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What Makes Pipes Burst? (and How to Prevent Them)

How Homeowners Can Prevent Burst Pipes This Winter

A burst water pipe is one of the most dreaded plumbing problems, and for a good reason. Burst pipes can release a deluge of water that can result in property damage, flooding, compromised structural integrity of the home, foundation damage, long-term water damage, and electrical hazards.

But while most homeowners are aware of the potential dangers of burst pipes, not everyone understands what causes them. Of course, with Ontario’s frigid winters, many homeowners already know that below-freezing temperatures can lead to pipes bursting, but that’s only one part of the picture. So this article will lay out three leading causes of burst pipes and how homeowners can protect their pipes - not just in winter, but all year long.

Pipes Freezingfreezing

The first common cause of burst pipes is freezing temperatures. Water expands when it freezes, so if it’s inside an already pressurized supply line, the expansion will cause the pressure inside the pipe to rise while simultaneously putting stress on the pipe wall. With nowhere else to go, the pressure inside the line will escape anywhere it can - be it a weakened joint or even the pipe wall itself.

Opening faucets to a slow trickle can help prevent burst pipes by giving the pressure somewhere to go and keeping the water moving, but this isn’t exactly a long-term solution. Instead, homeowners can put pipe insulation on any exposed sections of pipe - particularly those in areas more likely to experience colder temperatures, such as attics, crawlspaces, and basements.

Foam pipe insulation is an inexpensive, effective, and easy-to-install option, making it one of the most commonly used types of insulation in homes. Other types include rubber, polyethylene, and fiberglass pipe insulation, each of which has distinct advantages. Homeowners can consult with their plumber to see which will work best for the pipes in their homes.

Corrosion and Decay

corrosionWhile freezing is a big culprit of burst pipes, old age and corrosion also cause their fair share of leaks and ruptures. Most homes in North America use copper or galvanized steel piping for their water supply lines. These can last several decades without issue, but various factors can cause them to decay or become corroded over time, deteriorating the pipe walls and weakening them. This commonly results in pinhole leaks, but if the water pressure spikes, it can cause the pipe to burst.

Homeowners can help prevent or at least slow pipe corrosion and decay by having their water pH levels tested regularly by a professional, using a water softener or other water treatment method to minimize corrosive agents, keeping the water pressure around 55 PSI (or no higher than 80 PSI), setting the water heater thermostat no higher than 48 C (120 F), and avoiding chemical drain cleaners, which can damage drain pipes and make them more likely to corrode and decay.

Clogs and Mineral Scale

Clogs are another cause of pipe bursts and ruptures that can affect a home's supply lines and drainage pipes. Clogs can form inside water supply pipes due to corrosion, mineral scale buildup, and old or damaged plumbing. This can cause excessively high water pressure, resulting in a crack or rupture.

In a drainage pipe, clogs are most often caused by inappropriate materials being flushed down the toilet and the buildup of grease, food scraps, hair, soap scum, and other materials inside the pipes. Drainage pipes, most often made from PVC, typically aren’t as durable as supply lines, so they’re more likely to crack or burst if a high volume of wastewater becomes trapped in them and pressure gets high enough.

Homeowners can help prevent clogged pipes by scheduling annual plumbing inspections, installing a water softener to remove corrosive minerals from their water supply, and scheduling a professional for drain cleaning to remove the nasty buildup in pipes that contributes to clogs.

About Guardian Plumbing and Drain

Guardian Plumbing and Drain is a reliable local plumber serving Cobourg, ON, and the surrounding areas. They provide free estimates, same-day service, and fast response. Call them today for plumbing services or burst pipe repair in Cobourg, ON.


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Guardian Plumbing and Drain
200 McGuire St
Cobourg, ON K9A 0H9
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