors, walls and ceilings. If you don’t get the place dried up quickly, you could face a severe mold problem, and of course your personal effects could be damaged beyond repair. Acting quickly and following the right steps can save your home from complete destruction and save you from having to spend a lot of money on repairs.
Immediate clean up
If it is safe to do so, your first step should be to turn off the breakers to the affected area – you don’t want get shocked by electrical current running through the water or end up with a fire on top of your flooding problem. (If water has already reached your breaker area, consider calling in a pro – safety first! Just like you don’t want a hairdryer anywhere near your bathtub, electricity and water should never mix.) In addition, assuming the problem came from a broken pipe, turn off the water supply Once you’re safe, and the source of the water has been addressed, rescue any of your personal items and take them to a dry area, and clean up as much of the water as possible. You may be able to use a mop for lighter jobs, but if there is an exorbitant amount, a wet-dry vacuum will be a great help.
Completely dry the area
Cleaning up the water you see is important, but the most important thing is to dry up the water you can’t see – in the carpet pad, in the sheetrock, in the insulation in your walls… This means drying the room or rooms completely, possibly using a commercial air mover to force water off floors and out of carpets, walls and furniture. Along with that, you’ll want to set up a dehumidifier. This machine will suck all of the excess moisture from the air, not only helping to dry the room quickly, but preventing mold from growing.
Fix the problem
Of course, it goes with out saying that you’ll have to fix the original problem too. Call in a plumber if needed. As they open the walls to make repairs, check for any lingering moisture or mold that might have grown, replacing insulation and patching sheetrock as needed.