Keywords: Leaking pipe, burst pipe

What’s the Difference Between a Leaking Pipe and a Burst Pipe?


Knowing the difference between a leaking pipe and a burst pipe is important for homeowners. Both situations allow water to escape and cause damage, but they originate from different problems and require distinct solutions. This article will examine the key differences, when to call a plumber, and how to prevent leaks and bursts.

What Causes a Leak?

A leak occurs when water seeps out through a small hole or crack in the pipe. Common causes include:

  • Corrosion that eats away at the pipe material over time
  • Cracks from freezing temperatures or damage
  • Loose joints that separate and create gaps
  • Faulty seals around valves, elbows, tees, and couplings

The opening is usually only a pinhole or hairline crack, allowing water to drip out slowly. This means leaks can go unnoticed for weeks or months, slowly causing damage.

What Causes a Burst?

A burst happens when too much pressure actually ruptures the pipe and creates a large split or hole. This pressure can come from:

Freezing Temperatures

If water in the pipe freezes and expands, it can split the pipe open. Burst pipes from freezing are common in attics, exterior walls, and other areas without insulation.

Water Hammer Effect

When a valve slams shut suddenly, like after a washing machine cycle, it sends a pressure wave through the pipes. This can potentially burst pipes that have weakened with age.

Excess Pressure

Interior plumbing is designed to withstand normal water pressure around 60 PSI. But if the pressure gets too high due to a problem with the water meter, main supply line, or another source, it can split pipes.

Signs of a Leak

The most obvious sign is seeing drops or puddles of water near a pipe or dripping from the ceiling below. Other clues include:

  • An uptick in your water bill from unexplained usage
  • Mold or moisture on surfaces near pipes
  • New stains on walls or ceilings
  • Creaking or soft spots in floors near pipes
  • Low water pressure throughout the home

Signs of a Burst

Bursts are a plumbing emergency and easier to identify. Signs include:

  • Loud bang as the pipe splits open
  • Large amount of water pouring out from the break
  • Losing water supply and pressure to some or all fixtures
  • Flooding in walls, floors, or ceilings away from the pipe
  • Sinks or toilets overflowing
  • Drywall damage like bulging or sagging

When to Call a Plumber

It’s recommended to contact a professional anytime you suspect a leak or burst. They have the tools and expertise to:

  • Accurately detect and diagnose the issue
  • Determine if repairs or full replacement are needed
  • Make repairs quickly and correctly to prevent further damage
  • Ensure any underlying problems get addressed

Bursts require immediate attention to stop water loss. Leaks should also get evaluated right away before they worsen or cause mold growth.

Preventing Leaks and Bursts

Proactive maintenance goes a long way towards preventing leaks and bursts:

  • Insulate pipes in unheated areas like attics, garages, and crawlspaces
  • Seal air leaks around plumbing to protect from freezing
  • Install pressure relief valves to protect from excess pressure
  • Update old pipes and fittings that are prone to cracking
  • Check for leaks around joints, valves, and along pipes every few months

Addressing drips and minor leaks early is much less expensive than emergency repairs for major pipe bursts. Being vigilant allows you to spot issues before they escalate. Knowing the warning signs and calling in a professional plumber at the first hint of trouble reduces the likelihood of serious and costly pipe failure.

Additional Resources

Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes

How to Check for Leaks

When to Repair vs Replace Pipes

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