What causes a bulge in a water pipe?

Bulging water pipes occur when there is an unusually large amount of pressure building up in the pipe. There likely is – or was – a blockage. The water then built up in one spot.

With nowhere to go, it pushed on the pipe. That caused the bulge.

If you notice a water pipe bulging in your home, it’s not a good sign. If left untreated, it could burst.

Once that happens, you’re looking at potentially thousands of dollars in damage – and a call to an emergency plumber – in a matter of minutes.

So you’ll want to spot those warning signs and act quickly.

In this blog, we’ll look at:

  • Common causes for bulging pipes
  • Summer and winter problems
  • Signs of an emergency
  • What to do if a pipe bursts

At Broadley’s, we get plenty of plumber repair calls about this both in the winter and spring. It’s most common in the cold weather.

But, second homeowners and property managers also spot these plumbing problems when they open homes for the summer in Avalon, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, NJ, and other shore points.

Fortunately, however, you may have spotted the problem before it became an emergency or a full-on disaster.

Now, it’s a question of finding the source of the problem and what to do about it.

Bulging water heater

First, we need to make a distinction. A swelling pipe is one thing. But, if there’s a bulge in your water heater – not the line connected to it – you need to call a plumber immediately.

The problem is that there’s too much pressure inside the heater. That’s causing the protuberance.

At this point, you’re on your way to heater failure. Or, worse: an explosion.

It’s rare but absolutely possible. And, it can destroy your home

So, have a professional check it out right away.

Frozen pipes can bulge

Frozen pipes are probably the most common cause of bulges in pipes. When the water in the line freezes, it expands.

With nowhere to go, it pushes out, causing the problem.

Actually, it has somewhere to go: Out.

Eventually, the pressure will rupture the pipe. Then, you’ve got a real problem: Dozens of gallons of water pouring into your home every minute.

So, you want to thaw that pipe before it ruptures.

Thawing a frozen pipe

First, turn off the water in the whole house if you can. Then, turn on the faucets, so the water has somewhere to go once it’s running.

From there, turn up the heat and warm the bulging spot. You can use insulation, a heating pad, or a space heater. Almost anything but an open flame.

If you catch it in time, you can prevent a burst. And, if you notice it in the summer, you avoided disaster over the winter.

Either way, have a plumber make sure it won’t leak or break down further over time.

Meanwhile, depending on the pipe, you also want to make sure these other causes aren’t at the root of the problem.

What to do if a water pipe bursts

You need to act fast if a water pipe bursts. At that point, it’s ruptured, and water is pouring out.

The first thing to do is shut off the water at the main coming into your house. It’s usually as easy as turning a lever. But, you need to know where it is first.

If your home has a basement, it’s commonly in the front of the house near the foundation wall. But, if you have a crawl space, it could be in there.

If there’s no basement, check near the water heater or kitchen sink.

After that, there’s not much more to do but call an emergency plumber and start removing the water.

Why do water pipes bulge or burst in the summer?

Of course, frozen pipes aren’t a year-round concern But, other factors can cause pipes to bulge or burst just as easily in the summertime. This can happen in the warm weather due to:

  • Tree roots
  • Rust
  • Hard water

In any of these cases, the problem is essentially the pressure. If something’s blocking water from getting through, it’s going to back up.

Tree roots in a pipe

You usually see this problem outside the house, not inside. But, a bulge is a bulge all the same.

The problem occurs when small roots make their way into tiny holes in your plumbing.

From there, they can grow, reach further, and expand.

Eventually, they’ll start outgrowing their confines. That’s when you start noticing bumps and protuberances in the pipes.

Rust can clog pipes and cause bulges

Depending on when your house was built, rust could be the culprit.

Most homes today have plumbing lines made of plastics and PVC. But, older homes used galvanized or cast iron piping.

If they rust, they’ll do so from the inside first. By the time you notice it on the exterior, it’s already pretty bad inside.

Meanwhile, enough rust can build up to cause a blockage. Then, you end up with a bulge from the pressure and water backup.

Hard Water

Hard water isn’t the biggest problem for the Jersey shore, but it crops up here from time to time. And, if it’s bad enough, it can cause a bulge or burst in your pipes.

Hard water is water with high mineral content. It’s usually minerals containing calcium and magnesium.

It’s usually fine to drink but can cause sediment buildups if there’s too much of it. That’s why you hear about people using water softeners.

Why we see bulging water pipes in Avalon, OCNJ and other shore points

Bulging water pipes are certainly not unique to South Jersey. But, over the years, Broadley’s has noticed some trends in this area.

First, many homes near the beach have exposed plumbing for outdoor showers. And, many of the homes have crawl spaces that aren’t insulated.

These conditions leave the lines open to the elements. You can end up with frozen water, invasive tree roots, or rust.

Then, there all the second homes and rental properties here. In a lot of cases, no one is in the house for a good chunk of the year.

Without anyone there to spot a problem, it can get worse over time.

That’s especially so in the winter when freezing water inside the lines is a problem.

Never ignore a bulging pipe! Even if everything seems fine now, a disaster could be around the corner. Call Broadley’s right away for an inspection.