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What Causes a Clogged and Burst Pipe and What Should I Do in Response?

There are many reasons why a water pipe may burst in your home. Here’s what causes a clogged and burst pipe and the recourse you should take in response.

You go to take a shower and you notice that you can hear the water before you even touch the handle. Once you turn it on you see that your otherwise clean water is yellow and has a distinct rotten egg smell. What’s going on? Chances are you have a burst pipe. But what does that mean? Burst pipes and clogs can happen to everyone. Keep reading to find out what causes clogged and burst pipes as well as how you need to respond.

What Causes a Pipe to Burst?

Unfortunately, there’s more than one way to burst a pipe. 

Freezing Water

Frozen water is the most notorious culprit, especially in colder months. As water freezes, it expands which increases pressure on the pipe. That increased pressure will literally explode the pipe to relieve itself. People usually burst their pipes in the winter by going on vacations and turning off the heat. A cold house can freeze the pipes. When you return from the vacation, turning on the heat will warm the pipes before the water. The water will remain frozen inside of the warming pipes, leading to catastrophe. 

Unsecured Pipes

If your pipes are not well secured to each other, they can break apart. Chances are good that your pipes aren’t secured if you can hear them clanging inside your walls or floors. This means the pipes are moving around, and likely damaging themselves in the process. In an ideal world, your water pressure is between 30-50 psi (pounds per square inch). Even if you are a fan of high water pressure, you don’t want to go much higher. Anything above 60 psi can literally burst your pipes from the pressure being too intense. 

Old Pipes

Pipes are built to last for a long time, but they don’t live forever. Eventually, the joints connecting pipes wear down and take less pressure to break or fall apart. Factors like the age of your house can also impact your pipes, as they can be affected by your house settling around them. 

Tree Root Encroachment

Tree roots are stronger than pipes. Roots always extend longer than the tree itself, and they can grow under and around your home, breaking whatever comes into contact with them in the process. Instead of growing around a pipe, tree roots will literally just snap pipes that come in their way as the tree ages. Even if a tree is seemingly far away from your house, it’s a good idea to make sure that there aren’t any roots stretching towards your home that could present a problem in the future. 

Massive Clogs

Foreign matter that doesn’t dissolve or break down causes water to back up, especially if you are trying to force the clog through by introducing more water. Instead of pushing the clog along, the introduction of more water actually has the reverse effect. Increased pressure from the faucet or toilet flush increases pressure behind the clog, causing your sink or toilet to back up even more. Instead of moving the clog along, you can actually make it bigger and harder to deal with than before. 

What Causes a Pipe to Clog?

Clogs usually occur when matter is introduced to a pipe faster than it can break down. The material causing the clog usually depends on where it’s happening. In showers and sinks- skin, dirt, and hair can bind to soap scum in the drain pipes. Eventually, the build-up becomes so extreme that drainage slows down and eventually stops. It’s important to remember in kitchens that some food is only liquid when it’s hot. Cooking oils, grease, and fat solidify as they cool and can jam up your sink if poured down the drain. 

Other food particles swell when introduced to water, like rice. Pushing un-dissolved food particles down the drain can cause them to mix with grease and dish soap residue and cling to the walls of the pipes, which causes a vicious and stinky clog. Toilets often clog as a result of flushing items that either don’t dissolve or break apart or are too large to break down quickly. Diapers, baby wipes, and feminine hygiene products are some of the most common examples of non-dissolvable foreign matter. People are known for being creative, however, even when it comes to the things they have tried to flush

What Do People Do to Make Burst Pipes Worse?

The worst thing you can do in the event of a burst pipe is pretend that it’s not happening. The second worst thing you can do is try to fix the pipe yourself. Both of these options won’t solve the rapidly evolving issue of a broken pipe, and can even cause more damage than you had before. If you don’t react quickly to a burst pipe by turning off the water, damage can happen rapidly. Mold can develop from water damage in as little as 24-48 hours, and standing water can damage existing structures that will need to be replaced in order to be repaired.  

Trying to fix a burst pipe yourself is a surefire way to end up with a bigger problem than you started with. Covering the burst with Teflon Tape won’t actually fix the larger issue, which is that the pipe needs to be replaced. Using Teflon Tape on a broken pipe is like using a bandage on a severed limb – it just won’t work. 

Trying to save money on plumbing costs by replacing the pipe yourself is also a dangerous idea. Plumbing is paired with sewage and it’s easy to introduce sewage gas into your home when you try to repair the plumbing yourself. In addition, the metals of your pipes need to be the same. Introducing a replacement pipe that’s a different metal than the other pipes in your home can lead to catastrophic results. 

When a pipe bursts, it’s time to call in professional plumbing services. A licensed professional plumber can make sure that your pipes are replaced safely and correctly so that you won’t have to deal with another burst pipe for years to come.  

What Do People Do to Make Clogged Pipes Worse?

Have you ever tried to “fix” a potentially clogged toilet by flushing it a couple of times in a row? As you probably know if you’ve ever tried this method, it doesn’t work. Aside from repetitive flushing, there are a few things that people do that actually make matters much worse. 

Trying to push clogs through pipes by repeatedly flushing the toilet seems on its face like an idea that could actually work. In theory, the pressure behind the clog builds up and eventually forces the clog to shoot through the pipe.

In reality, the pressure does build up. This, however, just backs your toilet up even more instead of clearing the clog. Doing this runs the risk of creating a bigger clog or even rupturing a clogged pipe. Using products like Drano can do more harm than good, especially with toilets. They use chemicals like lye to dissolve the clog. While this is happening, they are also generating heat. This heat can damage PVC pipes and even crack your toilet’s porcelain bowl, making a run of the mill clog an extraordinary expense. 

Aside from toilets, there are a few things you should not do when trying to clear a shower or sink clog. It should go without saying, but don’t try to clear a clog by dismantling the sink drain. It might seem like an easy way to go about clearing a clog, but the process of dismantling and rebuilding a pipe system is more complex than it looks. This method also runs the risk of putting things back together in the wrong way and exposing yourself to toxic elements like sewer gas in the process.   

Shutting Off Your Home’s Water

As soon as you suspect a burst pipe, you need to shut off the water supply to your home. This way, you can minimize the damage done to your home while making your plumber’s job a little bit easier. It might seem like shutting off your home’s water supply is a big project that only a professional should try, but knowing where and how to turn off the water is an important skill in the event of an emergency. 

Where to Shut it Off

When shutting off your home’s water, you need to locate the water meter. These can be in different locations depending on the age of your home and what the foundation looks like. It’s a worthwhile venture to identify the location of your water supply before an emergency plumbing situation strikes. Your house’s water meter will either be inside your home in the basement or crawlspace or outside. If it’s in your home, it will likely be located within three to five feet of the main water entry for your home. 

If your water supply is outside because you don’t have a basement or crawlspace, your water supply might be located nearby either underground or around your property line. It’s important to note that some homes also have something called a submeter, which is usually inside – even if the main water meter is outside or underground. The shut-off valve for your water supply could really be anywhere, so take some time to scope it out before disaster strikes. 

How to Turn it Off

Like your water valve’s location, the way you shut off the main water supply depends on what your home is equipped with. Typically, your home will either have round, wheel handles, or a lever system. Some homes have a knob instead of a wheel, but the knob will operate in the same fashion as the wheel. In most houses, there will only be one valve. Some locations that have a sprinkler system installed might have two. 

If you get to your main water shut-off and notice two levers, always go for the second one (the one farthest from the water supply). The first lever will only impact the sprinkler system. 

If your water supply unit has handles or a wheel, simply turn them clockwise about two times to shut off the supply. If, however, your valve uses a lever, move the lever to do a 1/4 turn. Turn the hot and cold water options with all of your plumbing devices on to their highest level to release the pressure and drain the remaining water. Repeat until all of the water has drained out of all of the devices. 

Aftercare

Once you’ve identified the burst pipe and turned off the main water supply, you can proceed with treatment. The very first thing you should do is call a local plumber to come out as soon as they can to repair your plumbing. A burst pipe is an emergency situation, as you won’t have water access to your home until the pipe has been repaired. After the plumber has been called, you can start to assess the damage. 

Burst pipes can wreak a lot of havoc on your home – water damage can affect carpeting, wood, and electrical systems. In order for your home to be safe, all of these elements will need to be repaired or replaced before your house is in good condition once again. Pull up the carpets from rooms that were soaked by the burst pipe to stop the growth of mold. 

Fixing the Clog 

Clogged and burst pipes are scary, stressful situations for even the most level-headed of people. Most homeowners don’t know how to shut off the main water supply to their house, which can cause even more damage when pipes do burst. Trying to fix burst pipes or massive clogs by yourself can do more harm than good, especially when time is a factor. 
Make sure you do yourself a favor and contact a professional plumber for routine maintenance so that potential problem pipes can be identified and repaired before they crash. We’re here to answer all of your plumbing questions and concerns to make sure that you never find yourself ankle-deep in water and without a paddle.