Is a Water Hammer Dangerous? (Top Issues)

Water hammer may seem mild and like a low-level problem, but it can wreak havoc on your pipes if left alone.

As a handyman, I have faced water hammers several times. The hydraulic pressure due to the interference with the air cushions (designed to alleviate the hammering effect or shockwaves triggered by water hammers) can damage pipes and valves and cause serious issues and accidents. Understanding the danger of the water hammer will fire you up to rectify the issue in time to avoid problems triggered by the water hammer.

Water hammer can cause damages that include but are not limited to:

  • Damage to fittings, valves, and pipes
  • Leaks that lead to mild flooding
  • Annoying clamoring sounds or shockwaves
  • Increased maintenance cost
  • Disease from eroded debris
  • Slipping and concussions

I’ll go into more details below.

What is Water Hammer?

graphic illustration for water hammer inside pipe
Video | Tameson

Briefly, a water hammer describes a knocking-like sound that emanates from inside the pipes or hoses as the water flows.

A water hammer is also known as hydraulic shock, characterized by water surges and shockwaves.

The Mechanisms of The Water Hammer

A water hammer happens when an open water valve in a sprinkler or plumbing system suddenly closes.

As a result, water slams it when the pump abruptly reverses water flow. The impact generates shockwaves propagated at the speed of sound between the valve and the immediate elbow in the system. The shockwaves can also be channeled within the water column after the pump.

Though it sounds mild, water hammer is a concern; do not simply tolerate it as it can cause tremendous problems.

The Dangers of Water Hammer

As aforementioned, a water hammer is both inevitable and dangerous. Some of the problems caused by a water hammer in life are the following:

A Water Hammer Can Damage Pipes Causing Leaks

Water banging or water hammering can cause leaks or burst the pipes. A lot of water in the pipes flows under high pressure. Water hammering concentrates pressure at one point that can eventually burst the pipe.

Water leakage is a big problem, especially if the water flow is metered. You may end up paying insane costs.

Additionally, water leaks may cause mild floods in the house or home compound that may damage electronics, books, and other things in a home.

Accidents

In small-scale situations, the leaked water increases the risk of slips and concussions due to leaky pipes causing low-level leaks around the house. You may consistently clean these and have them reappear or even ignore them and one day slip over them. 

Water Pipe Erodes the Pipe

Similarly, the pressure and banging effect of water hammering may erode the pipe.

Issues can result from this effect. For instance, the debris due to pipe erosion can find its way into the human body.

Drinking metallic or plastic shavings can cause appendicitis. Appendicitis is caused by the accumulation of indigestible materials in the appendix. The appendix inflames, and it may result in death.

In some cases, the metal debris is carcinogenic, and one may contract cancer. 

A Water Hammer Can Damage Water Fittings and Valves

Your maintenance cost can spiral due to the water hammer. The gushing water can damage the fittings and valves, which are costly.

So be sure to regularly check the condition of your pipes and spring to action whenever you notice mild signs of water hammer.

Water also affects the functionality of the gasket joints and welded sections, and the general integrity of the water system is compromised.

Annoying Water Clamor

The repeated clamoring sound triggered by the water hammer is irritating.

Many individuals are mentally affected by the clamoring sound; imagine hearing this sound daily and at night, preventing you from sleeping or sporadically waking you up. You may not realize it, but small sounds like this waking you up throughout the night may interrupt your REM sleep which is the state of deep sleep, and cause you to wake up tired and unrested; when compiled over months, this can affect your mental health.

As silly as it may seem, a water hammer is a serious concern.

Check Valve Failure in a Paper Mill

A case study of the effects of water hammers in paper mills reveals check valve failure; sadly, the problem can spread to another pipeline system within the infrastructure.

Why Are You Hearing Water Hammer?

The sudden interruption of water flow in pipes causes shockwaves. Every time the tap shuts off, it cuts the water flow in the entire system, triggering shockwaves.

In a typical situation, you shouldn’t hear the shockwaves because the plumbing system has air cushions to screen off the shockwaves.

So if you hear the shockwaves, issues obstruct the air cushion formations. 

Such problems include the following:

Poor Plumbing

Poor installation of plumbing equipment like water taps can result in such a problem. For instance, if you notice a water hammer just after the installation of new equipment, then that’s likely to trigger.

Besides, too old a plumbing system can also fail to cushion the water hammer.

Limescale Build-up

Water with high concentrations of magnesium, calcium, and iron can cause the development of limescale which can build up and eventually hinder the air chambers from draining properly, causing water to hammer. (1, 2, 3)

So, regularly check your pipes and hoses to curb Limescale build-up in your water systems.

How Water Hammer Affects Plumbing

Water hammers can make plumbing difficult since it causes damage to the pipes, gasket joints, fittings, etc.

You will have a problematic plumbing system if the situation remains unfixed.

Wrapping Up

Make it a point to inspect your water systems frequently and renovate them whenever necessary to avoid the consequences of water hammers. You can always seek professional service if uncertain or stuck.

I hope this guide is enlightening and a call to action.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.




References
(1) magnesium – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
(2) calcium – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/
(3) iron – https://www.rsc.org/periodic-table/element/26/iron

Video References

Tameson

Waterjet Channel

About Sam Orlovsky

b1d87d2ee85af3e51479df87928bdc88?s=90&d=mm&r=gI realized early on carpentry was a huge passion for me and I’ve stayed in the industry for over 20 years now. This gives me a unique ability to really be able to tell you what the best tools and recommendations are. I’m not only a carpenter but I also like machinery and anything to do with electrics. One of my career paths starting off was as an apprentice electrician so I also have a lot of experience with electrical products and anything related.