Pipes are used to direct all kinds of fluid or gas from one place to another – water, sewage, steam, and oil just to name a few. Water pipes and drainage pipes are the most common types of pipes found within a city. Running underground and within households in a complex maze, they are used to supply water to households and buildings and to direct the drainage from these structures to the city’s main sewage tunnels.
Effects of broken pipes
Broken pipes can cause major structural, environmental, and property damage yielding financial losses within thousands, even millions of dollars. Statistics from the SFIC (State Farm Insurance Co.) state that damage due to broken pipes alone over the past decade cost the U.S. insurance industry $4.2 billion.
Damage resulting from broken pipes can be widespread and extremely costly, increasing as the size and the rate of flow of the broken pipes grows. Pipes come in all kinds of sizes. Pipes that are nearest to the processing plants are the largest and usually start decreasing in size as they near the end-users such as households and the city’s service districts.
Numerous news stories detail the environmental damages caused by sewage from broken pipes. When the Edgewater Hotel’s 8-inch sewage pipe ruptured in Seattle, it discharged thousands of gallons of a mixture of laundry and toilet water into Elliot Bay. In Hillsborough County, a break in a 20-inch pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of sewage into a Sweetwater creek before it was repaired two hours later. All over the world oil spills from broken pipes have caused major environmental destruction and loss of animal life that has angered residents and environmentalists alike.
Water from broken pipes has affected numerous people as well. In fact, 1 out of 3 Americans will expect to experience water damage within their lifetime and a large number of these water damages will be due to broken pipes. In one news story, residents of a condominium complex spent a sleepless night sopping up water when a damaged water pipe from one lone condo caused water to overflow to the rest of the condominiums. In another, 126 touchscreen units used during voting were permanently damaged from a broken overhead water pipe easily costing a city $630,000 in losses for less than an hour’s water flow.
Broken pipes starting from the water meter, which are located within the house, are the direct responsibility of the homeowner whereas pipes that leak, starting from the meter pit to the street and beyond are the responsibility of the Service Authority. A home owner's standard insurance policy or flood insurance policy may cover the resulting water damage, depending on the cause of the faulty pipe.
Most damages caused by broken pipes such as restoring floors and walls that were damaged or replacing a carpet or furniture, will be covered by home insurance companies. Any water damage sustained from a water accident is covered by home insurance but damages that result from what is considered as poor maintenance will not be covered. The cost of repairing a broken pipe is not covered by home insurance.
Flood insurance covers water damages related to floods. Generally, broken pipes are not covered by flood insurance unless a flood caused the fault. Floods, as defined by the National Flood Insurance Program, are unnatural water incidents that partially or completely deluge two or more households or two or more acres of normally dry land in water.
Wherever a homeowner claims insurance, proof of damage will be needed in order for the claim to be processed. It can be a stressful task organizing and documenting items once any water damage strikes. Home owner's are advised to keep their important photos and videos, which can be used a s a proof for insurance companies, in a safe place.
It is also important for homeowners to inform their insurance companies of the accident as soon as possible so their claims can be processed immediately. The quickness of an insurance company’s response to an insurance claim will also depend on the home owner's ability to submit all required documents as soon as possible.
People shoulder the costs of water loss
Where there are broken pipes, there is cost, and where there is cost, there has to be someone to shoulder the cost. And remember, these are not going to be cheap.
Minor dripping, when left for a day can yield a surprising amount of water, driving up the water bill. The greater the damage and the greater the size of the pipe, the more expensive it becomes for the homeowner due to more water loss. The figures below pertain only to the cost of water loss and do not include the costs related to water damage.
Dripping from a faucet can waste 450 to 12,000 gallons of water a month depending on the rate of flow coming from the leak. This can add anywhere between $4 to $98 to the water bill. On the other hand, a crack in a water pipe will be even more expensive with water losses ranging from 3,600 gallons per month to 340,000 gallons per month based on the size of the crack. This means a 1/32 inch crack can yield an additional cost of $20 while a 1/4 inch crack will add a whopping $1,920 in extra water bill costs.
Many water systems made during the 1800’s are still being utilized by water utilities in older cities of the United States. These systems have to be overhauled and replaced as they near their life expectancy. According to the American Water Works Association, majority of the costs to improve these facilities will be passed on to water consumers through rate increases.
For example, when an old water tunnel made in the late 1800’s reached its life expectancy and ruptured, it yielded a stunning water loss of 36 million gallons a day. Up on the ground, hundreds of feet above, the amount of water flow was so vast that it instantly created a mile-long stream as well as a marsh the size of a foot-ball field.
Irrespective of where the water flows, in the end, tax-payers are going to shoulder the expenses resulting from water loss as well as the expenses needed to repair the broken pipes.
Repair broken pipes immediately
Broken pipes must be repaired immediately. If a homeowner encounters a broken pipe, the first thing to do is to turn off the source of water to minimize the amount of water loss. The next thing to do would be to inform the insurance company in case of any water damage. Finally, the damaged pipe should be repaired. Water is used in almost all aspects of everyday living and a water pipe that is broken can cause major inconvenience to the households and communities. Broken pipes can also be hazardous to the health as all kinds of debris and bacteria can enter the water stream and remain undetected.
Broken pipes can be detected visually by observation. If a surrounding portion of land is continuously wet or if there is a puddle of water that never seems to disappear, then it could indicate a disturbance in the water system. If you happen to come across a water leak, be sure to report it to the proper authorities.
The Service Authority that handles water utilities has an annual leak detection survey. Pressure loss, special hearing devices used to listen to the ground for leaks, and visual detection are just some of the methods used by employees of water utilities to detect leaks. Leakage in the water system is normally always present and it is estimated that 12-15 percent of processed water is lost to leaks although water service utilities try to keep it at a maximum of 10 percent.
Once a broken pipe is repaired, it will take a number of hours before the pipe can be used. Usually, a strong mix of chlorine is pumped into the newly repaired pipe to clean it and kill the remaining bacteria. Then a chemical that reacts with chlorine and destroys it, is injected to the mixture in the pipe before it is flushed out and water services will call the homeowner or affected community only after they are sure that it is safe to use the water supplied by the water pipe again.
Prevent broken pipes
The best thing to do is to maintain pipes regularly to prevent their damage. A frequent problem during winter is frozen pipes. When temperatures drop, if a pipe is not properly insulated, the water freezes and expands causing pipes to burst.
To prevent frozen pipes, before the onset of winter, pipes should be insulated where needed. Simply wrapping pipes that are susceptible to freezing with heat tape can save you a lot of money and energy from losses sustained from broken pipes. If a pipe freezes, a homeowner should not attempt to unfreeze the pipe but should instead call a professional.
So don’t pay the price of broken pipes. Remember, broken pipes can be prevented by regular maintenance, awareness, and good design decisions.