Do Pipes Expand in the Heat, and Should I Worry About It?
It's one of those science lessons you never really forget: Matter typically expands a little when it gets hot, and contracts a little when it gets cold. This natural reaction tends to affect metal more than most materials, which raises an important question – can pipes expand in your house? Can it be caused by the changing seasons? We've got answers for you!
Does piping expand in the heat? Yes, it can! In fact, your whole house expands a little in the summer and contracts a little in the winter because of the temperature changes. Many times when you hear those creaks and groans that happen to every house, that's what is happening. Pipes, both plastic and metal, will also expand in the heat but how much depends on the material. Skilled plumbers know to look at the piping specifications, which show how much space should be left in brackets and holes to make room for the expected expansion.
Does that mean pipes expand in hot water, too? They can and often do. Every time you use hot water on a faucet, that water moves from your hot water tank – or similar setup – into your colder pipes. This causes most pipes to rapidly expand whenever hot water is used. If you hear rattles, bangs or other odd plumbing noises every time you turn on the hot water (and only hot water), it's probably this rapid expansion that is causing it.
Is this dangerous? Should I worry if my pipes make noise? You are probably all right, but it pays to make sure. Most pipes expand and contract without creating any damage or lasting problems. However, there are two issues that deserve professional attention: Incorrectly installed pipes without enough room, and rattling pipes that are damaging themselves. You can inspect pipes yourself for any obvious signs of damage, but when it doubt you may want to have a plumber take a look, too.
I still don't like the noise – can I do anything about it? If your pipes seem fine but the noise is getting on your nerves, call in a professional to take a look.