Hot Weather is Bursting Underground Pipes at Unprecedented Rates
Bushfires, heatstroke, pet fatalities in over-heated cars. We’re sadly familiar with the devastation that our intense summer heat can cause above ground. What’s less known is that the same heat can cause damage underground, costing you significant money and destroying property.
When soils dry out in the sun, they can contract, shifting and sometimes breaking pipes contained within them. In the last financial year, there were nearly 10 burst water mains per day, a sharp increase on the previous year. It’s not just the utility companies that need to worry though. Homeowners and businesses can also experience concealed leaks that drain water and potentially add thousands of dollars to their water bill.
Rod Crossley from Leaktech Australia explains the issue and what you can do.
How does heat affect underground pipes? We don’t often think about the underground impact of high temperatures – can you explain more about that?
Pipes are often only 60cm below ground. In fact in domestic installations, they are often less than 30cm deep as the ground levels change over years as people landscape, erosion occurs and owners create gardens without knowledge of buried pipe locations. (Dial before You Dig Plans do not usually include pipe locations on private property. People should ALWAYS use a certified, trained DBYD Locator even when digging in their own yards).
On hot days, the ground heats up gradually and retains heat. Over several days, this heat radiates downward eventually reaching the pipe. The pipe has water moving inside it and usually remains quite cool. The heating of the ground creates movement. The pipe doesn’t move but the ground surrounding it does. If pipes have not been buried surrounded by bedding sand which will negate the effect of this movement, the movement/expansion of the ground creates great pressures on pipes. Even rocks beside the pipes can be forced through the pipe by this movement over time. We see that many times each week.
This process is repeated constantly by the heating and cooling process and eventually the pipe is damaged to the point where it leaks. Often poly pipes underground are affected by this quicker than other pipes as the plastic fittings on the pipes get pulled and shifted by the movement. This creates leaks.
Water escaping from a hole in a pipe or a fitting under pressure is highly abrasive (see our earlier article on this subject). Small holes rapidly become big holes. Small leaks rapidly become big leaks.
Heavy rain on dry soil causes extreme movement as the ground absorbs moisture and swells rapidly. Conversely, drying soil causes the same issue but drying is slower than the wetting process. In drought conditions, there is more space around the pipe underground for the pipe to move with varying water usage. Reactive soils move dramatically while the pipe remains fairly stable. Pipes are damaged often as a result.
What type of pipes are most at risk?
Usually the least affected pipe types are welded/threaded steel and welded poly pipes. Virtually all other types of pipe are at risk. Welded copper pipes are not at so much risk but certain types of chemically reactive soils cause severe damage to buried copper pipes. They corrode. Similarly, where a metal pipe is joined to a plastic pipe underground, the rates of expansion and contraction of the dissimilar materials cause leakage issues as well.
LEAKTECH has observed all these issues over the past 34 years. We find around 50-80 buried leaks a week. We have located over 100,000 hidden leaks since we started specialising many years ago. Very few people or businesses have that cumulative knowledge. We think we have seen it all and yet every day a new one shows itself. Our in-house confidential staff training manuals provide the basis for our staff to identify problems which others will not know about.
What is the impact of these pipes bursting?
The cost of the loss of treated potable water is high. We all know what water costs. It is expensive to treat dam water to a level where it is consistently safe to drink. Our utilities do a remarkable job to achieve this. However, it is not just the loss of this valuable commodity that is an issue. The damage to pipes is very expensive but the potential damage to adjoining infrastructure is high. We have all seen news articles where roads have subsided and cars damaged. Lives can be at risk. In domestic situations, these issues are smaller but leaks do contribute to damage to surrounding items.
Critically in these extreme drought conditions, our responsible Utility owners are striving to locate leaks quickly to avoid unnecessary wastage. We cannot waste water!
What do you do for homeowners, businesses and utility companies?
If you’re a homeowner, LEAKTECH can check your whole property and house to ensure you are not wasting water and spending money unnecessarily. This usually only takes about an hour and gives you genuine peace of mind. If there is a leak, we will pinpoint it. If there are buried services like power or communications, we can locate them for you so that there will be no damage when repairing underground leaks.
Currently LEAKTECH is carrying out extensive leakage surveys for major utility owners (like QUU) locating leaks quickly. We have been surveying hundreds of kilometres of pipes a month in a proactive effort by utility companies to conserve the most precious commodity that we all need to exist.
LEAKTECH solves similar issues for businesses and are called in a couple of times during most weeks to locate leaks on critical fire service buried pipes.
Is there anything that can be done to reduce the risk of pipes bursting?
Sadly there is little that can be done to prevent these leaks once a pipe has been buried. There are standards in place for when pipes are laid which assist greatly. Unfortunately, over years, these haven’t always been followed. All we can do is to be water aware. Learn how to monitor your water meter (LEAKTECH can assist you, as can your water provider). Look for unexplained green spots in your lawn. They are often very obvious in these dry conditions. Why is that area always wet? Why is that one tree always green and healthy? Look for signs!
LEAKTECH can do these checks for you but we recommend that you become aware.
What sort of bill increases have you seen?
We have seen water bills for houses increase 600% in a quarter. If the leak is on your property or on your side of the water meter, you own the problem.
LEAKTECH will offer you the most efficient solutions every time. Our network of plumbing contractors associated with us can come quickly after we find the leak.