What Causes a Water Main Break?

What Causes a Water Main Break?

What Causes a Water Main Break - Delving Into When Pipes Burst

As we go about our daily lives, we often take for granted the luxury of clean water at our disposal. We turn on the tap to brush our teeth, fill a glass with water, or wash our hands without thinking about where the water originates from or how it gets to our houses.

However, there are times when our water supply may be disrupted, such as when a water main breaks. This can be a major inconvenience for both households and businesses, but have you ever wondered why a water main breaks?

Understanding Water Mains

To understand the reason for a water main break, we must first define what a water main is. Simply put, it is an underground pipe that carries water from a treatment plant to the distribution system, from where it is delivered to our homes and businesses.

Water mains are usually made of sturdy materials such as cast iron, ductile iron, or concrete. They can range in size from 6 inches to 10 feet in diameter depending on the size of the community they serve.

Common Causes of Water Main Breaks

According to this university study, water main breaks went up by 27% over a period of 6 years. Water main breaks can happen for various reasons, some of which are avoidable, while others are simply unavoidable. Some of the most common causes of water main breaks are as follows:


Age and Deterioration of Water Mains

One of the primary causes of water main breaks is the age and deterioration of the pipes themselves. Many cities and towns have water infrastructure that is decades old, and over time, these pipes can weaken and become more susceptible to breaks. Aging pipes often experience corrosion and erosion, which can lead to cracks and leaks.


When water mains were initially installed, they were designed to last for a certain lifespan, usually around 75 to 100 years. As these pipes approach the end of their intended lifespan, the risk of breaks increases significantly. The materials used in older pipes, such as cast iron or concrete, may not be as durable as modern materials, making them more prone to failure.


The overall condition of the water main system, including the quality of maintenance and repairs performed over the years, can also contribute to the likelihood of breaks.


Extreme Weather Conditions

Extreme weather conditions are another typical cause of water main breaks. Freezing temperatures, for example, can have a devastating effect on water infrastructure. When water freezes, it expands and puts tremendous strain on the pipes. Because of the pressure, they may crack or rupture, resulting in water main breaks.


Water main breakdowns are more common during the colder months in areas with hard winters. The repeated freezing and thawing cycles might weaken the pipes and make them more prone to failure. Similarly, extreme heat can affect water mains, especially if they are exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods. High temperatures can cause pipe expansion, resulting in cracks and breakage.


Construction and Excavation Accidents

Accidents during building and excavation projects can cause water main breaks. There is a risk of accidentally destroying existing water mains when digging near them. Heavy machinery or equipment can impact or crush the pipes accidentally, causing them to break.


Before beginning any excavation work, construction personnel must have correct information about the position and depth of water mains. This can aid in the prevention of unintentional damage and subsequent water main breaches. To reduce the likelihood of such accidents, proper communication and coordination between construction companies and municipal water utilities are required.


Corrosion and Pipe Materials

Corrosion is another major factor that contributes to water main breaks. Because of the interaction between the water and the materials used in their construction, the pipes might corrode over time. Corrosion weakens the structural integrity of the pipes, making them more susceptible to breaks.


The material used in water mains might also affect their corrosion resistance. Older cast iron or galvanized steel pipes are more prone to corrosion than newer pipes composed of materials such as ductile iron or PVC. When it comes to preventing water main breaches and maintaining the longevity of the water infrastructure, the choice of pipe material is important.


Water Temperature Changes

Water pressure fluctuations can also contribute to water main breaks. When there are sudden pressure changes in the water distribution system, the pipes may not be able to withstand the stress and may rupture as a result.


Water pressure fluctuations can occur for a variety of causes, including changes in demand, water valve function, or pumping station faults. Water providers must regularly monitor and adjust water pressure to reduce the possibility of breakage. Proper pressure management can help ensure the long-term integrity of the water main system.

Signs of a Water Main Break

Detecting a water main break early is essential to minimize the damage and disruption caused. Being aware of the signs can help prompt timely action.


  • Sudden decrease in water pressure: One of the telltale signs of a water main break is a sudden decrease in water pressure. If you notice a significant decrease in water flow from your taps or showers, it could indicate a break in the water main. This is especially true if the decrease in pressure is accompanied by a change in water color or unusual noises coming from your plumbing system. 
  • Discolored or cloudy water: Another sign of a water main break is the presence of discolored or cloudy water. When a water main breaks, it can introduce sediment or dirt into the system, causing the water to appear murky or discolored. If you notice a change in the color or clarity of your tap water, it is wise to contact your local water utility to investigate the issue further.
  • Wet spots or pooling water: Water main breaks can cause water to seep into the ground, resulting in wet spots or pooling water in your yard or on the street. If you notice unexplained wet areas that persist even in dry weather, it could be an indication of a water main break in the vicinity. Reporting such observations to your local water utility can help expedite repairs and prevent further damage

Preventing Water Main Breaks

While some causes of water main breaks are beyond our control, some measures can be taken to prevent or minimize their occurrence.


Regular Inspection And Maintenance

Regular inspection and maintenance of water mains are crucial in identifying potential issues before they escalate into major breaks. This includes assessing the condition of pipes, checking for signs of corrosion, and promptly repairing any leaks or cracks. Implementing a proactive maintenance program can help extend the lifespan of water mains and reduce the risk of sudden failures.


Upgrading Aging Infrastructure

In many cities and towns, the water infrastructure is outdated and in need of significant upgrades. Investing in the replacement of aging pipes with more durable and corrosion-resistant materials can help prevent future water main breaks. Modern materials, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or PVC, offer improved longevity and resistance to external factors such as corrosion and freeze-thaw cycles.


Improved Coordination With Construction Projects

Accidents during construction and excavation projects can be minimized through improved coordination between construction companies and local water utilities. Ensuring that accurate information about the location and depth of water mains is readily available can help prevent accidental damage. Strict adherence to safety protocols and guidelines during construction can also reduce the risk of causing water main breaks.


Effective Pressure Management

Proper pressure management within the water distribution system is essential to prevent unnecessary stress on the pipes. Monitoring water pressure and implementing measures to regulate it can help prevent sudden pressure changes that can lead to breaks. 


Pressure-reducing valves and pressure monitoring systems can be installed to maintain optimal levels and prevent excessive strain on the water mains.

Get a Professional Inspection

If you suspect a water main break or notice any of the signs mentioned above, call Mainline Plumbing, professional plumbers in Federal Way. We will dispatch a team to investigate and repair the issue promptly.  Our expert technicians have the specialized equipment and knowledge to identify, assess, and repair water main breaks efficiently. With our help, you can prevent costly damages and disruptions to your daily routine.

Don’t wait until it’s too late – contact us today for a professional inspection of your water mains. 

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