How Do You Know If Your Pipes Burst?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: October 19, 2022

It’s not a good situation. Carpets are soaked, walls are wet, and you’ve put in the call for help. While you’re taking care of cleanup and water damage at home, repair crews are on the way, but you keep asking yourself the same questions.

How could you miss the signs of a busted water pipe? Were there obvious clues that you just didn’t notice?

It’s a very frustrating situation. Our teams restore water-damaged properties all across Chicago, so we understand. We hear both questions almost every day, and we have your answers.

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

11 Serious Warning Signs of a Burst Pipe

water pipe burst

Not all busted water pipes flood the house in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes, a break results in a slow leak that eventually causes extensive water damage to your property and belongings.

This type of plumbing problem isn’t always dramatic, but it can become very serious.

Be on the alert for these seven symptoms of a slowly leaking burst pipe.

1. Water Pressure Goes Up and Down

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

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

2. The Water Doesn’t Look Right

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 housecleaning talents, it’s probably taking advantage of the damp environment created by a burst pipe.

6. You Can Hear the Water

If it isn’t running somewhere in the house, you shouldn’t hear the water. 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.

7. The Pipes Are Making Noises

A busted pipe affects water pressure throughout the entire house, and that creates 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.

8. 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.

9. The Water Bill Is Too High

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 begin to see alarming spikes in the monthly water bill.

10. Water Stains on the Ceiling

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

11. 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.

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

How to Tell if a Pipe Burst Underground

frozen burst pipe

You may notice puddles of water in the yard, whether it is from improper drainage, pooling at the bottom of a slope, or a burst pipe underground.

If you notice unusual water puddles in your yard, be aware of other signs that could be due to a burst pipe.  

If you think a pipe burst underground and believe it is the cause of a water leak, don’t ignore it.

Water leaks can cause significant damage to your house and lead to pricey repairs.

One sign you may notice right away is a sudden change in your water bill. Unless you have people staying with you or have been actively using more water for whatever reason, the water bill should be about the same amount each month. If you notice a steady increase in the past few water bills, this can be a sign.

In addition to the increase in your water bill, your water pressure may be lower. If your municipality has not notified you about this, it could be due to a leak.

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.

Sinkholes or potholes can be an indicator of a cracked pipe. No matter what the cause, this is a huge issue. You may also notice a cracked driveway or bulging in your pavement.

Other signs there is an underground water leak inside include:

  • You notice a drop in water pressure while using your plumbing appliances 
  • Splashing noises
  • Hissing noises
  • Water that has a dirty or rusty appearance
  • Increase of mold in your home
  • Water-loving insects swarming your home
  • Foul smells such as sewage or mold
  • An increased water bill without any change in water usage

Other signs there is an underground water leak outside:

  • Wet spots or puddles on your lawn
  • Sinkholes or potholes
  • Sewage or foul odors
  • An area of your lawn that is oddly green
  • Paved areas, such as your driveway, are cracking
  • Flooding near or in-between sprinklers
  • An increased water bill with no change in water usage

If you don’t catch an underground burst pipe early enough, the foundation of your home can weaken, destroying the structure. This will make living in your home extremely unsafe.

What Do You 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 nine steps for dealing with a burst pipe at your home or your business.

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. Thaw With Care

If you have to thaw out frozen pipes before you can get started, be very careful. Take every precaution to protect yourself and your property.

3. Drain, identify and Address

Turn off your home’s main water supply valve, and 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 big repairs.

4. 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 homeowners insurance claim.

5. 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.

6. Start the Drying Process

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 speeds up the process.

7. Bring Down the Humidity

It’s tempting to open up windows in the affected areas, but be careful. If the humidity outside is high, it will slow down your progress. Instead, run the air conditioner at a lower temperature than usual.

8. Open Things Up

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. Know When to Call the Pros

If you’re dealing with extensive water damage from a burst pipe, call a water damage professional. They have the expertise and equipment to get the job done 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.

Dealing with a Water Leak in Your Chicago Home? We’re Here to Help!

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.