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Why Do Pipes Burst?

Keeping a faucet dripping during cold weather helps to keep pipes from freezing.
When water freezes, it expands, often leading to burst pipes.
Pipe fittings.
Article Details
  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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No homeowner ever wants to discover a water pipe has burst, since the leaking water may do a significant amount of damage to the surrounding area and the fix may be very expensive if a professional plumber needs to be called. Pipes burst because of the nature of freezing water and the structure of the materials used to construct water pipes. It is possible to prevent, in some cases.

The reason many water pipes burst is because water expands as it freezes. If this expansion occurs in a closed environment such as a water pipe, there could be substantial pressure placed on the inner walls of the pipe material, whether it be iron, lead or PVC plastic. Even if a pipe is strong enough to handle the occasional stress of frozen water, the cumulative effect can weaken the structural integrity of the pipe and eventually, it will burst.

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The good news for homeowners is that most pipes are protected from bursting because they are either covered with insulation or located in areas that rarely if ever reach the freezing point of water. There may be sections of piping that are routinely exposed to freezing temperatures or could be compromised if the insulation fails, however. These pipes break because the air temperature causes the water to freeze along the inner walls and create a blockage. The pressure of the expanding ice on a weakened section of pipe combined with the pressure of flowing water backing up behind the blockage can cause a break without warning.

There is a reason why many professionals recommend leaving a trickle of water flowing through home faucets during cold weather. If water is allowed to remain still in a pipe exposed to the cold air, the water may freeze solid and the pipe may burst. If the water continues to flow, even in a trickle, it won't have the opportunity to freeze and the pipes should survive until the air temperature warms above freezing. When pipes burst due to freezing, the homeowner may not realize it until these is a flood or the overall water pressure is reduced.

It is important to keep water flowing through pipes during cold weather, although hot water pipes may resist the freezing process better than cold water pipes. If pipes burst due to freezing, homeowners may want to shut off the main water supply to minimize future damage and call a professional plumber as soon as possible to find the leak and repair the damage.

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Discuss this Article

anon937272
Post 11

I was told by an oilman that you use more oil if there is a slow drip in a faucet in the house.

anon925072
Post 10

@feasting: Water isn't wasted. It's a renewable resource. And your bill for a couple gallons of water is dwarfed by whatever you'd be charged to replace the piping.

seag47
Post 9

I live in the South, and I've never had much of an issue with pipes freezing. However, once or twice a winter, there will be a night when temperatures are forecast to get down into the teens, and everyone will wrap up their outside faucets.

We buy these insulating foam covers that snap over the faucets. The foam is a few inches thick, and it presses up against the wall of your home and encircles your faucet to keep cold air from getting in and doing damage.

These things work great. My parents used to leave them on the faucets all winter. That way, they wouldn't have to remember to put them on when extreme cold snaps arrived.

StarJo
Post 8

@feasting – This is why I place a big bucket in the bathtub and leave the water trickling in there instead of in the sink. I can use all the water that I collect for boiling food or making coffee or tea.

It does seem like a waste for your church to let all that water go down the drain. Even putting any kind of large container in the sink to catch some of it would be better than letting it all get away. Maybe someone could come and change out the buckets every day, too.

feasting
Post 7

My church leaves the faucet in the kitchen trickling during really cold weather. We are located in an old building, and the plumbing isn't the best.

However, I do wonder how high this makes our water bill go. True, it's a small trickle, but over the course of several days, imagine how much water you must waste!

anon294281
Post 6

Water pressure is one of the major factor that causes water leakage, as in some areas the pipe's diameter is small or they are narrow so it is not able to bear the high pressure of the water. That causes leakage, as do some natural factors like acid rain, which also causes the pipes to rust, which then directly causes the pipes to leak. In these cases, we must call underground water leakage detection service persons.

anon45633
Post 5

Is it mandatory for new homes to be built with PCV pipes?

anon40358
Post 4

is there any possibility that when a house is not grounded it would cause a street water main to burst?

anon35251
Post 3

Is there any code that requires pvc sch 40 pipe that is exposed to the sun to be painted for protection? These pipes are for swim pool equipment and only short sections are exposed to the sun

anon8362
Post 2

what is metallic pollution?

bigmetal
Post 1

this is the worst thing! such an expensive problem that can be avoided. it's so important to take time to winterize your house. also make sure that if you go out of town during the winter, make sure you leave your heater on a low setting, and have a friend check on your house periodically.

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