Signs of Premature Failure in Rubber Expansion Joints

Rubber pipe expansion joints are used in pipelines to limit the stress and strain on flexible pipes when there are changes in the pipeline’s diameter, and to provide flexibility in moving pipelines. Though rubber expansion joints are very useful in construction, they can also be subject to premature failure if you don’t know how to detect signs of fatigue or premature failure in rubber expansion joints. Here are some signs to look out for.

Proper Installation

Before installing your rubber expansion joints, it’s critical to make sure that you properly consult with a professional who understands exactly what you need and how to fit your project with a joint that is suited for your application. If you use pipe expansion joints designed for fluid lines and install them on non-fluid lines, they can become damaged very quickly—if not right away. Improperly used pipe expansion joints do not last nearly as long as those used on pipes that carry fluids.

Material Instability

You can’t tell from just looking at it, but rubber is a naturally unstable material. It expands and contracts on a day-to-day basis, sometimes by as much as half an inch. When you pressurise pipes with water, you add pressure to that change in size. If expansion joints are designed too loosely or aren’t properly maintained, they will not be able to withstand these forces and will eventually fail. Piping fatigue: Water hammer is an issue that plagues many industrial pipes.


The most common cause of premature failure is simply environmental conditions. As rubber ages, it becomes brittle, which means expansion joints are particularly susceptible to weathering. A simple way to check for signs of weathering is to feel each joint using your fingers; if it feels rigid or less flexible than you’d expect, it may need to be replaced soon. Any joint that shows signs of cracking should also be checked immediately since cracks can indicate early-stage cracking that will eventually lead to a joint failure.

Misuse / Misapplication

Misapplication is a less common cause for joint failure, but it can still be an issue. If a pipe expansion joint is mounted too far away from an expansion joint (either horizontally or vertically), there will be no room for movement, and it’ll break as soon as there’s any movement at all.


One clear sign that a pipe expansion joint is failing is heat at or near its seal. When a joint experiences excessive pressure, as it does with time, friction generates heat. The classic example is an under-damped car suspension: If one wheel falls into a pothole on an icy road, it jerks to a halt. But if you don’t tighten your shock absorbers enough, they let your car bounce through potholes without damage—at least until they overheat and fail.

Mechanical Damage / Stresses

Stresses and strains, as well as moisture and temperature fluctuations, will ultimately damage pipe expansion joints if they are not properly maintained. Maintaining your rubber expansion joints requires a two-step process: First, keeping them free from debris and other external stresses; second, monitoring their condition to identify potential problems before they grow into major issues.

Chemical Attack

When an expansion joint is subject to chemical attack, it can become very brittle, allowing it to easily break. This is a common occurrence when expansion joints are subjected to strong acids. To reduce your risk of acid-related damage, make sure that your chemistry lab has chemical-resistant pipe and fittings and you should always use hoses rated for high temperatures for transporting corrosive materials or products with high acid content. You should also make sure that any acidic products are kept out of contact with rubber parts at all times.

Improper Storage, Transport or Handling

If you’re planning to have an expansion joint installed, keep a close eye on how it’s handled. If possible, monitor it yourself or speak with your contractor about their specific handling procedures. In many cases, expansion joints are shipped via air freight from suppliers located all over the world; once these parts land on American soil, they typically have to travel between multiple distribution centres before finally making their way to your construction site.

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