Broken and Damaged Pipes

Quick Summary

Broken pipes can cause significant damage quickly to your property. It's important to try and prevent busted pipes and plumbing from breaking. Acting fast if your pipes do burst can help protect your family, home and belongings from the devastating effects of water contamination.

Broken Pipes and Water Damage

Broken pipes are one of the leading causes of water destruction in homes, and nearly every homeowner will experience a pipe burst or leak at some point.

Every home contains numerous pipes that can burst or break, including sewage pipes and sinks’ pipes, which can be located in the basement, interior or exterior walls, underground or ceilings. Regardless of where the pipe is found, it’s crucial to fix broken pipes quickly to prevent water damage and mildew or mold growth.

Broken or damaged pipes aren’t always obvious. Most pipes burst or leak without warning, and it can be days, weeks or even months before you notice the signs of a damaged pipe. However, once you do spot a leaking or broken pipe, it’s critical to act fast.

A broken pipe that isn’t immediately repaired can become a disastrous problem. Leaking water may damage your property and belongings, and your furniture, appliances, carpets, rugs and even clothes can be ruined in a broken pipe accident. Water seepage that’s left attended can also impact your family’s health, as bacteria and mold flourish in damp environments.

What Causes Broken Pipes?

Down in Florida, it may be caused by a rainstorm that the roof just couldn’t support anymore. Up north in New York, the pipes may have frozen over and burst. Out in California, it is possible that an earthquake caused them to crack. Whatever the reason is, broken pipes are a huge problem.

Changes in pressure over time can cause the pipes to break, leak, and subsequently damage your valuables. Your furniture, appliances, carpets, rugs, and even clothes can all be damaged in a broken pipe accident. Small leaks can go unnoticed for long periods of time, therefore causing more serious deterioration.

Broken pipes tend to be unexpected and can take homeowners by surprise, and yet the causes are often predictable.

Broken pipes occur for many reasons, with some of the most likely causes being:

  • High water pressure
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Corrosion and aging
  • Clogs
  • Tree roots
  • Shifting soil

Broken pipes tend to be the symptom of another problem, and that problem will also need to be resolved.

Many homeowners are only aware of the cause after a pipe has already burst. However, recognizing common causes of broken pipes can help you identify why your pipe burst so the situation can be remedied quickly. Understanding the cause can also help prevent future leaks.

Freezing Temperatures

Freezing temperatures are a common cause of broken pipes, as frozen water increases pressure within the pipe. As the water within the pipes freezes, the water solidifies into ice and expands, potentially bursting the pipe which can no longer contain the volume.

Improperly insulated pipes are at a high risk of bursting when temperatures fall below zero. Pipes in colder climates need to be adequately protected to withstand winter temperatures. Even in warmer climates, many homes are at risk due to their lack of adequate cold temperature insulation, especially during an unseasonably cold year when water freezes unexpectedly.

Ensure your pipes are adequately insulated and winterize your home annually to prevent bursts due to cold weather.

Pipe Corrosion and Aging

As pipes age, they corrode or wear down over time, making them susceptible to leaks and bursts. Water pipe damage from corroded pipes may occur without warning, or it may start with slow dripping that worsens over time.

If you live in an older home, it’s crucial to have your copper pipes inspected and repaired or replaced—especially once a leak has already occurred—to mitigate damage and resulting health risks.

Clogs Inside Pipes

Clogs are another potential cause of water pipe damage. Foreign substances can catch and gather within pipes, eventually leading to clogs that increase water pressure. If the pressure rises too much, the pipe will burst. This is especially likely in homes with older plumbing or plumbing that wasn’t properly installed.

Typical materials that result in clogs include hair, dirt, soap, minerals, food waste, toilet paper and even toys. You can prevent these clogs by minimizing the foreign substances that go down your shower, toilet and sink pipes. If you have young children, be sure to child-proof your toilets and sinks.

Tree Roots and Soil Shifting

Underground pipes are susceptible to damage from tree roots and soil shifting. Tree roots on your property can grow underneath your home or toward underground pipes, potentially puncturing water or sewage pipes.

Alternatively, soil can become unstable if construction is happening nearby, and an underground pipe may be impacted. Soil can also shift over time due to erosion or other geological factors.

If you notice water pooling on your property but can’t see an obvious source, you may have an underground pipe that burst due to tree roots or soil shifting. Locate this pipe and remediate the problem as quickly as possible. Always do so under the guidance of a professional.

Repairing Broken Pipes

Burst pipe water damage is a serious problem. Broken pipes that have resulted in damage to your home will require water damage restoration—a service that requires a specialized skill set to remove water from your home and adequately eliminate any health and safety risks.

As soon as you discover broken pipe water damage, shut off the water supply and contact an IICRC-certified professional at a water restoration company. Most water restoration companies will arrive within a few hours.

There are several steps you can take while you wait for the water damage restoration company to arrive.

Steps to Take After Water Damage from a Broken Pipe

  1. Shut off the electricity to your home, if it’s safe to do so
  2. Turn off the main water line using the shut-off valve to stop the flooding and leak
  3. Call your insurance company to confirm you have broken pipe insurance coverage
  4. Remove any possessions that can be salvaged
  5. Take photos of the damage and document ruined possessions
  6. Drain and remove standing water
  7. Dry out as much of the home as possible

When water damage restoration professionals arrive, they will do a thorough analysis of the damage to identify the section of pipe involved in the leak. They’ll then use specialized equipment to remove any remaining water. They will dry and dehumidify your home, clean all the impacted surfaces, and then fix or replace structural materials damaged by the water, as well as drywall and ceiling materials.

After the damage has been fixed, you will still need to hire a plumber to fix the damaged water or sewer pipe. The water damage restoration company may refer you to a local plumber to do the pipe repair if you don’t already have one.

Tips to Prevent Broken Pipes

Preventing broken pipes from occurring can save you from a significant, unexpected expense. Some simple homeowner tips can help you prevent busted pipe water damage.

Winterize Your Home

Ensure you winterize your home every year to prevent frozen pipes from bursting. Outdoor valves and taps should be drained and then left empty and open throughout the winter. Indoor plumbing needs to have a constant heat source or be adequately insulated with insulating materials and heat tape.

You can also minimize temperature fluctuations within your home by adequately preparing for colder weather. Seal all cracks and openings, including in basements and crawl spaces. Replace failing insulation and windows and ensure a constant heat source. Even if you will be away from your home for an extended period, leave the heat on low.

Prepare for Storms

If you know a freeze or storm is coming, keep your faucets dripping. The continuous movement of water will help prevent it from freezing or building pressure, preventing pipe bursts.

Replace Old Copper Pipes

Most older homes with copper pipes will eventually experience corrosion and need to have their plumbing system upgraded. If you’re worried about aging or corroding pipes, call a plumber to perform an inspection.

Plumbers will be able to assess the current condition of the pipes in your home and let you know whether they should be replaced. They will also estimate when your pipes may need to be replaced if they are currently in decent condition.

Get a Moisture Alarm or Flood Sensor

One option you may want to invest in is an alarm system that detects moisture. A flood sensor will sound the alarm when it is covered in water, therefore letting you know almost immediately that there is an issue. Also, it is always a good idea to have a game plan in place.

Is a Broken Water Pipe Covered by Insurance?

Some insurance companies cover broken pipes, while others don’t. In many cases, whether a broken water pipe or sewage pipe is covered by insurance will depend on the cause of the broken pipe.

Most insurance companies will cover sudden broken pipes but some may not.

For example, pipes that break during an accident are typically covered. However, corroding water pipes that weren’t correctly addressed might not be covered. Check with your policy to determine the details of your broken pipe insurance coverage.

Hiring Water Damage Restoration Experts to Fix Broken Pipes

Broken pipes are often preventable, but they can also happen suddenly, without warning.

Water damage from leaking pipes is a serious concern, as it can destroy your belongings and cause adverse health effects. Quick action will help protect your family and minimize the damage.

As soon as you discover a water leak from broken pipes in your home, hire a water damage restoration professional and plumbing repair expert. It’s essential to hire a trusted, IICRC-certified professional who can arrive quickly and help you in your time of need.

Water Damage Advisor

The Water Damage Advisor content team is made up of multiple contributors, writers, and editors. We are your resource hub for anything related to water damage, mold and restoration needs that you may be challenged with facing.

6 References
  1. The Dry Guys. (2016). The Dry Guys: How to Prevent and Deal With Flooding From Broken Pipes.
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). Fix A Leak Week.
  3. Red Cross. Frozen Pipes.
  4. Texas A&M. (2016). Winter Storms: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes.
  5. Iowa State University. (2016). Protecting Water From Freezing.
  6. Investopedia. (2020). Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Broken Pipes?
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