A 3/4" copper water main has cracked below ground outside a house. This is the line which runs from the street and services and individual house. In extreme cold this pipe can freeze an burst causing costly repairs. This line is spurting due to remaining ice near the hole which breaks up the flow. The background is excavated dirt.
I remember it was last January of 2018. I got the call… My handyman calls to let me know that one of our vacant properties that we were rehabbing at the time had the pipes burst. I was both frightened yet calm. I knew this would happen but I didn’t prepare for it. The heat didn’t work on the property and the temperature has fallen below 10 degrees here in Chicago. I remember driving over to the property. Unlocked the doors, walked in and all I heard was the water gushing in the basement. As I walk down the stairs, I could hear it… The water dripping down the busted pipes right onto the floor. Luckily, the floor was not finished but I knew this is going to cause some trouble down the road with mold. Had I knew how to prepare for this, it would have saved me time, money and energy. A lot more than what I had to spend on fixing it. Luckily, I learned a few lessons from this and don’t make the same mistake like I did!
Before we discuss how to deal with pipes bursting and its aftermath, let’s talk about how we can prevent the pipes from bursting in the first place. If you live in an area where the winters can be frigid and harsh, you probably dealt with this before. If not, be prepared to deal with it as an investor.
Last winter, I worked with my management company that deals with over 200 units in their account. Of which, I own 75 units. For those that don’t know me, I live and invest in the greater Chicagoland area. Sometimes we experience a temperature as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Below is a video of an example. This isn’t my situation nor my video but this is just to show you what a burst pipe looks like.
In 2017 winter alone, We dealt with over 10 units that had their pipes burst. It was a nightmare of tenants not getting access to running water. Though the units may have had proper heating, the pipes leading up to the units may be exposed to the cold.
One particular property we had was vacant which made it all the more miserable since no one was in the property to heat it. Even worst, the property had no gas because we were still making repairs. This was something that simply lacked pro-activity… It costed me more money to fix the copper pipes as well as the damages that had occurred to the property. Here’s how I could have prepared the property for the harsh conditions…
If it’s vacant, turn the water main off.
If the property is vacant, shut the main off and make sure you run the water to empty the pipes from any water. That way, the water won’t freeze inside the pipe and thus bursting the pipe. I had failed to do this and it costed me hundreds of dollars in repairs. Another way that i could have prevented this was to make sure we had adequate heating in the property. I could have repaired the gas pipes sooner and had heat to the property. It was another costly mistake…
Check for the pipes close to the exterior walls.
Despite having the adequate heating in the property and your tenants are occupying the unit, you may have pipes running between the exterior and the interior walls. Especially pipes that run closely to the basement walls. Basements are generally cooler so pipes are exposed to the freezing temperatures much more than the other parts of the property. Make sure those pipes are insulated and are winterized. Another way I’ve seen landlords and homeowners prepare for the freezing temperature is installing a plumbing system that keeps the hot water flowing constantly to keep the pipes warm. This is called a two pipe system. While it costs little more money than your traditional plumbing, it can be beneficial in ways that your hot water will always stay warm and it keeps the water circulating with warm water, thus keeping your pipes warm.
Educate your tenants.
You can keep your tenants aware of the pipes bursting and how to properly check the pipes. By working with your tenants and keeping the communication open about this issue, you can take proactive actions to prevent the pipes bursting. It is also in the best interest of your tenants to have running water so your tenants will understand.
Now… What do you do AFTER the pipes have Burst.
Supposed you didn’t read this article or simply ignored it… 😉 Have no fear! Sometimes, it may be inevitable that the pipes have busted. It may be no fault of your own or you couldn’t have prepared for it. But you can still be proactive about how you can respond to the problem.
Shut the water off!! And fast!!!
First, shut the water off. This should he obvious. But if your pipes burst, you’ll start having the water gush every where. Not good… This can be damaging to your walls, structure, potential carpet/flooring damage. It will cost you more than just the pipes and the enormous water bill. If the water main is broken or frozen (happened to me), you’ll have to have the city or the village shut it off from the street. You cannot repair the pipes with the water running.
Call your handyman/plumber.
If you don’t have a handyman/plumber to call, call someone ahead of time and build that relationship early. Call them around October-November to find out if they have experience in repairing burst pipes. Most of them do. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re calling ahead in case the pipes burst over the winter period. That way, you can get in touch with your handyman/plumber right away without hesitation. Sometimes your plumber may be dealing with other customers and it may take 2-3 days just to get to you. In this case, have a backup plumber/handyman who can make the repairs.
Check for secondary damages.
Check to make sure where the water went. If you have a drain, you should be fine. But, check your walls, floors, studs, carpet, etc. You may have other damages if the water leaked into areas where it shouldn’t. This is a much bigger problem than the pipes or the water. Water damages can lead to weakened structure and mold issues in the future. Make sure your drywall is dry. (As the name suggests) and if it’s not, make sure you dry it. You can also rent dehumidifier from your local hardware store or simply buy one to keep your property dry.
Before winter season hits, make sure you are prepared! Especially if you live in areas where the temperatures can drop below freezing temperatures!