Florida homeowners love the warm weather. When they build homes, they’re usually more concerned with air conditioning than heating. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that never freezes, burst pipes can still be a concern. Pipes burst for many reasons including ongoing water pressure issues, slow drains, clogs, improper installment, structural issues, and corrosion.
Pipe Maintenance, Pipe Bursts, & What to do if a Pipe Fails
Most Americans take clean, running water for granted, but it takes work to keep plumbing systems running smoothly. No matter where we live, we all agree that indoor plumbing is an integral part of our lives. We need dependable plumbing to ensure our water is safe to drink, pure enough to clean our clothes, and plentiful enough to shower us clean every day.
That’s why we all want our sinks, showers, dishwashers, washing machines, and toilets to continue to work dependably. But keeping your home supplied with water at the right time, at the correct pressure, without leaks, drips, or even worse, burst pipes, requires effort from the homeowner, as well as the help from a skilled plumber from time to time.
Don’t take your pipes for granted. If your pipes or any part of your plumbing system stops working, your entire life can turn upside down in minutes. While clogs, small leaks, or low pressure can be merely inconvenient, burst pipes can cause instant and dramatic damage that can cost thousands to repair.
While the majority of any plumbing systems is almost invisible to the average homeowner, they are engineering marvels. These systems often include miles of pipe and complex networks that run through almost every part of a home.
In fact, in 2019, rough-in plumbing costs for a new construction home cost about $7,000 for a small, basic house, and $20,000 and up in larger builds with plumbing upgrades. Your home plumbing system is so important and so complex that it makes up about 15 percent of your total home value. To protect your home investment, you must maintain your plumbing.
What Makes Pipes Burst?
While Florida homeowners may think they get a pass on burst pipes, there are many reasons, other than freezing, that plumbing can fail.
Placement or Installment
Issues with placement or installment can cause issues. If plumbing is improperly installed, or if structural clamps fail, pipes may begin to move. Clanging or knocking pipes signal a potential hazard. If your water pipes aren’t secured properly, they may move when water is suddenly turned on or off. Clanging pipes are sometimes called water hammer. While the sound is annoying, clanging pipes can eventually lead to burst pipes. That’s because, each time a pipe moves, the joints that hold the various pipes together weaken. Each time the pipe is jolted about, bit by bit, the joint degrades, and eventually fails. That’s when pressurized water begins escaping.
While many of us understand the downside of low water pressure, fewer understand that high water pressure can also be a problem. While it may feel great to have water bursting out of a shower, maintaining normal water pressure is necessary if you want your water supply pipes to function normally over time. Sudden increases in the water pressure can move pipes, and over time, can compromised the clamps that hold them in place (resulting in clanging pipes.) High pressure bursts of water are one of the most common reason seals fail in plumbing fixtures such as faucets, washing machine hoses, or toilets.
As a rule, the water pressure in your home should stay below 60 psi to help your pipes last longer. If your home’s water pressure is too high, ask your plumber to install a pressure-reducing valve and adjust the pressure to safer levels.
In Popular Mechanics, contributor Norman Becker explains,
“The typical inlet water pressure to a home is about 40 to 45 psi. Normally, it should not exceed 60 psi. The pressure regulator is usually preset to 50 psi. However, it can be adjusted anywhere from 25 to 75 psi with a simple turn of a screw.”
Finally, corrosion can be an issue. While plastics or PVC pipes usually don’t have corrosion issues, plumbing created with steel or copper pipes will oxidize or abrade over time. The good news is that proper maintenance by a plumbing professional can slow or eliminate this kind of structural degradation. If you see signs of corrosion or have an older home with metal pipes, it’s smart to have a plumber inspect them annually to ensure pipes and seals remain strong and intact. While older pipes older are more at risk than newer plumbing, some new pipes start corroding as soon as two years after installation.
According to The Center for Disease Control,
“Many water quality factors affect corrosion of pipes used in water distribution, including the chemistry and characteristics of the water (e.g., pH, alkalinity, biology), salts and chemicals that are dissolved in the water, and the physical properties of the water (e.g., temperature, gases, solid particles). The tendency of water to be corrosive is controlled principally by monitoring or adjusting the pH, buffer intensity, alkalinity, and concentrations of calcium, magnesium, phosphates, and silicates in the water. Actions by a water system to address these factors can lead to reduced corrosion by reducing the potential for the metal surface to be under the influence of an electrochemical potential.
“Waters differ in their resistance to changes in their chemistry. All waters contain divalent metals such as calcium and magnesium that cause water to have properties characterized as hardness and softness. If a water is “hard,” it is less likely to “leach” metals from plumbing pipes but often leaves a deposit on the inside of the pipe, while if a water is “soft” it has less of a tendency to leave deposits on the inside of plumbing pipes. If a water is soft, then it has low hardness. Some people in communities with hard water will use water softeners. Water systems adjust the hardness and softness of water because of these tendencies and also for taste considerations.
“Alkalinity is a characteristic of water related to hardness. Waters with low hardness, or alkalinity (less than 50 mg/L as calcium carbonate), are more susceptible to the factors affecting corrosion; such systems will typically use additives that can prevent corrosion (corrosion inhibitors) to comply with federal and state regulations.”
Check the pH
The Ph level in your water can encourage corrosion. Water acidity can range from zero (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). A pH of 7 is considered neutral pH. Homes with copper pipes should monitor the pH of the home’s water. 8 or higher (more alkaline and not acidic) may cause a film of copper oxide to form on the inside of your pipes, which reduces or prevents. When water’s pH is neutral or acidic, it dissolves the copper oxide barrier which can accelerated corrosion causing pinhole leaks or worse.
“pH plays an important role in the properties of a liquid containing water. For instance, the pH of water may make certain elements in it, such as minerals and metals, more or less available to the body. Heavy metals in water with a lower pH tend to be more toxic, as they are more available to the body. A high pH would make heavy metals less available, and, therefore, less toxic. The pH may also be a sign of other contaminants or bacterial life in a liquid. In general, a very high or very low pH can make water unusable for certain applications .For instance, hard water is the common term for water containing a lot of minerals. These minerals make the water very alkaline. As the water passes through pipes and machines that use water, such as dishwashers or showers, these minerals stick to both the pipes and each other, leading to mineral buildup. Mineral buildup can cause various issues with water in the home, such as making detergents and soaps less effective. It can also lead to reduced water pressure or even blockages. On the other hand, water with a low pH may corrode metal pipes and extract metal ions into the water, making it harmful to drink or use in the home. Most of the time, water that providers intend for use or drinking will stay closer to the neutral point of 7, although it may still vary slightly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend keeping the pH between 6.5 and 8.5 in drinking water, and many states in the United States choose to enforce these levels.”
Your water system is constantly being replenished with oxygenated water. Higher water pressure means more oxygen, which accelerates the oxidation process. Too much oxygen can corrode metal. This process is called oxidation.
Oxidation happens when metal converts to oxide or rust. Over time, the rust accumulates inside pipes. As rust accumulates, the uneven surface captures impurities, and causes corroded buildup.
Oxidation also wears down the surface of pipes, causing them to thin and become more brittle and breakable.
Finally, oxidation can allow pinhole cracks to develop or compromise the solder, which can lead to burst pipes.
Chemical or Caustic Drain Cleaners
Chemical drain cleaners are tough on pipes. While they may dissolve clogs, they also burn holes in pipes. If your pipe has other issues, such as incorrect water pressure or pinhole leaks, use of chemical drain cleaners can cause pipes to fail, or burst.
You Can Protect Your Pipes With Everyday Plumbing and Pipe Maintenance
The best way to avoid major pipe bursts and significant plumbing issues is to catch the problems early, before they become significant issues. You can do this by developing a home care routine that includes inspecting and caring for your home’s plumbing. Completing small tasks throughout the year will help you avoid high costs with burst pipes later on.
Daily maintenance takes just a few minutes a day, but when you keep your pipes and plumbing working correctly, it can also help you conserve water and save on energy bills. That’s because even minor plumbing and pipe malfunctions almost always waste water. Even the smallest leaks and slowest drips can add up quickly. In fact, just 4,000 drips are needed to fill a one-liter container. If a single faucet in your home drips just once per minute, in only 24 hours you will be able to collect a liter of water. That translates into more than 90 gallons of water in a year.
In addition to checking for (and fixing) small leaks, add seasonal plumbing maintenance and winterizing to your homecare routine. It’s smart to do inspections on all your appliances that use water such as water heaters, washing machines, ice machines, and dishwashers.
Daily Plumbing Preventative Tips
While it may sound time consuming to check your plumbing every day, most task are simple, and only take a minute or two. Remember that most plumbing maintenance task are simple, easy to do, and take just a few minutes.
For example, when using your since, make sure you watch how your sinks drain. Once you notice a slow or clogged drain, don’t ignore them. It’s important to clear them as soon as possible. Clogs in your sink or the plumbing actually accelerate the wear on your home’s waste pipes. That’s because clogs significantly increase water pressure and stress the pipes over time. Even slow drains can increase the pressure on your pipes, so make sure you deal with minor issues early on, before the drain is completely blocked, and you’ll help your pipes stay stronger, longer.
As noted earlier in this article, it’s important to avoid chemical clog removal products that can corrode your pipes. Instead of caustic drain solutions, start by using a basic plunger to move blockages through the pipes. Using them with some water in the sink will help increase the suction and makes it easier to clear clogs. Once the plunger is sealed over the drain, vigorously pump the plungers until you feel a strong vacuum being created or hear the clog moving.
If a plunger doesn’t work, you may want to try some of these safe and easy tips from Real Simple magazine to unclog your pipes using simple tools and safe ingredients.
To avoid the most common clogs, it’s smart to take extra care with kitchen drains. While it’s tempting to pour all kinds of cooking liquids down the drain, many types of liquids and oils will coagulate in your pipes, slow drain time, or even clog pipes completely.
Krissy Brady writes in the HuffPost,
“Many oils, including butter, coconut oil, bacon fat or Crisco vegetable shortening, are in a liquid state when warm, but in a solid state at room temperature.
“’When you pour hot grease down the sink, it’s still in a liquid state,’ said Joel Frederick, president of Quarter Moon Plumbing in San Antonio, Texas. But once it cools, the grease hardens and sticks to the walls of the pipes. The oil, plus any food particles and debris that get washed down the drain, will congeal and stick around (pun intended) ― typically just behind where the pipe makes a U-bend ― the trap ― under the sink.
“Oils like olive oil and canola oil may not solidify at room temperature, but plumbers still advise against pouring them down the sink. That’s because these oils are hydrophobic, meaning they don’t mix with water very easily, so they end up coating your pipes instead. ‘As they move through your pipes, they’ll fuse with the bits of food particles, fats from table scraps, hair and other debris hanging out in your drain,’ Mahaffey said. ‘The blockage created will eventually send the water in your sewer back up into your pipes.’”
To avoid clogs, don’t empty any kind of grease, butter, or oils down your kitchen sink. Instead, put them in an empty can to cool, seal with a lid if needed, and then place them in the trash.
Misusing your garbage disposal is another way many homeowners clog their sinks. To minimize blockage and issues, keep water running when you use your garbage disposal, and let cold water run through the garbage disposal for about 15 seconds once you’ve to made sure all food has been flushed down the mainline. Avoid putting fibrous matter into garbage disposals including potato peels, celery, banana peels, and even the tough outer fibers on rhubarb. They don’t grind up well in the disposal and are the most common causes of clogs.
In the bathroom, avoid using oils in the bath or shower. Put screens over the drain to keep hair from collecting in your pipes. Alexander Frost also offers these tips in Apartment Therapy,
“Epsom salt and baking soda are common ingredients that typically dissolve in water, but other common additives, including essential oils, cornstarch, cocoa butter, bits of flowers, and even glitter, don’t dissolve well. These additives leave behind residue that may stick to the inside of your pipes… Oils often solidify as they cool, and cornstarch can harden in pipe elbows or curves as it dries. Over time, these deposits may collect soap, hair, and other substances, eventually leading to nasty clogs. To prevent the buildup, stick to products that use ingredients that dissolve in water, like salt or sugar scrubs. Body washes, shampoos, and conditioners are safe, too… Brushing your teeth in the shower is a no-no. The toothpaste hardens in the drain, causing a potential backup. While this is also true of the bathroom sink, it can be more of an issue in the shower since it doesn’t get flushed out as frequently.”
Maintaining proper water pressure is another way to reduce the stress on your home’s plumbing system. Space out your usage of showers, baths, dishwasher, or washing machine into different times of the day. Even in a house with great water pressure, waiting at least 10 minutes between showers will help maintain optimal water pressure and ensure a steady flow of hot water throughout the day.
Weekly Maintenance Keeps Pipes Stronger, Longer
Schedule a day on your calendar to do a quick home check. Again, this isn’t a time-consuming activity. Just a few minutes a week can save you time and money in the future. Start your weekly check by turning all your faucets on and off, and check for leaks. Take a quick look at the pipes under the sinks as well. Look for signs of drips, water, watermarks, or moisture. If you see puddles, smell mustiness or see mold, you’ve discovered an advanced problem. Call a plumber ASAP to prevent further damage.
Do the same visual check for all sink and shower drains. Make sure the water goes down the quickly, without creating bubbles. In fact, any clear drains should drain so quickly that they create a small swirl as the water goes down.
Next, check all of your home’s showerheads for drips or leaks. Then it’s off to the laundry room to make sure your washer’s hoses are secure. Again, check for signs of dampness or moisture on the walls, and on the floor around the hoses, as well as moisture on the hose itself. Be sure to check behind the machines as well. It might be worth investing just a few bucks in an extendable inspection mirror or spend a little extra to get an extendable mirror with a built in light. With this tool in hand, your weekly inspections will take just minutes.
Inspect all of your home’s toilets as well. The most common leaks in toilets are caused by an deteriorated or defective flush valve, but it’s not always easy to see these kinds of leaks, A smart way to check for leaks is to add a few drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. If you see any color in the toilet bowl within 30 minutes, you have a leak.
Many small leaks around your home can be eliminated by replacing the fixtures. Replace any fixtures that are corroded or malfunctioning. If they show signs of mineral deposits, it’s time to replace them.
Faucets with rust, or that are hard to operate, should also be removed and replaced. It’s important to note that rust usually builds up internally before it becomes visible on the exterior. Rust often shows up around the base and on the edge of the spigot. If rust and corrosion are present, the faucet or shower head will become less stable and more prone to drips and leaks. And the rust will eventually start appearing in the water. While you may have to spend a little for a new faucet or showerhead, over time, you’ll save on water bills and prevent water damage to the surrounding areas and keep your plumbing working better, longer.
Invest in a Professional Plumbing Inspection
Plumbing is a major part of your home, and it represents a substantial investment. A proactive approach to plumbing maintenance is a smart way to protect the value of your home, and keep it running smoothly. While homeowners need to monitor small plumbing issues, a professional plumbing inspection specialist will check bigger issues and may save you time and money in the long run. They’ll also inspect your home’s exterior and look for sewer pipe backup such as damp dips in your lawn.
Additionally, a professional plumber will inspect your sewage system and make sure all elements are working properly. They’ll also check water pressure and calibrate it if needed.
A plumbing inspection should also include testing drain speeds in all sinks, tubs, and showers. The inspector may recommend snaking or unclogging problematic drains.
Finally they will inspect your water heater and evaluate any issues related to corrosion or sediment build-up.
While paying for an annual inspection may seem like a splurge, early identification of potential and existing issues is one of the best ways to prevent major home repairs down the road.
What Happens When a Pipe Bursts?
Pipe bursts can result in small, easy-to-fix issues or catastrophic breaks that flood houses and ruin walls and floors. As discussed in this article, regular maintenance will help you spot problems long before the pipes burst. Keeping your pipes in good working order, draining spigots, and insulating pipes that run through unheated areas are all smart ways to prevent the challenges of a burst pipe.
If you ever experience a pipe burst, there are a few immediate things you can do to reduce water damage. Start by turning off your water main. That means you must completely switch off your water supply.
Not sure how to turn off a water main? Check out this instructional video.
If you suspect that the leak from the pipe burst may have reached any of the electrical sockets or the fuse box, take precautions and turn off the electricity, too. Because you may need to turn off the power in a hurry during an emergency, make sure you know where your service panel is located, if there is more than one in your home (common in older homes), and how to turn off the power quickly. Keep the path to your service box clear and don’t lean things against it once the water is off (and the electricity is off, if needed), it’s time to call a plumber. While you wait for the plumber, there are some things you can do to minimize the damage.
Drain the Faucets
If your burst pipe is a waste pipe that handles outgoing water, skip this step. But as long as outgoing waste pipes are intact, you can drain some of the water out of the system by turning on your faucets after you have shut off the water main. You can also flush your toilets multiple times to get water out of them.
Reduce Water Damage
If you have identified the source of the leak, start removing water from the area. You can use towels, sponges, or mops to remove the excess water. If the water is dripping or gushing, capture it with buckets, bins, or pots and pans. If it’s leaking at a joint, wrapping a towel around it will absorb water short-term, as long as you change the towel frequently while waiting for the plumber.
Take Pictures of the Damaged for Repairs and Insurance
Once you have turned off water supplies, called a plumber, drained pipes, and cleaned up moisture, it’s time to document the damage for insurance purposes. Take pictures of the plumbing issues and document any damage to the surrounding area and your possessions. And while it might be tempting to throw out ruined furniture or clothes, hold onto this evidence until you have received reimbursement from your insurance company.
Get A Professional Plumber
There are many things you can do to keep your home in good shape, with plumbing and in other parts of your home, However, some issues require the help of experienced professionals.
If you’ve spotted leaking joints or found a burst pipe, or you’re concerned about your pipes bursting in the future, the pros at Bergau Plumbing can help you evaluate your plumbing set-up, recommend insulation strategies, and even perform routine maintenance.
And of course, if you have plumbing issues, burst pipes, or need our professional plumbing services for any reason in the Cape Coral, Ft Myers, Sanibel, Lehigh Acres, Estero, Bonita Springs, Lee County area, please contact Bergau Plumbing immediately. We’re here to help.