Has A Pipe Burst in Your Home? Here’s What To Do First

Conroy Baltimore
Written by Conroy Baltimore
Reviewed by Joseph Wood
Updated June 20, 2022
A plumber checks pipes
Photo: Portra / E+ / Getty Images

When a pipe busts, cut off water supply to stop the leak

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That’s strange—there’s water all over the floor, but no one has spilled anything. Running through your troubleshooting checklist, you confirm that none of the faucets are leaking and the shower is off. Puzzled, you look to the walls, and there it is—an enormous wet spot spreading. Yep, a pipe has burst. 

Don’t start panicking yet. With some quick action, you can prevent a complete plumbing disaster.

What Happens When a Pipe Bursts?

When pipes burst, one of the main contributors is frozen pipes. If temperatures get below freezing, the running water turns into ice, expands, and puts significant pressure on your plumbing system which can lead to cracks. 

“Many times during a freeze, the crack has already occurred, but it doesn't leak until it thaws,” says Joseph Wood, Boston-based Master Plumber and Expert Review Board member. “This might lead you to believe you don’t have a crack since it isn’t leaking. Many homeowners are away as the house comes back up to temperature, only to return home to a growing flood.”

However, ice isn’t the only culprit that leads to pipes bursting. Other factors include:

  • Corroded pipes

  • Bulky clogs

  • High water pressure

Signs a Pipe Burst In Your Home

Contrary to popular belief, pipes don’t make a loud sound and spray water when a pipe bursts (although it’s a possibility). The signs are actually more subtle.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for regarding burst pipes:

  • Increased water bills

  • Water discoloration

  • Inconsistent water flow

  • Weird noises from your pipework

What Do You Do if Your Pipes Burst?

If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, you may have burst water pipes. Let’s look at practical ways to deal with the situation.

1. Turn Off the Water Supply

First things first, turn off your water supply to help prevent further water damage. You can usually find the valve in your basement, a crawl space, or close to your water heater. 

If you can’t find it in the interior, check the outside of your home, near the water meter. Since it’s rarely closed, you’ll need a little elbow grease to close it.

Wood advises, “Most municipal water mains are located on the side of the home facing the road, while private water systems usually face the well. If you can’t locate the main shutoff, call the fire department.”

Also consider is turning off your electricity for significant leaks. Water can travel towards your electrical sockets or fuse box, which can be hazardous to your household.

2. Drain the Taps

After shutting off the water supply, drain the faucets to prevent them from refreezing. 

As you do that, flush your toilet multiple times to relieve pressure on your system. Do the same with the hot water taps by turning off the water heater. Leave any faucet or taps "open" so pressure cannot build up in the fixtures.

3. Locate the Leak

Once the taps are off, it’s time to do your best Sherlock Holmes impression and find the leak. It could be anywhere—the ensuite bathroom, kitchen, or basement. But the quicker you locate the problem area, the easier it is to minimize damage.

Be cautious throughout your search, inspecting every nook and cranny. Look for bulging ceilings and floors or water spots in your walls. If you locate the leak, try plugging it with rags to prevent further water damage. Where there’s a drip, place a bucket underneath to limit damage to your floors. 

4. Call a Professional

Now that you’ve located the leak and initiated preventative measures call an emergency plumbing service. Hiring a plumber costs about $45 to $200 per hour, depending on the work needed and your location. The cost to replace pipes is between $350 to $1,840 but will vary on the piping that needs replacement.

5. Start Cleaning

A mop cleans up a spill
Photo: Nadya So / iStock / Getty Images

As things start to calm down, clean areas affected by the leak. When water sits unattended for some time, it leaves room for mold and mildew to grow. 

Grab your mop or some rags and clear the water quickly. Salvage essential belongings and move furniture around to find water in hidden spots. Open windows to let fresh air speed up the drying process (weather permitting).

6. Document the Damage

As you’re cleaning, make sure to document any damage. Your home insurance policy might cover water damage, and you’ll need evidence to support it. 

Take pictures of affected areas, items, and where the leak started. Don’t toss anything just yet; the more information available, the higher chance of a successful claim.

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