What Causes Water Heater Failure?

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.

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