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Burst Pipe Leaks – 5 Clear Causes Explained

Burst Pipe - Water Leak, causes.

Types of Pipes that can Burst

Before we go into the detailed causes of burst pipes in your home or business, let’s look at the types of pipes involved in plumbing leak detection on most occasions:

  • Copper Pipe Burst (very common in the UK)
  • Push Fit Pipe Burst (also common, especially in modern houses)
  • Waste Pipe Burst (usually plastic)
  • Flexible Pipe / Flexi Hose Pipe Burst
  • Drain Pipe Burst
  • Soil Pipe Burst
  • Hose Pipe Burst
  • Lead Pipe Burst

As experts in the in leak detection we know how to find water leaks in all pipes in homes and businesses. As you might expect, we focus a lot of our efforts in finding water leaks in those places containing pipes like these, which are often found in places such as a ceiling leak and underground water leak etc. Sometimes these water leaks are obvious, but often they are hidden in hard to find places and this is where an expert like us comes in.

Burst Pipe - Water Leaks
Burst Pipe – Water Leaks

What Can Cause a Burst Pipe?

A burst pipe can be caused by many different things, which sometimes happen in combination with each other. The main causes of burst pipes, are – frozen pipes, temperature variations, water pressure, corrosion / wear and tear, breakages, movement (especially underground) or vibrations that contribute to that too.

Frozen Pipe Burst
Frozen Pipe Burst

1 – Frozen Burst Pipe

So common is this that we have written a separate article on frozen pipe leaks, including some really useful hints and tips on how to spot and avoid them, especially in winter months and when we have things such as the Beast from the East.

That article goes into detail on this subject but here is a quick summary of it – when temperatures fall below freezing for a period of time, the water inside pipes starts to freeze. As you will likely know, when water freezes it expands. Because the water in pipes is contained within a confined space, it puts pressure on the pipes and joints which can cause them to crack or split (like the picture above).

Then, when the water thaws, and becomes liquid again, it leaks out of the split. Sometimes this is a small water leak, but on other occasions it can be a ‘catastrophic’ leak causing major damage to a property. This is discussed more in our article about loft tanks leaking.

Burst Pipe - Water Pressure, high or low.
Burst Pipe – Water Pressure

When you have a burst pipe in a part of your property, isolation valves can be very valuable and useful to help reduce water damage. We have a guide to isolation valves, which explains this in more detail.

2 – Burst Pipe – Water Pressure

Our Water Pressure Calculator page looks at this subject in more detail but essentially, water pressure (especially high water pressure) or sudden changes in water pressure can contribute to burst pipe water leaks in your home or business.

Related to that we also have a Water Usage Calculator to help you understand how much water you could be using in your home based on appliances used and number of residents.

High water pressure can put additional strain on your pipework. Under normal circumstances a well designed and maintained set of water pipes will be very resilient to such changes in water pressure. However, there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, it can be made worse by already weakened or partially broken pipes.

Plus, sudden changes in water pressure can cause movement (another thing on this list later) which, in turn can cause damage over time. This can be from things such as bending, straining or friction wear and tear. So you can see how things on this list can affect or cause others!

Burst Pipe - Corrosion, copper pipe leak underground.
Burst Pipe – Corrosion, copper.

3 – Burst Pipe – Corrosion

Contrary to what some people think copper pipes can suffer from corrosion problems. This in turn can weaken the pips or joints causing a water leak. We see this especially with central heating boiler leaks in properties and underground water leaks too. The copper can react with other materials causing oxidisation, often seen as Verdigris on the inside or outside of pipework.

This is one of the reasons that central heating systems have inhibitor put into them to prevent corrosion and the damage it can cause to both the pipes and the boiler system, including combination boilers. On the subject of prevention (which we are always a big advocate of) you may find our guide explaining water leak prevention methods useful.

If you want to read a more detailed technical document on this subject, then check out this article on the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) on Copper Corrosion which goes into some really fascinating technical details.

Burst Pipe - Accidental Damage to water pipes.
Burst Pipe – Accidental Damage

4 – Burst Pipe – Breakages / Damage

Although not necessarily the most common on this list. Water leaks from people having accidents are not uncommon either. Clearly, in some instances, the damage will be obvious and not require the use of water leak detectors to find the leak for you!

Things that might cause burst pipes from damage might include:

  • Drilling into a water pipe by accident
  • Breaking a water pipe during DIY or construction work
  • An accident or fall breaking a water pipe
  • Damaging something like a bath, sink or shower – causing a shower leak
  • The list is endless

As with other things on this list it can be exacerbated by other problems. Clearly, if you knock a water pipe with an existing weakness, the chances of breaking it are higher, causing a water leak in your home or business. This is where our guide to finding water pipes is useful.

Burst Pipe - Ground Movement causing water leak underground.
Burst Pipe – Ground Movement

5 – Burst Pipe – Movement

This follows on from the previos point in many ways but movement in the ground or structure of a building can cause stress to be put on water pipes, especially rigid ones. This can caue them, to chrakc, break or even sheer off in severe circumstances.

Things that can cause movement:

  • Expansion during summer heat
  • Contraction during winter cold
  • Construction work on the property
  • Subsidence in a property
  • Vibration from traffic or other movement
  • Earthquakes (not common in the UK!)

Clearly, as we have said above, these things can be large or small and slow or sudden. but either way, they can cause burst pipe water leaks. Some of the above can be linked to outdoor water leaks in particular, so you might find our guide on how to report a water leak useful.

If you have a burst pipe at your home or business, knowing where isolation valves are located can be extremely beneficial to know, they can help prevent water damage occurring. You may also, as part of your home insurance claim process, have a loss adjuster involved to help.

As well as being experts in leak detection and trace and access, we are the UKs leading water damage restoration company so as well as finding your water leak, we can help assess the damage caused and make recommendations for actions that can be taken to help get your property back to normal. We can even dry your property after a leak or flood if needed. We also offer a full and comprehensive commercial leak detection for various types of different businesses locally.

For more on the various elements of this process, see our guide to trace and access and on a very similar topic regarding pipes, our useful guide to condensation on pipes causes.

We also have an excellent guide to finding a leak between meter and house.

If you need help with our different types of leak detection services, get in touch. logo logo

What are the signs of a burst pipe?

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There are many ways that you can spot the signs of a possible burst pipe in your home or business. These include – a high water meter reading or water bill, visible signs of unusual damp or moisture on walls, floors or ceilings. The sound of running water in the same places too. Plus, things such as unusual must odours, the appearance of mould or damp patches, lower water pressure and more. If it is a burst pipe water leak outside on your mains water feed, you may see pooling of water on your driveway or garden.