Pipe bursts in water distribution networks lead to water losses and a risk of damaging the urban environment. We studied hydraulic data and customer contact records of 44 real bursts for a better understanding of the phenomena. We found that most bursts were reported to the water company shortly after the beginning, and the negative consequences of the bursts were limited. However, smaller bursts that stayed unnoticed for a longer time period or larger bursts that began in the late evening or in the night were problematic to the water company that had no burst detection method installed. Detection of those bursts was critical to minimise the negative consequences, and a burst detection method could perform this task. We studied the relation between the size of supply area and the size of the bursts that can be detected. Therefore, we applied a heuristic burst detection method on historic datasets of eight areas varying in size between 1,500 and 48,300 connections. We found a correlation between the size of the area and the minimum detectable burst size and quickly detectable burst size. To reduce the risk of substantial water losses or damage to the urban environment, the burst detection method can effectively be applied to areas with an average demand of 150 m3/h or less.