Return to the Blog Home Page

What Causes Water Heater Failure?

Thursday, December 31st, 2020
water heater failure

A water heater failure is a frequent cause of home water damage. At least 75% of water heaters will fail before 12 years of operation. The average cost of damage caused by a ruptured water heater tank exceeds $3,000. For these reasons, most plumbing experts advise preemptive replacement of water heaters when a unit reaches eight to 10 years old.  In addition to the age of the unit, other predictors of potential water heater failure include:

  • Water gets warm but never hot enough
  • Unit makes a rumbling sound when heating
  • Hot water appears rusty or mud-colored
  • Minor leakage beneath the unit

Some causes of water heater failure may be preventable, others are issues you can only stay aware of and be prepared to replace the unit before tank failure and subsequent water damage occurs. Here are some issues that affect the incidence of water heater failure:

  • Internal rust and corrosion. Water heater tanks are subject to internal corrosion that may accelerate eventual water heater failure. Most heaters incorporate sacrificial anode rods to reduce corrosive effects inside the tank. However, anode rods may dissolve before the typical lifespan of the unit has expired and thus need to be replaced. A qualified plumber can check these internal tank rods and replace them if necessary.
  • Sediment accumulation. Dissolved minerals naturally present in hard water commonly accumulate in a layer at the bottom of water heater tanks. This causes the water heater burner to run excessively long cycles to maintain water temperatures, overheating the tank itself and eventually triggering water heater failure and subsequent water damage. Water heaters should be flushed out at least once a year to remove mineral deposits.
  • High water pressure. Residential water pressure should ideally remain in the range of 40 to 60 p.s.i. and never exceed 65 p.s.i. Higher pressure stresses water heater tanks and may make premature water heater failure more likely. A plumber can check household pressure and, if necessary, make necessary adjustments at the pressure reducing valve on the incoming supply line to prevent damage to the water heater, pipes, and other fixtures.

Is an On-Demand Water Heater Safer Than a Traditional Storage Tank Water Heater?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

On-demand water heaters—also known as tankless heaters—provide certain advantages over the traditional storage tank models. Because a tankless unit produces hot water only when it’s actually needed, no water is stored between uses. Heat loss from the tank is therefore not a factor, nor is the extra energy consumption required to repeatedly re-heat water in the tank. This usually means lower operating costs.

But what about their safety? It’s important to note that safety is largely a function of proper installation by a qualified professional and regular maintenance. Neither type of water heater is inherently dangerous; both are engineered and certified for safety and meet building codes. Here are a few comparisons between on-demand water heaters and traditional storage tank heaters.

  • Combustion fumes. Both storage tank and tankless models produce toxic combustion gases that must be properly vented, including carbon monoxide. Because hot gases rise naturally, a traditional storage tank heater passively vents upward through the roof. However, a tankless heater is typically installed horizontally, so the vent pipe often extends through an exterior wall instead of the roof. Therefore, tankless models usually incorporate an electric exhaust fan to safely force fumes outside. With proper installation and recommended preventive maintenance to ensure proper venting, the safety factor between the two units is approximately equal.
  • Water damage potential. The tank utilized in a conventional water heater is subject to corrosion. Most storage tank water heaters begin leaking before they are 10 years old. If the tank ruptures completely—a not uncommon event—severe water damage (as well as resultant toxic mold contamination) may occur as water from the tank and inlet pipe flood the house. Because an on-demand water heater does not utilize a storage tank, damage associated with tank rupture is eliminated.
  • Fire hazard. Older storage tank models typically utilized a pilot light to ignite the main burner. This continuous open flame could present a hazard in certain unusual circumstances. Today, newer tank water heaters incorporate electronic ignition. Similarly, most new tankless heaters also incorporate an electric igniter and do not utilize an open flame pilot light.

Are Tankless Water Heaters More Reliable Than Full-Tank Models?

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

tankless water heaterThe tankless water heater market share continues to surge in the U.S. Within five years, tankless units are predicted to represent fully 25% of all residential installations. The primary factor driving this shift from traditional water heaters to tankless models is simple: no tank. That big, 30 to 50 gallon storage tank has always been a major drawback in water heater reliability and efficiency. Here’s how tankless models improve upon the conventional design:

Improved Reliability

Often requiring replacement in less than 10 years, a common residential storage tank heater typically has the shortest expected service life of any major appliance in the home.

  • Mineral deposits naturally present in water accelerate internal corrosion inside the tank.
  • When these water heaters fail, almost 70% of the time the result is substantial leakage or even a total tank rupture.
  • Conventional storage tank water heaters are among the most common causes of acute indoor water damage. The average cost for water damage recovery after a major water heater tank rupture is over $4,000.

A tankless water heater normally lasts at least 20 years before requiring replacement. As with any plumbing fixture, minor leaks may result over time. However, since there’s no risk of a tank rupture releasing a large volume of water, the potential for major water damage is greatly reduced. Tankless units installed indoors typically incorporate a metal drain pan that effectively contains any minor leakage and conveys it away through a discharge pipe.

Enhanced Efficiency

Water inside a storage tank heater inevitably cools when the unit is on standby, requiring repeated reheating to maintain the desired temperature. This results in more gas consumption and higher monthly bills.

A tankless model heats water on-demand. When someone opens a hot water tap, the compact heater actuates and heats the flow of water passing through the unit. When demand for hot water stops, the heater shuts off.  Since there’s no water stored inside a tank, standby heat losses are eliminated and efficiency is enhanced. A tankless unit can be at least  25% more energy efficient than a storage tank model with similar capacity.

Tips to Extend Your Water Heater’s Life

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

water heaterHow much water damage can water heater leaks really cause? Consider the news report two years ago about a standard 30-gallon water heater in a state government facility that ruptured and released thousands of gallons, damaging 12,000 square feet of the building that cost over $100,000 to repair. A water heater is connected directly to the main water supply line. Flooding doesn’t stop when a ruptured tank empties. Hundreds of gallons of water per hour may continue to inundate your house.

Signs of small water heater leaks such as water pooling on the floor can be warnings of impending disaster or a relatively simple symptom that a qualified plumber can resolve:

  • Any leakage from the tank itself is a red flag that must be taken seriously. The heater should be shut down and the cold water valve that controls water flow into the tank should be closed. Then, call a plumber and get an estimate for a new heater as tank leakage is unrepairable.
  • A dribbling temperature/pressure relief valve on the side or top of the unit is unlikely to trigger major water damage. It’s an individual component that can be replaced by a qualified plumber without installing a new heater.

Water heaters have an expected service life of only six to ten years so replacement is something you’ll probably have to face more than once. You can help delay internal corrosion that accelerates tank leakage by flushing the tank once or twice yearly to remove accumulated mineral sediment.

  • Shut down the heater and close the cold water inlet valve.
  • Connect a garden hose to the drain valve fitting at the bottom of the tank. Run the other end of the hose outside.
  • Open the drain valve and drain the tank.
  • Open and close the cold water inlet valve several times to create a flushing effect inside the tank.
  • Close the drain valve and open the cold water inlet valve to refill the tank.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions to re-light the heater.

For more about prevention of water heater leaks or recovery from water damage caused by leakage, contact Rytech, Inc.

10 Places Water Leaks Can Occur in Your Home

Friday, February 27th, 2015

You can safely assume that home water leaks will happen at the most inconvenient time. However, that doesn’t mean all potential leaks are equal. Some areas are definitely more prone to home water leaks and the water damage that results.

(more…)

Suspect a Water Leak in Your Home? 9 Ways to Locate the Issue

Friday, February 7th, 2014

water leaksBecause home water damage often begins silently and secretly, it’s a good idea to locate a water leak while it’s still minor. Hidden water leaks cost money in higher water bills. At average rates, a single dripping faucet costs you $10 a month. Even worse, that minor leak may turn major and spawn flooding that requires professional water restoration. Before that happens, here are 9 tips to locate a water leak: (more…)