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Why Are My Pipes Hammering?

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For many homeowners, the noise from pipe hammer (aka “water hammer,” or the plumbers’ term, “fluid hammer”) is a fact of life—as common as a passing train or noisy traffic. While some may get used to the noise, it is important to understand its source in case the banging is a sign of impending pipe failure. If you’re wondering why your pipes are hammering, read on to learn more, and consult your plumber to learn how to resolve the situation.

The Physics Behind the Noise

The water hammer problem arises due to the high pressure involved in a home’s water distribution system. For example, two families live in a duplex. In order to keep Family A from losing water pressure when Family B runs the shower (a common problem in older homes), the city must maintain a high pressure to the water main’s supply to each home. Often this is greater than a 100 psi (the pressure under 100 feet of water.) Until a faucet is turned on or a toilet is flushed, the water sits under great pressure. Then, when a water valve is opened, the water rushes from high pressure to no pressure. This creates a pressure wave that vibrates the pipes and emits a loud banging noise.

Can Water Hammer Lead to Serious Problems?

As a homeowner, you might assume that your plumbing system is designed to handle such changes in pressure. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. The banging noise is a audible manifestation of the enormous stress placed on the pipe distribution system. Each clang is essentially like a hammer hitting the joints and walls of the pipes, and excessive, continual stress can cause your pipes to burst. If you think your pipes are experiencing water hammer, it is essential to contact a high-quality plumbing professional as soon as possible—after all, burst pipes aren’t just costly to fix or replace; your furniture and possessions are in danger of being ruined, and a home with water damage can be detrimental to your health and the health of those in your household.

Fixing Pipe Hammer

Common methods of fixing pipe hammer include accumulators, surge tanks, and expansion tanks. Fixes often fall into two categories. The first involves pressure management, wherein the plumber installs a pressure valve into the home water supply to reduce the overall pressure. The second involves a device called an arrestor, which absorbs the pressure wave that leads to a hammer. Consult your plumber as soon as possible to learn why your pipes are hammering and how this annoying and detrimental phenomenon can be stopped.

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