Water hammer is a common plumbing problem. It's an annoying sound, a loud "bang" that can be quite startling. And while you may want to wish it away as simply one of those harmless everyday sounds, it can eventually damage your plumbing system. Learning the basics of water hammer and fixing it can save you thousands of dollars in repairs down the road.
How You Know If You Have Water Hammer
Water hammer, or hydraulic shock, is both a sound and a sensation. You'll be shutting off a faucet when a quite audible bang vibrates up the pipes. Because sound is vibration, it's often strong enough so that you can feel it under your hand as you hold the faucet or the handle. You may even see the faucet slightly jump.
The shock of water hammer can even cause dishes and glasses in cabinets to vibrate. You may also hear the sound resonate within the house's inner structure.
What Causes Water Hammer
Water hammer happens because water is shut off quickly. While sink, tub, and shower faucets can cause water hammer, more often clothes washers and dishwashers can cause water hammer because they can shut off water faster than by hand. These appliances use solenoid valves, which can close off in as fast as 30 milliseconds.
The alarming sound is caused by the sudden stoppage of water flow. This causes the water supply pipes to bang against studs, joists, beams, or even against other water supply or drain pipes.
Methods for Fixing Water Hammer
If you've ever seen mysterious lengths of 12-inch capped pipe extending from the supply pipes, these are air chambers meant to quiet water hammer. Filled with air, each pipe acts as a shock absorber for the water that comes to a sudden halt. Air compresses; water does not. This means that the air in the chamber acts as a cushion for the water.
This simple solution requires advanced plumbing skills for installation. Plus, air chambers can fill with water over time, so the pipes may occasionally need to be drained.
Water Hammer Arresters
A water hammer arrester improves on the idea of the air chamber by adding a chamber filled with gas or air that's sealed with a piston or a diaphragm. The diaphragm separates the water and the gas or air.
What Is a Diaphragm?
In plumbing, a diaphragm is a flexible disc that responds to pressure to form a seal, stopping water flow. Diaphragms are often made of various kinds of rubber, along with other materials.
A water hammer arrester is often spliced into the point where the water supply tube/hose meets up with a shutoff valve. With this method, no pipes need to be cut or sweated back together. Push-fit water arresters are also available.
Look for water arresters that are combined with a valve. Sometimes, space may be an issue, so be sure to purchase a water arrester that fits the space.
Water hammer can also occur when the overall pressure of the main water pipe entering the building is too high. Normal water pressure runs between 40 and 60 psi (pounds per square inch), and above this, the high pressure could be the source of water hammer. Very high pressure above 80 psi can also damage appliances.
In this case, installing a water-pressure regulator can solve water hammer issues. Where possible, it's better to install the water-pressure regulator at the location where the main water supply enters the home rather than installing multiple air chambers, because the device also protects dishwashers, toilets, and other appliances and fixtures against high water pressure.
Start by testing water pressure to verify that it is higher than normal. After installing the water-pressure regulator at the main water supply entry, adjust the regulator to a pressure below 50 psi.
Equipment / Tools
- Bucket or towel
- Tongue-and-groove pliers or adjustable wrench
- Old towels
- Water hammer arrester
- Plumber's thread seal tape
How to Fix Water Hammer With a Water Hammer Arrester
Turn off the Water
Shut off the water to the clothes washer, dishwasher, or other areas that experience water hammer. The device will usually have a shutoff valve that can be turned clockwise to shut off the water. In some cases, you may find an intermediary shutoff valve farther up the line. For installing multiple water hammer arresters, you may want to shut off the home's entire water supply.
Disconnect the Hoses
Use a basin to catch spilled water from disconnecting the water hoses. Have a few old towels nearby, too. Use tongue-and-groove pliers or an adjustable wrench to turn the hose fittings loose.
Install the Water Hammer Arrester
There are a few ways to do this.
Threaded: For threaded water hammer arresters, thread the device onto each valve or inlet. Turn the female fitting clockwise by hand, then tighten with the pliers.
Compression: For compression fittings, slide the compression ring against the valve, then thread on the compression nut and tighten.
Push-Fit: Push-fit water hammer arresters need no tools for installation (though removal does require a small plastic tool). Clean copper tubes of burrs. Make sure that all cuts are square. Push the fitting firmly onto the pipe.
Connect the Supply Tube or Hoses
Use the pliers or the wrench to connect the water supply tube or hose to the water hammer arrester. Tighten the connection.
Turn on the Water
Slowly turn on the water supply by turning the shutoff valve counterclockwise. If you shut off the water to the entire house, faucets may sputter before water begins running freely again. Use a flashlight to visually inspect the connections for leaks. Run every appliance on a water hammer arrester on one test cycle.