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Burst Water Pipes. Know This In Advance

Any home inspection will include actively looking for water leaks or signs of water piping that has been compromised. While you might expect to find more water breaks from freezing in vacant homes, many a homeowner can tell you about the time they had a water incident in their occupied home. Statistics from the insurance industry would agree.

Leaking water lines, the result of freeze breaks, are generally referred to as 'burst' or 'split'. Water freezing within the pipe will ultimately expand the pipe to the point of failure. This type of plumbing failure is very common in cold weather climates and nationally a huge dollar loss statistically. When water is allowed to 'burst' a pipe, through a process of freezing and expanding ice, the eventual 'split' in the piping will allow a large amount of water to escape in a very short amount of time when thawing commences. While the copper piping indicated by the yellow arrow in the picture below has not yet failed, it is most definitely compromised, the result of freezing, and needs replacement. Also, the factors that have allowed this situation need to be addressed; hose connected to exterior faucet, crawlspace vents or hatch open, faulty shut off valve, etc.

Water leaking from freeze damaged water lines can quickly cause structural and electrical havoc. Wood floors are ruined, ceiling drywall destroyed, and everything else that comes in contact with this unwanted nightmare can be expensive to dry, repair, or replace.

So what can you do to prevent this from ever happening in your home?

  • Insulate all water supply piping you can access. Foam wrap is very easy to purchase and install. Focus on the perimeter fringe piping, since that will be the first to suffer the effects of freezing. Consider electric heat tape as well.
  • Close crawlspace vents. Open vents will allow rapid heat loss. Closed vents will slow cold gain.
  • Secure and weatherstrip exterior crawlspace access.
  • Turn off your main water supply valve, normally found in the basement or crawlspace, and drain all your fixtures, except the water heater, if you plan on being away from your home for any length of time.
  • Maintain a indoor temperature of at least 60F degrees, even when away for an extended period of time.
  • Any leaking exterior faucets should be repaired in advance to prevent freezing and blocking of piping. It's recommended to install self draining hose bibs.
  • Never leave hoses connected to exterior hose faucets when there's a chance of freezing.
  • Ask a friend or neighbor to check on your property while you're away.

So what do you do when you discover you have a burst pipe? Reacting quickly can save many dollars in damage.

  • Turn off the water supply immediately; most likely you'll need to go to the house main water shut off at the basement or crawlspace.
  • Drain the house system by turning on the COLD water taps.
  • Turn off your water heater.
  • Drain the HOT water taps.
  • Attempt to pinpoint the burst area, taking extreme care to avoid any electrical wires or appliances.
  • Remove personal belongings from the vicinity of the leak to prevent further damage.
  • If possible, you can try to slow the leak area with available tape and plastic or rubber.
  • Call your insurance agent or insurance 24 hour hotline immediately. They will instruct further on who to call next.