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What to Do When a Pipe Bursts

May 23, 2020

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A burst pipe is often the last thing any homeowner wants to face! Burst pipes and resultant floods are messy and damage carpets, drywall, and furniture quickly and easily, and can be especially difficult to tackle during cold winter months.

To make quick work of repairing your home’s plumbing and ensure you keep damage to a minimum, note this step-by-step guide of what to do when a pipe bursts. As always, call an emergency plumber for fixes outside your area of expertise, to avoid causing further damage and ensure thorough, efficient repairs.

Hamilton plumber leak detection methods

1. Safety first

No matter the project urgency, it’s vital that you put safety first, for yourself and your family! Floodwaters often contain unhealthy germs, bacteria, and other contaminants; before you do anything else, secure children and pets away from a burst pipe and rising floodwaters and ensure you have proper protective gear for yourself.

Also, remember that water is an excellent electrical conductor. Before approaching a flooded area, turn off the room’s circuit breakers. For severe flooding, switch off all electrical circuits in the home. Floodwaters make their way to lower levels and adjoining rooms rather easily, so err on the side of caution and turn off all breakers until you know what areas are dry and safe.

2. Switch off the water source

Shutting off faucets is not enough to stop water flowing through a broken pipe; you need to switch off the main water line to the home. If you’re not sure the location of your home’s main water lines, first check the basement or crawlspace. Main valves are often located near the water heater or a water meter.

valves for commercial plumbing in Hamilton

Some main valves are located outside the home, usually under a metal box or lid and along a wall closest to the street. If you can’t find those main lines or aren’t sure you’ve shut them off properly, call an emergency plumber and have him or her tackle that burst pipe, to avoid bringing more water into the home during repairs.

3. Remove standing water and debris

Never assume that standing water in a home will simply recede or evaporate. Carpets and underlying padding, drywall, wood framing, and other building materials absorb floodwaters quickly, risking cracks, chips, and other damage. Mold also grows and spreads rapidly after a flood, even within a day or two.

Remember, too, that harmful germs and bacteria brought in by a sewage pipe cling to walls and flooring. Pumping standing water out of the home is not enough to remove those contaminants, so if you’re not sure the cleanliness of floodwaters, call a plumber or water damage restoration repair company and leave the cleanup work to them.

For severe flooding of clean water free of contaminants, consider renting a sump pump and high-quality dehumidifiers. Once the area is free of standing water, remove debris and other items; this will give you room to work and reduce tripping hazards. For basements or garages with concrete floors, ensure those floors are dry and safe for walking.

4. Drain the taps

Now that the flooded area is safe for working, first drain the remaining water from your home’s plumbing. Draining the taps relieves pressure on surrounding pipes and helps prevent added damage. It also stops water flow while you work, keeping mess to a minimum!

Start by opening up cold water faucets and flushing toilets repeatedly. Once cold water no longer runs, turn off the home’s water heater circuit breaker (if you haven’t done so already) and then open up hot water faucets until the hot water stops running.

5. To replace a burst section of pipe

Homeowners a bit skilled in home repair might be able to replace a burst or damaged section of metal pipe with what’s called a repair sleeve, a small section of plumbing pipe meant to replace broken pieces. To use a repair sleeve, first clamp a piece of rubber or a small block of wood over the damaged section. Wood or rubber pieces help spread pressure sitting on the pipe and keep it from collapsing while you remove the damaged section.

pipe for boiler repair in Hamilton

Next, you’ll need to cut away the damaged section. If you don’t have a hacksaw or can’t fit it around the pipe, use a pipe cutter. A pipe cutter fit around plumbing pipes, clamping on and tightening with a simple screw. As you rotate the pipe cutter, its jaws cut into the pipe, allowing you to remove a small section as needed. Be sure to remove a section of pipe about one-inch past the split or damaged area.

Cut a section of repair sleeve with your pipe cutter. Clean the sleeve’s inside and the outside of the damaged pipe with a wire brush or sandpaper. Brush flux on all four cleaned areas. Loosen nearby connectors as needed so you can lower a section of pipe, and slide the repair sleeve onto both sections. You’ll then need to solder the repair sleeve ends.

6. To replace the entire pipe

Homeowners not skilled in cutting pipe or soldering might want to replace the entire pipe. Most home improvement stores have a wide range of pipe sizes and materials and will often cut a length of pipe to size without charge.

They also often prefer homeowners bring in the damaged pipe so they can make quick work of finding a match and ensuring proper cuts as needed. To remove the pipe, simply find the two nearest connectors and use pliers or a wrench to unscrew them and slide the damaged pipe out of place.

Mistakes to Avoid When a Pipe Bursts

Now that you know what to do when a pipe bursts, you might note a few mistakes to avoid in the process. This will ensure you don’t cause even more damage and that your repairs will last as long as possible!

  • While connectors between pipes should be tight, avoid over-tightening them. Too much pressure on connectors strips threads and increases the risk of water leaks.
  • If you do decide to replace the entire pipe rather than a section, ensure you choose the same material for replacement. Mixing metals often leads to early corrosion and resultant leaks, so avoid choosing new pipes based on what’s cheapest or readily available; match copper to copper, steel to steel, and so on. If you’re unsure a pipe’s material, never hesitate to ask someone in the plumbing section of your local hardware store.
  • Plumbing pipes are installed at a slight angle, usually about 1/4 inch per foot, to encourage water flow while also ensuring water doesn’t flow so quickly that it leaves solid material behind! If you do loosen connectors or otherwise move pipes out of position during repairs, ensure you reinstall them at a correct angle.

Last but not least, avoid addressing small cracks with heavy-duty glue, rubber hose, and other such quick fixes. Unless manufactured to withstand water and heat exposure, even the toughest household glue will eventually break down, leading to eventual water leaks and other such damage.

Other everyday items often used by homeowners to fix cracked pipes, such as sections of rubber garden hose or plastic sheeting, are simply not strong enough to withstand plumbing water pressure. To ensure proper repairs that last, treat even a minor crack as you would a major pipe break and replace damaged sections as needed.

How to Avoid Frozen and Burst Pipes in the Home

The best way to address frozen and burst pipes in the home is to avoid this catastrophe in the first place! To protect your home’s plumbing and help avoid burst pipes and resultant floods, consider a few quick and simple tips:

  • Keeping a faucet dripping also keeps water flowing through a home’s pipes. Flowing water stays warmer than standing water, so let a faucet drip during your area’s coldest days and nights. Choose a faucet far from the home’s main water valves or water heater for maximum protection.
  • Pipe insulator is very affordable and easy to install. Most pipe insulation comes in long tubes resembling pool noodles but split up one side; simply cut a section of tube to fit and slide it around plumbing pipes. This insulator blocks cold air and keeps pipes warm throughout winter months.
  • Keep cabinet and vanity doors under sinks open as much as possible. This allows warm air to circulate around pipes, keeping them warm as well.
  • Weather-stripping doors and windows keeps out cold drafts during wintertime; not only will this keep pipes warmer but your entire home might feel more comfortable as well!
  • If your home’s basement is always cold and damp, consider waterproofing or insulating services. Moisture from outside a home brings cold temperatures with it, while waterproofing reduces and eliminates all that chilly dampness. Insulating foam walls also keep a basement dry and warm, protecting plumbing pipes.

Note, too, that consistently frozen pipes might indicate the need for new household insulation! A plumber can also note better ways of managing your risk of frozen and burst pipes, such as replacing metal pipes with PVC. The cost to insulate pipes, waterproof a basement, or upgrade a home’s insulation means less risk of burst pipes, water damage, and mold growth, making those costs an excellent investment in your home.


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