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9 Reasons Pipes Burst (And How to Prevent This!)

A burst pipe can happen anywhere in a plumbing system. Supply pipes, distribution lines, hot water pipes and drain pipes are all vulnerable.

How do pipes burst at the house or your business?

In this blog, we delve into the causes of pipe bursts and provide practical prevention solutions.

9 Common Reasons Why Pipes Burst

bursted pipe chicago

1. Freezing Temperatures

Water pipes tend to freeze when the temperature dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period of time. The frozen water expands, bursting the pipe wall. As it thaws, pressure behind the split pushes water through the break.

Reduce the RiskInsulate pipes with foam and foil wrap, bubble wrap or insulating tape. Let inside faucets drip, and leave cabinet doors open under sinks.

2. High Water Pressure

Water pressure in a home plumbing system should average between 40 and 60 psi. While some pipes can handle as much as 80 psi, too much pressure damages components.

Excess water pressure causes pinholes in pipe walls, damages components and results in ruptured supply lines.

Reduce the Risk: Install an adjustable pressure-reducing valve that holds water pressure down to safe levels.

3. Constant Water Hammer

The loud sound of water hammer is caused by water suddenly being shut off by an appliance during use. The hydraulic shock bangs supply lines against surrounding beams and other plumbing components, causing the pipe to burst.

Reduce the Risk: Identify which appliance is the source of the problem, and then install a water hammer arrester on its supply and drain lines.

4. Clogged or Slow Drain Lines

A clogged drain can become more than a nuisance. Cleaning it out restores flow through the drain line, but residual buildup creates pressure inside the pipe.

That pressure results in pinholes in the pipe wall and eventually causes a line break.

Reduce the Risk: Replace old drain covers in tubs, showers and sinks with mesh drain screens.

5. Hard Water Buildup

When levels of magnesium, calcium and iron in water are too high, the minerals build up inside a plumbing system. This hard water scale inside pipes increases corrosion problems, making pipes more likely to burst.

Reduce the Risk: Install a water softener system that removes or neutralizes heavy minerals from the water before it enters your home.

6. Older Plumbing Systems

bursted pipe

Most homes from the late 1940s through the 1960s were built with galvanized steel plumbing systems.

The material is still used in some construction, but it’s more prone to corrosion than other types of pipe. That tendency makes the pipes in older plumbing systems more likely to burst, especially during a freeze.

Reduce the Risk: Make sure galvanized steel pipes are inspected by a licensed plumber twice a year.

7. Invasive Tree Roots

Tree roots are naturally attracted to leaks in outdoor plumbing lines. Their growth and reach can exert pressure on underground pipes, especially in yards with compacted soil.

Invasive roots damage pipe walls, creating cracks and leaks that result in ruptured supply and drainage lines.

Reduce the Risk: Be aware of the location of exterior plumbing before planting new trees and shrubs in the yard. Your plumber can confirm the condition of outside pipes with a camera inspection.

8. Soil and Foundation Shifts

As the water table around a home fluctuates, it exerts hydrostatic pressure on the foundation and surrounding soil. Heavy rains or extended dry periods intensify the effect.

The natural fluctuation in water levels puts physical stress on main water supply lines going into the house and outgoing drainage lines. The pressure can burst exterior pipes.

Reduce the Risk: French drains improve drainage in the yard, especially around the foundation. Make sure gutters don’t clog and overflow, and direct water from downspouts away from the house.

9. Substandard Installations or Repairs

An inexperienced technician might choose the wrong coupling nut when installing PEX tubing. Compression fittings make DIY plumbing repairs easier, but you need to be familiar with the different parts.

Subpar plumbing installations and faulty repairs can cause more problems than they solve and result in burst pipes.

Reduce the Risk: Always work with a plumber who carries a current license. If you decide to take care of pipe repairs yourself, reference online sources for the best DIY solutions.

How the Pipes in Your Home Work

how the pipes work

Your home’s plumbing works on a simple principle of nature: Water always seeks its own level. Harness that natural behavior with pressure, direct it through a network of pipes, and you have the framework for modern plumbing.

The system operates on a dual-function model: One part delivers freshwater, and the other drains it out.

Pressure makes it possible for your home’s water supply to travel through supply pipes to the kitchen sink, upstairs bathrooms and the basement washing machine. Drainage pipes don’t need the pressure to operate because they’re installed at an angle that directs waste water to the sewer line.

Different Pipes for Different Jobs

Not all pipes are made from the same materials or perform the same function. Let’s take a quick look at the most common types of supply and drainage pipes and their average lifespans.

Water Supply Lines

  • PEX – 20 to 50 years
  • Galvanized Iron – 40 to 50 years
  • Chromed Copper – 50 years or more
  • CPVC – 50 to 80 years

Waste Lines

  • Chromed Brass – 40 to 45 years
  • Cast Iron – 50 to 75 years
  • PVC – 75 years or more

When Pipes Burst in Your Home, We Can Help!

drying equipment chicago

We hope this guide to burst pipes can minimize the chances of it happening at your home or business. Still, even the best risk reduction plans can’t always head off a hard freeze or a botched installation.

If you’re located in the Chicago area and burst pipes soak your home or business, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore can help. Our industry-certified technicians are standing by 24/7 with burst pipe water damage cleanup services.

We’re just around the corner and always ready for your call: 312-707-8597

Helpful Resources

Dealing With Frozen Pipes – Red Cross
Understanding Hard Water – Energy.Gov
Water Supply Shutoff – Forbes Home


Can water from burst pipes cause long-term damages?

If cleanup isn’t taken care of right away, burst pipe water damage spreads quickly. Mold grows in wet porous materials, structural wood begins to rot, and airborne organic contaminants compromise interior air quality.

What should I do first when a pipe bursts in my home or business?

Shut down your property’s main water supply, but only if you can do so safely. If your electricity supply is affected, immediately contact a licensed electrician. You may need to call a licensed plumber for repairs. Call your insurance agent, and call a restoration company that specializes in water damage cleanup.

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from burst pipes?

In most situations, yes. Business property insurance should also cover this type of water damage. The exceptions would be cases of obvious negligence, such as ignoring necessary repairs.