How To – Dealing with a Burst Plumbing Pipe Emergency

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    Burst pipes can happen at anytime of the year but more often then not they happen in the winter if your pipes are in an unheated or uninsulated area of your home.

    In this howto we will cover what you should do in such an emergency and then how you can make a quick repair if possible.

    The most important thing to remember is to keep your cool. If you start freaking out when a pipe bursts you won’t be able to complete the tasks to cure the problem quickly you will run around like a chicken with its head chopped off and the time you waste will result in further damage.

    Second just remember that it is water … its not toxic nuclear waste… even if a waste line burst and dirty water was all over… its not the end of the world things can be cleaned up and in no time it will be a memory that you want to forget.

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    Stopping the Water when a Pipe Bursts

    To stop the water you will need to turn off your main valve to your home. There are at least two main valves in your home and they are located at your water meter. One is before the meter one is after the meter.

    Because valves sometimes leak if they are not used for years it is best you shut off both the valves.

    Some pressure will remain in your system and you can open a sink faucet to reduce the pressure. I SUGGEST that you think fast and stick a pitcher under the sink faucet to catch some water because you probably won’t have water for a while until the line is fixed and you will probably need some. You could also plug your bathtub and fill that up but you probably wont catch more then about a gallon.

    It is best that you call to someone else to fill a pitcher of water while you are running for the shutoff valve. If no one is there then just do your best. Besides you already keep a gallon or two of water in your refrigerator … don’t you..?

    Reducing the Damage after a Pipe Bursts

    So the first thing after the water is off is to assess the damage and find where the pipe burst. More often then not the pipe will be in a wall and you will see water leaking from the baseboard or you will see it coming down from the ceiling on the floor below.

    If the pipe burst and filled your basement it is very important that you do not walk around in deep water and end up getting electrocuted.

    If the water is only an inch or two deep you should still probably turn off the power at your circuit breaker until you have had a look around and found the source of the problem. You may then need to hook up a pump to get the water out and turn the electric back on but that will come later.

    • Find any valuable items and move them to higher ground.
    • If you have important papers in a filing cabinet pull out the drawers and put them on a counter.
    • If you have electrical wires to appliances or TVs that are along the floor unplug them while the power is off.
    • If you have a furnace then flip the cutoff switch to turn it off. Do the same for your water heater.

    Now you can start looking for the burst pipe.

    If the pipe that burst is in the wall or in the ceiling the water will drain over time but if it remains in the void it could soften the drywall.

    Replacing a piece of drywall is not that difficult or expensive. You can figure about $30 for materials and paint. But you may still want to use a small keyhole saw to open a hole to help it drain. This is up to you.

    If you have any throw rugs take them outside or stick them in your bath tub don’t let them sit in the water. Remember that anything that sits in water or remains wet for more then 3 days will begin to grow mold.

    If you have carpet in your basement you may want to hire a professional rug cleaner to suck the water out. A home model can get much of it but not as much as professional equipment.

    If you don’t have someone there to help you then you should be both saving things and finding how to fix the problem at the same time. In other words if you know you are going to have to open a wall to fix the pipe don’t start working on that until you have saved everything that is wet.

    Fixing a Burst Pipe or restoring Partial Service

    Once things are a little more calm and you have saved your important items from the water you can begin looking at a way to fix the problem.

    As we said there are two main valves in your home . One before and one after the meter. There is likely also one just where the water service enters your home but before the meter. It is also highly likely that there is a shutoff valve located outside of your home so the water company can shutoff your service from outside if you don’t pay.

    In addition to these main shutoffs your plumber may have installed in-line shutoff valves that will allow you to turn off the water that goes just through that area of the home or that exact pipe.

    For instance each hose-bib or spigot that exits your home will have a shutoff valve in your basement or crawl space.

    Sinks have cutoff valves under the sink and toilets have cutoff valves behind the toilet at the floor or wall where the feed line is installed to serve your fixture.

    Water filters for refrigerators will also have a cutoff valve. It may be at the box in the wall where the feed line is connected or it could be directly under the refrigerator in the basement. This is so you can change the filter and it is mandatory.

    Washing machines  will have cutoff valves where the rubber hose line connects to a box in the wall. They should also have another cutoff in the basement just below the appliance but they may not.

    In addition to all of these point of use cutoffs there may be a cutoff where your hotwater feeds your hotwater heater. This line is normally very close to your water heater or your water meter. Normally there are two cutoffs that allow the water heater to be changed out without a lot of leaking. They should be before and after the water heater.

    If your plumber was nice they may have divided your home into sections and provided cutoff valves for each bathroom and your kitchen. These valves are harder to find and will require that you trace the feed pipe back from where it burst and hopefully you will find a valve that you can shutoff to stop water from flowing to that specific area.

    If you find one of these inline shutoff valves then you can turn it off and if it does not leak you can turn on the water for the rest of your house. This will allow you to maybe get hot and cold water to your kitchen while the feed line in your bathroom is still turned off.

    The great thing about this is if the repair will take hours you can fill a bucket and fill the tank on the toilet and get a single flush. It sounds like a real pain but you will be really happy you can do this if you are waiting 6hrs to a couple days for a plumber.. trust me its a good thing to do if you can.

    Repairing the Burst Pipe

    Once you have done your best to turn water off to the damaged area, saved all your valuables and restored service to the rest of the home if you can it is time to think about fixing the burst pipe.

    The best way to fix the pipe is to replace it.

    If the pipe is copper or metal then you can remove that section from the fittings on each end by using a torch to melt the solder on a copper line or a wrench on a galvanized line.

    If there are additional pipes in that same area you will need to inspect them and possibly replace them.

    In our other howto’s we will explain in more detail about how to install copper, pvc and steel pipe that is used in water feed lines.

    What if it is a sewer line that burst?

    If the main sewer line bursts in your home it is normally due to backflow from the street during a storm. However it could be due to physical damage caused by you or a family member.

    If your sewer line bursts you want to secure it so no gas can enter your home.

    If it is broken in two pieces then you can force rags into both sides and secure them with drop cloth and duct tape.

    If it is cracked then you can wrap the area with heavy plastic drop cloth and seal it with duct tape.

    You will need to section (cut) the area and then replace it by using two unions and a replacement piece of pipe.

    If the line is cast iron you may need to hire a professional.. actually I would probably suggest a professional for cast iron line unless you have worked with it before and see that it can be replaced easily.. but if you know that much you wouldn’t need this howto… you would already be fixing it.

    Final Note

    This howto is not a full explanation about how you can fix the pipe after it bursts… it is information you should use when an emergency happens.

    You don’t need to call 911 unless something serious happened .. and the best thing to do is just keep your cool.

    Turn off the water at your main valve found near your water meter.

    If you don’t know where your water meter is then go find it before something like this happens.

    At the same time look around and try to find all of your shutoff valves.

    Mark them on a diagram on a piece of paper and place that paper near your water meter or someplace that you can easily get to in case there is a problem.

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