Charleston's picturesque coastal location comes with a major downside during hurricane season. These severe storms can transform plumbing systems into nightmares, causing backups, contamination, and pipe damage that requires extensive repairs.
As locally owned plumbers serving Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan's Island and beyond, Climatemakers understands firsthand how devastating hurricane flooding and winds can be for Lowcountry plumbing.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain how hurricanes wreak havoc on plumbing, proactive steps you can take to minimize risks, and what to do if you experience pipe problems during storm season. With proper preparation and quick response, you can reduce the potential for hazardous and costly plumbing disasters after hurricanes strike.
Charleston's Vulnerability to Hurricanes
Situated along the southeast US coast, Charleston faces threats from both Atlantic hurricanes forming off Africa and storms that enter the Gulf of Mexico. The official season lasts from June 1 to November 30 when conditions are ripe for tropical activity.
Powerful cyclones occur when warm ocean waters generate areas of low pressure that strengthen into swirling storms. As these tempests make landfall, Charleston and surrounding coastal areas bear the brunt of extreme winds, storm surge, and relentless rain.
Major hurricanes like Hugo, Florence, and Matthew have proven no plumbing system is immune to destruction. Pipes, drains, water heaters and more all lie in the path of hazard. Ruptured supply lines, flooded drainage, and contamination create unhealthy conditions and require urgent repairs.
Being prepared and taking preventative measures are a homeowner's best recourse against plumbing disasters. But many pipe problems arise out of sight and don't manifest until days or weeks after the storm passes. Therefore, prompt response when issues emerge is key to minimizing damage.
High Winds Rip Away Critical Plumbing Components
Before landfall, spiraling hurricane winds can reach over 157 mph and unleash devastating force. Roaring gusts tear off shingles, signs, siding, and ventilation systems. Exposed plumbing components like vent stacks and gas lines are especially vulnerable.
For example, loosened vent pipes allow sewer gas to enter living spaces and compromise indoor air quality. Battering winds can also uproot trees that fall and rupture underground water lines and supply pipes.
And when electricity fails, sump pumps cannot prevent groundwater flooding. Backup power sources are essential to keep water removal functioning during outages.
Relentless Rain Overwhelms Drainage
Torrential rainfall is another hallmark of hurricanes, with over 3 feet documented during some Charleston storms. When hundreds of gallons accumulate in a short time span, drainage systems cannot keep up.
Gutters overflow and drains back up, sending water into crawl spaces, basements, and living areas.
Gravity moves the floodwaters downward, soaking walls, furniture, and possessions. Standing water allows mold colonies to flourish and ruin water-sensitive materials.
Backflow prevention valves on drains should be installed to minimize the risk of backups. Still, excessive flooding can overpower these measures and require professional remediation.
Saltwater Corrosion Escalates Damage
Storm surge ahead of the hurricane pushes sea water levels 10 feet or more above normal. Coastal homes bear the brunt of these rising tides, which crash through structures and cause foundations to buckle.
This saltwater permeates into plumbing systems and begins degrading pipes and water heaters through corrosion.
The mineral composition eats away at metal components, weakening infrastructure integrity.
Even after drainage, residual sea water left clinging to pipes continues deterioration. Sections of supply lines, drains, and fittings made of copper, iron, and steel are vulnerable to saltwater corrosion over time.
Contaminated Floodwaters Spread Bacteria, Toxins, and Hazards
Floodwaters themselves pose immense health risks, especially when overloaded drainage systems send sewage streaming back into homes. Runoff also carries motor oil, pesticides, chemicals and other contaminants into compromised pipes.
Fecal bacteria like E.coli permeate porous walls, carpets, and insulation. Viruses, parasites, and mold spores also infest flood residue and linger. If supply lines leak, contaminants infiltrate drinking water, making it unsafe.
Entering flooded areas without proper protective gear exposes people to these hazards and poses respiratory, dermatological, and gastrointestinal risks. Yet exposure may be unavoidable during urgent plumbing repairs.
Warning Signs Appear After Floodwaters Recede
In the chaotic aftermath of a hurricane, some plumbing damage remains undetected initially. But warning signs tend to appear days or weeks later, including:
Persistent leaks or soggy areas from broken pipes or fittings
New visible corrosion around metal plumbing components
Strange gurgling noises from clogged or broken drain lines
Foul sewage odors wafting up from tainted drain lines
Discolored water flowing from faucets due to contamination
Visible mold growth around wet areas indicating backups occurred
These issues require immediate response to determine the underlying causes and prevent more severe secondary damage. Catching problems early better protects the rest of your plumbing system.
Steps To Take Before Hurricane Season Starts
Since Charleston faces hurricane threats annually, advance preparation makes good sense. Here are proactive measures to take:
Inspect all plumbing components for existing wear, corrosion and deficiencies. Replace outdated or damaged sections of pipe.
Install backflow prevention valves on drain lines and sump pumps to minimize sewage backups into the home.
Clear debris and vegetation around exterior pipes, drains and vents. Clogs can impede proper functioning during heavy rains.
Secure exposed pipes and water heater tanks to anchoring points so flooding cannot dislodge them.
Test sump pumps and generators for backup electricity to water removal systems.
Learn how to quickly shut off interior water valves in case supply lines rupture.
Clean gutters and underground drains to maximize floodwater flow and diversion.
What To Do If You Have Plumbing Damage
If leaks, mold or sewage odors arise after flooding, take these steps immediately:
Wear protective rubber boots, gloves, goggles and masks to avoid contamination.
Document all damage through photographs for potential insurance claims.
Shop vac standing water and remove soggy carpets and insulation.
Run taps to flush foul floodwater from interior pipes.
Call in professional plumbers to inspect and repair broken sections of pipe.
Replace damaged appliances like water heaters that leaked or became submerged.
Treat all floodwaters as hazardous waste and dispose of properly.
Allow time for comprehensive repairs before attempting to fully reoccupy.
Seeking Professional Drainage Inspections
Given the hidden complexities below floors and behind walls, having a licensed plumber complete a thorough inspection after major hurricanes is wise. Professionals can identify:
Compromised pipes needing replacement due to corrosion or contamination.
Blockages in main drains causing backups and flooding.
Appliances and fixtures damaged beyond repair.
Poorly secured pipes at risk of detaching in future storms.
Faulty backflow valves requiring upgrades to prevent malfunction.
They then make recommendations for necessary repairs and upgrades to restore plumbing function and storm readiness. It may make sense to replace entire systems after saltwater flooding rather than spot repairs.
Beware Long-Term Costs of Plumbing Damage From Hurricanes
While immediate pipe repairs after a hurricane are costly, long-term expenses may be steeper. Corrosion gradually weakens infrastructure stability over months. Undetected mold festers and ruins interiors. Chronic drainage issues put undue strain on systems.
All of these factors can lead to complete plumbing system failure and necessitate full replacement. Construction costs also rise significantly in the busy months after storms. It pays to be proactive with repairs soon after hurricane impacts rather than defer major issues.
Leverage Available Disaster Assistance
Given the extraordinary toll of hurricanes, government assistance programs exist to aid recovery. FEMA offers several types of help for homeowners hit by disasters. Plumbing inspections and repairs needed to restore sanitary living conditions may be covered.
Low interest Small Business Administration loans also help with rebuilding costs. And some insurers offer additional living expense provisions for homeowners displaced during repairs.
Consult FEMA and insurance agents about what coverage might offset damages not included under regular policies. Document all damage details, expenses, and claim information.
Protect Your Plumbing From Charleston's Hurricane Threat
Living in Charleston comes with the seasonal risk of hurricane destruction. From high winds and relentless rain to storm surge flooding, these storms can wreak havoc on plumbing systems. But with proactive maintenance and upgrades before hurricane season, you can minimize risks.
If you experience pipe damage, leaks, or backups after a major storm, contact Climatemakers right away. Our professional Charleston plumbers have the experience to handle all storm-related repairs and get your home's plumbing back in reliable order.
With the right preparations and response, you can reduce the potential for plumbing disasters during Charleston’s hurricane season.
FAQ About Hurricanes and Plumbing
What should I do to prepare my plumbing before hurricane season?
Inspect your pipes, clean drains, install preventers, and anchor appliances. Consider turning off main water lines if evacuating.
How can I prevent sewage backups during a hurricane?
Install backflow valves and avoid using drains if sewer lines are overwhelmed.
What are signs I may have hidden plumbing damage after a storm?
Watch for leaks, mold, and sewage odors in the weeks following a hurricane.
Should I get a professional inspection after hurricane flooding?
Yes, a qualified plumber can identify compromised pipes to prevent worse damage.
What types of repairs may be needed after hurricane damage?
You may need to replace sections of pipe along with appliances and components corroded by floodwaters.