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Understanding Noisy Water Pipes

Jul 17, 2008
The sound can reverberate throughout your house and be loud enough to scare your pets. Water hammering typically manifests through a loud initial noise followed by thrumming vibrations. Noisy water pipes are a common problem that can usually be fixed easily. But, fixing them requires knowing why the problem is happening in the first place. In this article, we'll describe what factors in your home's plumbing are causing your noisy water pipes. Then, we'll tell you what you can do to quiet them down.

What's Happening Down There?

Usually, noisy water pipes happen when the water that is shooting through a pipe comes to a sudden stop at a valve that is closed. While fluid, water isn't flexible when it comes to a grinding halt in your pipes. It isn't able to compress (like an marshmallow, for example). So, when the water meets a closed valve after shooting at high speeds down a pipe, it crashes into the valve and creates the initial loud thud. Plumbers call this event "water hammering."

The valves at the end of your pipes aren't supposed to close quickly. They're designed to close slowly, specifically to prevent water hammering from occurring. But, the gaskets that close the valve can deteriorate. If they become brittle, they may stop working altogether. When that happens, the gaskets are unable to prevent the valve from closing quickly. As a result, the water that goes through the pipe slams unexpectedly into the valve, causing the loud thud. Unfortunately, the problem can become worse if it's not fixed. The repeated impact of the water against the closed valve can actually damage the connections throughout the pipe over time.

Most homes today have air chambers built into certain locations throughout the plumbing to prevent the valves from closing so quickly. The air chambers are supposed to provide a cushion between the water and the pipes. Unlike water, air compresses easily. When water is shooting toward a valve, the air in the air chambers absorbs much of the impact by compressing around the water.

Fixing Your Noisy Water Pipes

The best (and easiest) way to fix the water hammering problem is to refill the air chambers. It's not as hard as it may sound. Though the air chambers are typically located throughout your house and are difficult to see, you can do this without getting near them. First, turn your house's water supply off. Then, turn on a few faucets throughout your home in order to drain the pipes. If possible, try to locate the faucet at the lowest point in your home. Turn it on and let gravity drain the last of the water from your pipes.

Draining the water automatically fills the pipes with air. In effect, draining the pipes refills the air chambers. Once you've drained the water, turn your home's water supply back on. When you do this, you'll probably hear the air being forced from the faucets that were left on after initially draining the pipes. Chances are, once you do this, you'll have resolved the water hammering problem. Of course, if the issue persists, call a professional who can help. If allowed, water hammering can severely damage the pipes.
About the Author
John Molar is a self taught plumber who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Well, as long as it's his own house. When he's not busy remodeling the kitchen and bathroom, he writes about the Ridgid Pipe Threader and the Ridgid Die Set.
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