At times, you may hear a clanging or banging in your home that coincides with your water usage. The loud clanging heard in your pipes when turning off a plumbing fixture or running a water-using appliance such as a washing machine is called a water hammer. Let’s delve into what causes this noise to happen, how it affects your plumbing and potential solutions for water hammer.
Water Hammer: The Causes and Symptoms
Water hammer is more than just an annoyingly loud noise and vibration. This plumbing condition, also known technically as hydraulic shock, can damage your plumbing system if not addressed. It occurs when a pressure surge of water is forced to stop or change directions suddenly. Since water can not be compressed, this abrupt stoppage or change in flow puts immediate internal pressure on your pipes, resulting in a noticeable hammer-like sound.
A leading cause of water hammer is when too much water gets into an air chamber within the pipe. Most plumbing systems have vertical pipes called air chambers. These air chambers provide space for shock waves to go to without producing noise. When too much water fills an air chamber, it reduces the size of the air cushion available in the chamber, making the hydraulic shock audible.
Besides the sound caused by the hydraulic shock, one of the potential symptoms of water hammer is noisy banging pipes. The banging noise comes from pipes that are not adequately secured in place. Loosely attached pipes allow excessive movement when there is an abrupt stop to the flow of water and a pressure change. If you hear your pipes banging, your water piping system may not be adequately secured to the home’s structural features.
Another cause of water hammer is high water pressure in your home. Besides pipes banging, other symptoms of high water pressure can include leaky faucets, water coming out in spurts when turning on faucets and toilets that run constantly or in cycles. The source of the high water pressure could be a faucet, an appliance or your municipal water supplier.
Lastly, another source of water hammer may be a specific appliance. For example, it could be a washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, ice maker or sprinkler system. Appliances use solenoid valves to stop the water flow. When the flow is stopped too quickly, it can send a shock wave through your plumbing system resulting in water hammer.
The Effects of Water Hammer on Your Plumbing
Water hammer can have detrimental effects on your home’s plumbing system. Many people assume when they hear water hammer that it is relatively harmless. However, the shockwaves it produces can cause cumulative damage to your overall plumbing system.
One negative effect of water hammer is that pressure spikes are created when valves open and close too suddenly. Pressure spikes caused by water hammer can over time lead to ruptured pipes resulting in extensive damage and major replacement work.
Additionally, water hammer can cause damage to pipe fittings, joints and connections. The extra stress put on these areas of your plumbing system can cause them to fail prematurely instead of lasting their anticipated lifespan. As a result, your system could develop minor water leaks that go unnoticed for extended periods, causing higher water costs and water damage.
Another adverse effect of water hammer impacts your pump and flow system, if one is installed in your home. Repetitive water hammer puts extra pressure on pumps, valves and instruments. Consequently, catastrophic failure could occur.
Over time, water hammer negatively affects your plumbing system’s fixtures and reduces their lifespans, including pipes, shower heads, toilets, dishwashers and hot water heaters.
Potential Water Hammer Solutions
If you continually hear water hammer occurring when turning off plumbing fixtures in your home, you should investigate the cause and take action. Here are a few methods for troubleshooting and resolving your water hammer issues.
The first area you should investigate when troubleshooting water hammer is in your air chamber. To verify that your air chamber is not filled with water, shut off the main water valve, and open the highest faucet in your home. Then, drain the water from the faucet on the lowest level in your home. Consequently, the air chamber will fill back up with air instead of water. If your water hammer problem persists, then it’s likely caused by another issue.
High water pressure in your plumbing system could also result in water hammer. Therefore, use a water pressure gauge to check your home’s water pressure. If the pressure exceeds 80 psi, you need to adjust or fix your pressure-reducing valve (also called a pressure regulator), thus resolving your high water pressure issue.
The sound from the hydraulic shock can be further exacerbated by noisy loose pipes that clang when they move. Therefore, you should stabilize your accessible pipes by installing straps or supports. Additionally, you should check existing straps and tighten those that are loose so that your pipes can’t move and make noise when under pressure.
Finally, water-operated appliances can cause water hammer. If there is a single appliance you discover causing your water hammer issue, you can install an in-line water surge arrester, also known as a water hammer arrestor. Surge arresters provide a cushion of air that absorbs the shock associated with water hammer.
Water hammer can harm your plumbing fixtures as the shockwave of water wears down on pipes, joints and connections. Therefore, it’s best to know how water hammer impacts your home’s plumbing and how you can determine the cause to find a workable solution. If you need assistance in pinpointing the cause of the hydraulic shock noise, plumbing repairs, or a solution for water hammer, contact our team at Atlas Home Services today.