Modern plumbing is a true marvel. From Roman times and beyond human beings have been innovating ways to deliver fresh water to the people and take gray water safely away from our homes and businesses.
Though even the best-designed plumbing systems can still run into problems. Especially in the wintertime when cold temperatures can freeze water, causing it to expand. When this happens the incompressible liquid that is water can exert enough force to rupture even the most stalwart of pipes and fracture even the most heavy-duty of fixtures.
When this happens at your office or another place of business it can wreak severe havoc. Unfortunately, water damage doesn’t just weaken drywall, soaked carpet, and pucker floorboards. It also has the potential to spread contaminants and pathogens. Not to mention severe floods from a ruptured water pipe can even damage a building’s structure!
Considering that even the smallest leak can quickly turn into a big problem, we decided to take a closer look at the things that most commonly cause pipe ruptures in commercial properties as well as the things that can be done to minimize the damage and speed the cleanup process.
What Causes Water Pipe Ruptures?
Cold weather and corrosion are two of the most common causes of pipe ruptures in office buildings and commercial properties. Understanding the surrounding factors that lead to these pipe ruptures might help property managers be proactive about preventing pipe ruptures or better knowing when to be wary of one happening.
The Physics Of Freezing Temperatures & Pipe Ruptures
Cold weather is the most common cause of ruptured pipes in commercial properties and office buildings. This is due to the essential physics of water, which is incompressible. It is also one of the few molecules that expands when it transitions from its liquid state to its solid-state. When this happens any freezing water trapped in a pipe or a drain’s gooseneck can potentially apply enough force to rupture the pipe or damage the fitting.
Any liquid water in the system can then escape through the ruptured pipe, or the leak can turn into a high-pressure spray if the building warms again.
This means that water pipe ruptures are more common in the wintertime during severe cold spells. They tend to occur more often overnight or in the early hours of the morning when the outside temperature is the coldest.
Pipe ruptures from freezing are also more likely to happen in older buildings, as well as commercial properties that have insufficient insulation in the primary wet wall.
Corrosion Can Also Cause Pipe Ruptures
It is also possible for age, rust, and corrosion to damage older water pipes. Buildings with galvanized metal in the drain lines are more prone to corrosion problems inside the pipe. If the drain lines are running slow or become partially clogged by cold water in the transition phase it can also cause a failure in the corroded drain pipe.
With these pipe ruptures, you usually find the point of failure is in a pipe that was recently cleared of a stubborn clog, a pipe that is prone to clogging, or a failure at the joint, where rust has weakened the threads.
The Physics Of The Water Hammer Effect & Pipe Ruptures
In some buildings, pipes are held in place or secured inside floor stringers with brackets or clips. As the years go by these hardware components can let the pipes come loose. Especially if they weren’t properly secured in the original installation.
You might notice this as a strange banging sound when you turn the water off. This is called a “Water Hammer,” and it is a prime symptom telling you that your building’s pipes are moving around in response to the sudden stop and start of the water flow.
As time goes on this water hammer movement can gradually start to weaken joints and other plumbing components. This can lead to a single point of failure that releases a catastrophic volume of water. One of the problems with this phenomenon is that even once you fix it, there are likely other sections that will imminently fail in the near future.
How To Deal With Ruptured Pipes
Pipes tend to rupture in the dark due to freezing winter temperatures and insufficient insulation. This means you walk into your business first thing in the morning to be shocked by water saturating offices, floors, or retail spaces.
In a moment like this, you can use the following steps to help minimize the water damage caused by a ruptured pipe.
Step One: Turn Off The Electricity
Water and electricity never mix, and the last thing you need is to suffer a shock or electrocution while trying to salvage items from the water. If possible turn off the power to all the buildings or at least the rental unit where the pipe ruptured.
Step Two: Turn Off The Water
Shutting off the water keeps the flooding from getting worse. It might also help you identify the location of the pipe rupture/
Step Three: Find The Source Of The Pipe Rupture
With most pipe ruptures the source is relatively easy to spot. If you can’t immediately see or hear it, you can always follow the water back to the source. If you are still having trouble spotting it, or you suspect there might be multiple leaks, you could turn the water back on momentarily to see all the points of failure in the plumbing system.
Step Four: Place A Bucket Under The Leak
Even after you have turned the water off, chances are good any remaining water in the system will still drizzle or drip out for an hour or so. A strategically placed bucket of plastic tote bin will help catch this water, to minimize further damage.
Step Five: Contact The Professionals
If the cause of the pipe rupture is from a municipal source, you should contact the local public utility department. Though most pipe ruptures in a building are within the commercial property’s responsibility. This means calling in water removal and water damage specialists like the pros at Building Services.
We have the professional-grade equipment and training necessary to thoroughly extract the water and dry all inundated surfaces. We can also help you assess the severity of the water damage to determine what the next best step is when it comes to removing compromised materials, as well as implementing a strategy to prevent future mold problems.