If your house was a living organism, the pipe system would be its veins and arteries. We bet you didn’t expect us to open with this. Well, putting aside the vivid comparison, as a homeowner, you should take the “health” of your pipes very seriously. Because once there’s a problem, it can be a nightmare, as it may take several days to fix.

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If a pipe breaks, you would know, so the faster you act, the better. In this post, the Fantastic Services team will explain how to fix a broken pipe and all the complications that come from the damage.

Causes of a broken pipe

  • Freezing. The number one cause of a broken pipe is when water freezes inside it. This is the reason why many homeowners winterproof their piping system.
  • Age. Water erodes any surface but it takes decades before a pipe sustains any damage. Homeowners organise pipe inspections every ten years or so to prevent small problems from escalating.
  • Blockage. It’s possible for the blockage from drains and toilets to move through the rest of the piping system and make it much more difficult to clear. The intense pressure could eventually cause a rupture.
  • Tree roots. If you have a yard, then you have pipes under it. If you or your neighbours have trees nearby, their roots could wrap around a pipe until it bursts. These are very rare cases, but it happens.

Signs of a broken pipe

  • Flooding and/or bubbling walls and ceilings. If you notice a puddle of water forming in your kitchen or bathroom for no reason, or if you notice that your walls and ceilings are peeling, maybe, there are damp spots on them, you have water damage.
  • Mould. If the damp spots are left unattended for a long time, they would eventually grow mould. Mould is not only unsightly, but it could pose a health risk to people with allergies and asthma.
  • Unpleasant odour. The smell of sewage is a sign of not only damaged pipes but also a good indicator as to where the damage is. If you smell raw sewage, the problem is usually on the lower floor or basement.
  • Poor water pressure. If you notice the water flow is not as strong as before, it could be a sign of a leak or a clog. Both of these deserve your immediate attention.
  • Poor water quality. If the water coming out of the faucet is foggy or coloured in a shade of brown, then, your water supply is contaminated due to damage.

How to locate a broken pipe

Pipes don’t just go through your bathroom and kitchen, but also through your walls and basement. You can experience pipework damage at any of these places. If you’re not sure whether you have a leak yet, turn off all water faucets and check your water metre. If it’s still spinning, then you have one. Here is how to locate it:

  • Examine the water damage signs. The damage should be your best guide as to where the leak is. If you see peeling paint, bubbling walls, mould on surfaces, or obvious flooding, the rupture will be lurking nearby the evidence. Though sometimes the signs aren’t that obvious or the location of the broken pipe could be at some distance.
  • Check outside. If you live in a house, it’s important to also walk around the yard and check for patches of extra green grass. It’s possible to have the breakage there, as well.
  • Turn all sounds off. If you still can’t find the leak, turn off all sounds including the TV, the radio and everything else. If there is running or dripping water, you should be able to hear it.

How to fix a broken pipe

No matter where your pipe is situated, the procedure of fixing it consists of the same general steps.

  • Cut off the water supply. Once you know where your leak is, you should immediately turn off the water supply, so it doesn’t cause any more damage.
  • Remove the damaged part. If the pipe is located at an easy-to-reach place, your first job would be to cut off the damaged part. You need a pipe cutter for the job. Be prepared for some unpleasant smells and waste to drip from it. Make sure to put a bucket under it.
  • Replace with a copper repair sleeve. Once the part is gone, you should replace it with a brand new one – the so-called copper repair sleeve. It should be longer than the gap, left after cutting the pipe part off so you might have to adjust its length with the pipe cutter. Use a blowtorch to fit the sleeve perfectly into the piping system.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, although it’s not rocket science, it’s a completely different experience when you don’t have the right tools in your hands. That’s why the Fantastic Services team advises to leave it to the professionals.

How to fix a broken pipe inside a wall

Very often, the pipes that require repair are inside walls. Fixing a pipe inside a wall requires much more work than just using a pipe cutter. But if you feel confident, you can do it yourself, just follow these instructions.

  1. Use a saw on the drywall. To gain access to the broken pipe, you have to cut the drywall. Use a saw and be careful not to cause any more damage in the process. You should also remove the damaged parts of the wall.
  2. Locate the breakage. You might still not see the leak, because the rupture is not facing you. To find it, wrap a sheet of paper or cloth around the pipe and move around until it gets wet. That will pinpoint the problematic spot. You may have to repeat this a few times to be sure.
  3. Place a bucket under the broken pipe. Since you’ll be cutting a pipe, it would definitely leak water and possibly waste. It would be very hard to clean the mess when it’s between your walls, so use a bucket or any other container that would reduce the cleaning to a minimum once you’re done.
  4. Cut the pipe. Use a pipe cutter on either side of the rupture, until the part is completely removed from the piping system. Hopefully, you’ve managed to collect all of the waste in the container.
  5. Clean the pipe. Use a soft cloth to both dry and clean the pipe of any residual blockage. If the cause of the breakage was due to ice, use a flashlight to make sure there are no icicles left inside the pipe.
  6. Mount a copper repair sleeve. Use the blowtorch to heat each end of the repair sleeve and fit it into the piping system. Wear safety goggles and gloves when doing this. Give it 20 minutes to cool down and then switch on the water to make sure it’s not leaking anymore.
  7. Patch the wall. Get a self-adhesive mesh patch from your local home maintenance store and place it over the hole. Then, cover the patch with joint compound, feathering the edges, so it blends with the wall. After it dries, apply another coat of compound to smoothen any imperfections. Finally, re-paint it.

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How to fix a broken pipe under a slab foundation

If there is water or damp spots on your floor or basement, or you hear the sound of running water from below, then, you know where the leak is. The problem with pipes under the floor is that they’re most likely sewer lines. They can go undetected for a long time until they cause damage to the slab foundation, and you will notice it in your water bill.

Gain access

Gaining access under a slab foundation is heavy work, which is why it’s best to call a professional. The repair job will require removing part of the flooring to expose the concrete slab and then, using a jackhammer to break it. It creates a lot of dust, so any valuable objects should be removed from the working area. Once you have a hole, you have to remove the dirt to expose the pipes. Well, the dirt would most probably be mud because of the leak and it would be contaminated with sewage.

Repair

The type of repair a sewer line would require is decided on the spot once professional eyes examine it. Depending on the age of the piping system, and the state of the damage, a reliable plumber could decide if it’s best to replace complete sections of the pipe, which would require the removal of more slab. This can greatly extend the repair process so you may have to live at a friend’s house for a few days.

Relining

The professional will insert a camera into the sewer pipe to inspect for pipe breakage. Then, the interior of the pipe will be cleaned by high-pressure water. Lastly, a thin epoxy-impregnated felt liner will be pulled through the pipe by cable, inflated like a balloon, which should be allowed to cure, so it seals properly the pipe. The professional will perform a test to make sure there are no more leaks. Finally, the concrete slab and flooring will be reinstalled.

Often, in old houses, a professional can judge that a repair of a sewer line is not cost-effective, because once the pipe has suffered a breakage, it might burst again in a few years. So, the expert can instead offer the long-term solution of re-piping the entire house.

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The best way to keep this problem out of your life is to make sure it never happens in the first place. Take measures to winterproof your pipes, have regular inspections and keep your drains and toilets free of blockage. Prevention is the best medicine. If you’re not certain when was the last time you inspected your piping system, contact a professional. If your house is already experiencing signs of damage, get in touch with a certified plumber immediately.

Image source: bogdanhoda/shutterstock.com

Posted in Plumbing Tips

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