Pipe Leaks and Bursts

Identification, prevention and restoration of water damage resulting from pipe breaches in commercial and residential structures

Drip, Drip, Deluge!

Of all the types of water damage in a workplace or home, pipe leaks and bursts can be the most damaging. Why? Small leaks often go undetected (or ignored) for extended periods of time, while a burst 1-inch water line can pump out hundreds of gallons of water per minute. Over a holiday or weekend when no one is around, this deluge might not be detected for days! Protecting your property from this type of loss is well worth the time and effort. Here we’ll walk you through the most important points in identification, prevention and restoration of water damage resulting from water supply line breaches.

What Causes Pipes to Leak?

With the exception of very old buildings, it is exceedingly rare to see pipe corrosion as the primary contributor to a breach. Almost all recent and new construction boasts water supply lines made from materials built to last a lifetime. On occasion though, mechanical failure, improper installation or faulty materials can be the culprit in a pipe malfunction. In any of these instances, a specialist can share knowledge, experience and an educated opinion on the source of the failure and can offer guidance for engaging your insurance provider.

Signs of Water Damage

Not all pipe breaches are “gushers,” bursting and spewing water dramatically. Slow, persistent pipe leaks, while harder to detect, can cause just as much – if not more! – damage to a home or workplace, especially if the damage goes unnoticed for a long period. Learning to spot the early signs of hidden water damage from pipe leaks (behind walls, above ceilings, etc.) can save an enormous amount of time and money. Common indicators of water damage are:

  • Dark or wet spots on walls or ceilings
  • Odor
  • Swollen baseboards
  • Bubbling paint
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Soft drywall
  • Warped ceiling tiles
  • Sudden loss of water pressure
  • An unusually high water bill

No matter the size or scope of the damage, it is imperative to act at the first sign of a problem. Investigate and address the source of the issue immediately. Engaging a professional will help to determine the true extent of the damage and allow repairs to begin as soon as possible. Deferring any maintenance will no doubt cost much more down the line. Learn more about the signs of water damage here.

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How to Prevent Damage From Pipe Leaks

  • Regularly inspect the property and identify any pipes in need of attention.
  • Check the basement.
  • Find the entry point where the water supply meets the building.
  • Know the areas that house water pipes (behind walls, in ceilings, etc.).
  • Get picky about small indicators of a potential problem (drips under sink pipes, brown spots on ceiling tiles, etc.).
  • Perform any necessary repairs as soon as possible.
  • Know where the water shut off valve is. It’s the simplest thing that makes the biggest difference.
  • Understand your insurance coverage. Oftentimes, water damage does not qualify as a “total restore” and the loss may be covered only up to a certain percentage. Confirm eligibility with the insurer and consider extending your coverage.
  • Identify a disaster restoration company you trust. Ask if they offer a preparation plan. This service is often at no cost to you and allows for the fastest, smoothest response in the event that a problem should arise.

Frozen Pipes

In the colder regions of the US, freezing temperatures are the cause of the vast majority of pipe-based water damage that we see. Vacant properties – workplaces that operate on hybrid schedules or are closed for holidays or the weekend, vacation homes or uninhabited houses for sale – are the most vulnerable to winter weather-related water damage of this kind. During a bout of severe cold, or in the event of a power loss that affects heating systems, the standing water inside a supply line may freeze, expand and rupture the pipe.

Signs of a Frozen or Burst Pipe

Workers or families who return to the property and find themselves without running water should assume that pipes have frozen. Visually inspect any exposed pipes for damage immediately, paying special attention to the joints and elbows. Keep an especially sharp eye out for signs of water damage after heat has returned to the building and pipes have thawed. When water starts flowing again is when most leaks appear.  

How to Prevent Frozen or Burst Pipes

If you expect severely cold temperatures or anticipate being away during the winter months, our specialists recommend getting ahead of a potential burst pipe catastrophe by:

  • Setting the building temperature slightly warmer than it would be if occupied
  • Opening any interior doors, promoting air flow and temperature regulation to all areas of the home or facility
  • Adding insulation around water lines in vulnerable areas (perimeter walls, ceilings, basements, under sinks, etc.)
  • Leaving faucets running at a slow stream to keep water moving and avoid freezing
  • Opening cabinets that house water supply lines, allowing warmer air to enter and minimize the risk of bursting
  • Investing in technological aides:
  • Cameras and sensors to help keep an eye on facilities remotely
  • Cloud-based or programmable thermostats that offer remote control and can monitor for sudden temperature drops
  • Automatic water shut-off sensors, which are available in some regions for commercial properties
  • Designating a monitor: a member of the in-house facilities teams, a professional service or a house sitter. Nothing beats having a pair of trusted eyes check on things every so often.

Is Water From Pipe Leaks Safe?

When it comes to safety, water falls into one of three categories. Identifying the source of escaped water is the first step in establishing its categorization and potential hazards. In instances of breached pipes, we typically see three sources:

Source: Treated water supply lines
Category 1: Clean water
Level of contamination: Low
Category 1 water is the easiest to manage. Be sure to address any damage within 24-48 hours to reduce the likelihood of potentially hazardous microbial growth.

Source: Sprinkler systems, untreated HVAC/cooling water
Category 2: Gray Water
Level of contamination: Slight to severe
Category 2 water may pose an elevated health risk to those dealing with cleanup. It may appear cloudy or carry an unpleasant odor. Loss of some property and materials is likely.

Source: Sewer or drain pipe backflow
Category 3: Black Water
Level of contamination: High
Category 3 water is very likely to carry infectious viruses and bacteria, parasites and toxic and allergenic materials. This type of water may be identified by a cloudy appearance, the presence of debris, and a strong odor. Clean up and restoration efforts after Category 3 water damage can be very difficult and will require extreme care regarding contaminants. Most materials will be unsalvageable. For more, read our drain backups article here.
Whatever the source of a pipe leak, a disabled commercial building represents a loss of revenue and an uninhabitable house is a major disruption. Reaction must be quick and comprehensive. We’ve compiled some actions to take if your workplace or home has suffered a water loss.

Recovery and Restoration

  • Remove any standing water as quickly as possible. Depending on the volume and category of water you are handling, this may require specialized pumps, a wet vac and/or mopping.
  • Materials that have come into contact with Category 2 or 3 water will require extensive cleaning, sanitization and drying. Testing for hazardous materials (lead, asbestos, etc.) may also be necessary. These processes are best handled by a professional team.
  • Look for signs of bound water – water suspended in the ceiling or wall – and release it by cutting weep holes for drainage. Any wallpaper or wall coverings must be removed to allow the area to fully dry. A “flood cut,” or removal of a portion of drywall – usually the bottom few feet – may be necessary to completely dry any materials housed behind it.
  • Begin the dehumidification process. Water suspended in the air can be a lung irritant and humidity must be properly balance. Air movement, light and dehumidification are your biggest allies in the drying process.
  • Mold is now the chief concern. How quickly can mold can begin to grow? It can begin growing in just 48 hours. Improperly handled, it can cause sickness or even death. Be sure you are taking the necessary steps to keep your home or workplace safe. A professional will be able to assess a particular situation and identify the proper response.
  • Document newly discovered damage as it is found. Oftentimes an insurance representative will not arrive onsite for 7-10 days, well after restoration efforts have begun. It is important to have the full extent of the damage documented for your records.
  • Do not begin repair or restoration efforts until all areas are completely dry. Ensure that every area and type of material affected is known; each will have its own drying time. Trapped moisture can lead to greater problems down the line: hazardous conditions, extended business downtime or an impact on the resale value of your house.

Knowledge and Experience Make the Difference

Managing a water damage crisis in the home or workplace can be an overwhelming task. In almost every situation, we recommend working with a trusted, professional team. Having the job done correctly from day one saves time, confusion and, ultimately, expense. First Onsite can handle all of the necessary documentation, mitigation and recovery efforts needed to return your property to its pre-loss condition as quickly as possible. Our managers communicate completely, giving you an idea of what to expect, a timeline, an estimate and a projected deadline. As recovery progresses, our clients can expect regular communication with a professional, experienced, knowledgeable and uniformed staff.

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