How Do You Know If Your Pipes Burst? 21 Warning Signs

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: March 22, 2024

If you have a burst pipe in your home, you need to act fast to prevent further damage.

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, our teams have been repairing water-damaged properties in Chicago since 2008.

Keep reading for our insider tips on the warning signs of burst pipes and how to deal with this homeowner’s headache.

21 Serious Warning Signs of a Burst Pipe

water pipe burst

Pipes located in unheated or uninsulated areas, like basements, attics, and crawl spaces, are most likely to burst.

Here are a few warning signs to look out for:

General Signs

1. Faucets Aren’t Producing Hot Water

A faucet that doesn’t produce hot water could signify a burst pipe – especially if you live in a cold climate. 

When water freezes in pipes during frigid temperatures, it expands, eventually causing the pipe to rupture or burst. 

The burst pipe then disrupts the hot water supply to your faucets and may cause them to dispense only cold water. 

2. Water Pressure Goes Up And Down

Don’t assume it’s the city’s fault when water pressure begins to fluctuate. It might be a busted pipe somewhere in the house.

If your municipality has not notified you about this, it could be due to a leak.

Pressure changes are hard on your home’s plumbing system and can damage pipe fittings.

If your water pressure has changed recently, your pipes may be clogged, eroded, or even ruptured. 

Turn on your shower and flush the toilet to test your water pressure. If your shower water stops, this is a sign of low water pressure.

3. Water Is Tinted

Over time, a hidden burst pipe begins to rust. Even damaged PVC and PEX pipes throw off microscopic rust particles that give water a brownish tint.

The unhealthy biofilm sets up a breeding ground for bacteria.

4. It Smells Like Rotten Eggs

This busted pipe symptom is always cause for concern. Even a faint rotten-egg odor is a sign of leaking sewage.

You’re smelling hydrogen sulfide, a naturally occurring gas that forms in sewer lines.

Never try to solve this type of plumbing problem by yourself. Call in certified technicians.

5. The Water Bill Is Too High

One reliable sign of a burst pipe is a sudden spike in your water bill. Unless you have people staying with you or are actively using more water for whatever reason, the water bill should be about the same amount each month. 

If you notice a steady (or sudden) increase in your water bills, you could have a burst or broken pipe somewhere in the house.

Small drips from faucets can waste more than 100 gallons of water a year. If you multiply that loss by slow leakage from a busted pipe, you see alarming spikes in the monthly water bill.

6. The Faucets Spit And Splash

Drawing water from a sink faucet shouldn’t make you jump back. When water shoots out of the faucet in irregular bursts, fluctuating water pressure is usually to blame.

That irregular pressure that makes the faucets spit may be due to a burst in one of the pipes adjacent to the kitchen or bath.

7. Bubbling, Peeling, Or Cracks On The Walls

Bubbling, peeling, and cracks on the walls occur when water from a burst pipe saturates the wall material, eventually causing visible damage. 

Over time, moisture weakens the wall, resulting in cracks and peeling. It also causes paint or wallpaper to bubble as it struggles to adhere to the damp surface. 

Recognizing these signs early can help you prevent more severe structural damage and avoid costly repairs.

In The Wall

burst pipe

8. You Can Hear The Water

You shouldn’t hear the water if it isn’t running somewhere in the house. If you notice hissing or gurgling noises inside the walls, you’re probably hearing water reacting to fluctuating pressure in leaky pipes.

The sounds tend to be louder in pipes with small diameters.

9. Puddles Keep Forming Under Sinks

You’ve done all you can to stop leaks in pipes under a sink, but puddles keep coming back.

Carefully inspect the wall just above pipe cover plates, and look for damp spots.

Burst pipe water seeping through these areas can accumulate and appear to be dripping from exposed pipes.

10. The Pipes Are Making Noises

A busted pipe affects water pressure throughout the house, creating movement in the system.

Pipes begin to rub and bang at tension points, and that causes grinding and clanging noises behind the walls.

The friction eventually leads to even more breakage.

11. Mold Won’t Go Away

Mold can be a nuisance in any home, but you can usually take care of it with a good DIY removal plan. However, mold caused by moisture hidden inside the walls doesn’t go away.

If a patch of mold under the sink or on the wall resists your house cleaning talents, it’s probably taking advantage of the damp environment created by a burst pipe.

12. The Walls Feel Damp

This sign of a burst pipe needs attention right away. By the time you notice a damp area on drywall, the moisture has already spread into the wood framing.

Water from a pipe burst doesn’t take long to cause wood rot and extensive structural damage. Call a trusted restoration company right away.

In The Ceiling

water damaged ceiling

13. Water Stains On The Ceiling

Sometimes, when a pipe bursts, the water leaks through your ceiling and creates visible water stains that are often accompanied by cracking or peeling paint. 

14. Clear, Dripping Water

If there’s a burst pipe in your ceiling, you may notice clear water that drips steadily from a certain area and only stops when you shut down the home’s main water supply. If you have a ceiling leak, you can bet there’s hidden damage underlying it, so we recommend contacting a professional plumber and restoration company for repair assistance. 

In The Basement Or Crawl Space

15. Pooling Water

One of the most noticeable signs of a burst pipe in a basement is the presence of water where it shouldn’t be. This can manifest as puddles, wet spots, or even a flood. 

Other signs include discolored patches or mold growth on the walls and ceilings of your basement or crawlspace due to the increased moisture content. 


16. Soft Spots In The Yard

If you have pipes running through your yard, they can burst, expand, or break during cold weather. If this happens, the pipe will release water underground. 

This will cause the yard to become saturated (even if it hasn’t rained in a long time) and may lead to the development of sinkholes. 

You may also notice a cracked driveway or bulging in your pavement.

17. Grass That’s Overly Green

Patches of overly green grass in your yard can be indicative of a burst or leaking underground pipe. 

This is because the excess water seeping into the soil around the pipe acts as an unintended irrigation system, providing the grass in that area with more water than the surrounding turf. 

The excessive moisture promotes faster, more vibrant growth, resulting in a patch of lawn that looks unusually lush compared to the rest. This can be an early warning sign of plumbing issues that need immediate attention to prevent further damage and water loss.

In The Garage

water stains garage

18. Unusual Sounds

If you start hearing unexpected noises such as hissing, banging, or dripping sounds coming from the walls or floors of your garage, it’s a clear indicator that water is leaking or bursting from a pipe.

19. Visible Water Stains

Water marks or damp spots appearing on the walls, ceiling, or floor of your garage can signal a leaking or burst pipe, especially if these spots grow or change colors over time.

20. Musty Odors

A persistent, musty smell in the garage suggests the presence of excess moisture or mildew, often caused by water from a burst pipe that’s been sitting unnoticed for some time.

In The Attic

21. Bulges

Burst pipes in the attic can cause bulges in the ceiling below, which often look like circular stains or protrusions in the ceiling material. 

What To Do When A Water Pipe Bursts

what to do when a water pipe bursts

Most homeowners call a restoration company when they’re facing water damage from a burst pipe. If you decide to take care of it yourself, be prepared. Cleanup can turn into a big job.

We recommend following these steps to deal with a burst pipe:

1. Turn Off The Electricity

Whether you’re dealing with frozen burst pipes or a summertime break, always turn off your home’s electricity at the breaker box before beginning any busted pipe repairs.

2. Turn Off The Main Water Supply

Turning off the main water supply before repairing a broken pipe prevents water from continuously flowing and causing further damage to your property. 

Additionally, it provides a safer environment for the repair process, reducing the likelihood of slips and electrical accidents caused by water contact. 

Finally, cutting off the water supply can also prevent the pipe damage from worsening while you work to repair it.

To turn off your home’s water supply, look for a wheel or lever-style valve in your basement, garage, or outdoors near the street, often positioned on a wall or in a box underground. 

3. Document The Damages

Document water damage to property and belongings by taking pictures. This helps streamline the process when you’re ready to file your homeowner’s insurance claim.

4. Thaw With Care

If you have to thaw out frozen pipes, take every precaution to protect yourself and your property.

To thaw frozen pipes carefully, start by opening the faucet that the pipe feeds water into. This will allow water to flow out as the ice melts, reducing pressure within the pipe. 

Use a hairdryer, heat lamp, or portable space heater to thaw the pipe. Aim the heat source directly at the section of the pipe that’s frozen, beginning at the section closest to the faucet, and gradually work your way to the coldest part. 

Avoid using any open flame, as it can damage the pipes or even cause a fire hazard.

5. Drain The Plumbing System

Turn off your home’s main water supply valve, then drain the system by opening all the faucets. 

Locate and fix the burst pipe with a temporary patch job. Let a licensed plumber handle extensive repairs.

6. Locate The Burst Pipe

To pinpoint the burst pipe, start by looking for visible signs of water damage in your home, such as discolored patches on walls, ceilings, or floors, or areas of mold or mildew. 

Listening for the sound of rushing or dripping water when the house is quiet can also provide a clue. 

If you suspect a burst pipe but can’t find the source, it may be located underground or within the walls, in which case you’ll need to hire a professional plumber for more help.

7. Fix The Pipe

Once you’ve found the broken pipe, use a pipe repair clamp or waterproof tape to seal the leak temporarily. Once the pipe is patched, contact a plumber for help with the permanent repair. 

This is important because burst pipes often indicate larger problems within your plumbing system, and only an expert can diagnose and repair those problems so they don’t continue to reoccur. 

8. Remove The Water

Mop up standing water, and lay down old towels or newspapers to soak up residual moisture. You may need to rent a shop vac from the home improvement center.

If the busted pipes are behind a kitchen wall, be prepared to completely dry out all adjacent cabinets and drawers after finishing repairs and cleanup.

9. Dry And Dehumidify The Area

Set up as many fans as possible in the water-damaged area. Plan on letting them run 24/7 for three or four days. A large dehumidifier can speed up the process.

If the humidity outside is high, don’t open the windows to dry the area out. Instead, run the air conditioner at a lower temperature than usual.

10. Know When To Call The Pros

Call a water damage professional if you’re dealing with extensive water damage from a burst pipe. They have the expertise and equipment to do the job quickly and efficiently.

For example, our teams address pipe repairs, take care of water extraction and handle all cleanup and restoration. We even help with filing your homeowner’s insurance claim.

How To Prevent Burst Pipes

  1. Ensure pipes are properly insulated, especially those in unheated areas like garages and basements.
  2. Keep your home’s thermostat set to the same temperature day and night – while reducing the thermostat temperature at night may save you money on your heating bills, it will also leave you vulnerable to burst pipes. 
  3. If you’ll be gone for an extended period during cold weather, leave your thermostat set to at least 55 degrees to prevent your pipes from freezing. 
  4. Install pipe sleeves or heat tape on exposed water pipes. If you don’t have any of these things on hand and it’s an emergency, use newspaper – even ¼” of layered newspaper can protect pipes in exposed areas, as long as they don’t experience prolonged, below-freezing temperatures. 
  5. Seal any cracks or holes on the outside walls and the foundation of your house to limit cold air exposure to your pipes.
  6. Allow faucets to drip slightly in extreme cold to relieve pressure and prevent freezing.
  7. Add insulation to your basement, attic, or crawl spaces to maintain higher temperatures in these vulnerable areas, even in cold weather. 
  8. Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses, shutting off indoor valves supplying these outdoor access points.
  9. Know the location of your home’s main water shut-off valve so you can turn off the water quickly if a pipe bursts.
  10. During particularly frosty periods, open cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate the plumbing.
  11. If possible, relocate exposed pipes to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Dealing With A Burst Or Leaking Pipe In Your Chicago Home? We’re Here To Help!

professional water damage restoration

Once you know what to look for, it’s so much easier to catch a busted pipe leak before it causes serious damage. Knowing how to handle this plumbing problem can keep a bad situation from getting worse.

Sometimes, fixing a burst pipe leak can turn into a big DIY headache. We’re here for you with a full line of water damage and home repair services, and we answer our phones 24/7.

When you need emergency water leak cleanup in Chicago or the suburbs, just give us a call here at ServiceMaster by Zaba: 773-647-1985

Why do pipes burst?

Corrosion in older pipes weakens joints and seals. Pressure from tree roots or shifting soil damages pipes. High levels of calcium and magnesium in hard water cause pipe failure too. Winter weather often results in frozen burst pipes.

How long does it take for frozen pipes to burst?

Water begins to freeze inside pipes when the temperature hits 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on their location, pipes can freeze in as little as two hours. On average, most pipes freeze hard enough to burst in three to six hours.

Will water continue to flow if a pipe bursts?

Yes. As long as the valve on the main water line coming into the house is open, water continues to travel through the pipes. That pressurized flow results in water continually spewing out of a burst pipe and into your home.

Does building insurance cover burst pipes? 

Yes, building insurance typically covers damage caused by burst pipes as part of its standard coverage. This includes the cost of repairing the pipe itself and any damage to the building structure resulting from the water. However, it’s important to check your specific policy details, as coverage may vary depending on the insurer and the policy you have chosen. Additionally, insurance companies often require homeowners to take reasonable steps to prevent such occurrences, like maintaining a heated home in cold weather to prevent freezing.