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What to do When a Pipe Breaks

Insulating pipes (especially those on exterior walls and unheated areas) can help prevent freezing and subsequent pipe breakage. However, if a pipe has already burst, the time to try to prevent an emergency plumbing disaster has already passed. Instead, triage the situation using these steps:

  1. Turn off the water at the main water supply immediately.
  2. Diagnose where the water was coming from by finding the source of the pipe break. While it may be obvious if you were home when it happened, it may not be immediately clear if you came home to find a flooded floor or basement. When a pipe freezes, the area with the ice blockage stops the water and the building pressure causes the pipe to burst open at the weakest point, which can be further from the frozen area than you might expect.
  3. Turn on a faucet to relieve any lingering pressure in the system. 
  4. Take pictures of the damage. Your insurance company may need these to accompany the claim. Make sure you document the broken pipes well as any high value belongings that were damaged. This is best done before bringing in plumbing professionals to clean up the damage because they will likely remove and discard ruined items.
  5. Call a local emergency plumber to repair the pipe and a restoration company to clean up the mess.

Additional resources:
What do you do when a pipe bursts?
The next steps after a pipe bursts
Calling an emergency plumber for a broken pipe
Common outdoor plumbing problems
What to do if a pipe bursts
When do pipes freeze?
If a pipe is frozen, will it burst?