Can Your Water Heater Explode? Understanding the Risks

by Jessica Sawyer | Water Heaters

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Homeownership comes with its fair share of responsibilities, and ensuring the safety and comfort of your home and everyone in it is at the top of the list. But while you may be on top of some of the more obvious tasks, like unclogging kitchen sinks and tackling black mold from water leaks, one aspect of home maintenance that you may not know too much about is the water heater. For example, can your water heater explode?

Well, if you’ve heard stories or seen news articles about water heaters exploding, and causing all kinds of damage to homes, then you know that yes, it can happen. But is this something that you really need to worry about? And what steps can you take to prevent such a catastrophe? 

In this article, we’ll break down the risks associated with water heaters, go over some of the reasons and signs that it might explode, and provide a few practical tips for maintaining them safely.

How Does a Water Heater Work?

Before diving into the risks, let’s briefly go over how your water heater works. Basically, a water heater is an appliance that heats water and stores it for use in showers, baths, dishes, and other household needs. There are several types of water heaters, including:

  • Tank Water Heaters: These are the most common and store hot water in a large tank.
  • Tankless Water Heaters: These heat water on demand and don’t use a storage tank.
  • Heat Pump Water Heaters: These use electricity to move heat from the air or ground to heat water.
  • Solar Water Heaters: These use energy from the sun to heat water.

As you can imagine, each type of water heater works a bit differently, so we won’t get into the specifics here. But one thing that they do have in common is that they all need regular maintenance to operate safely and efficiently – especially if you’re trying to avoid an explosion.

Can Your Water Heater Explode?

Yes, your water heater can explode. But don’t panic just yet! The thought of dealing with an explosion is undoubtedly alarming, but understanding the factors that can lead one may just help you prevent it. 

Here are the main reasons a water heater might explode:

Pressure Buildup

Water heaters are designed to handle a certain amount of pressure. However, if the pressure inside the tank exceeds the safe limit, it can lead to an explosion. 

This usually happens because the pressure relief valve fails or is blocked, preventing it from releasing any excess pressure.

Overheating

Overheating is another common cause of water heater explosions. If the thermostat malfunctions, it can cause the water to overheat, creating steam and increasing the pressure inside the tank. 

And yes, this is as bad as it sounds. This combination of heat and pressure can be dangerous if left unaddressed.

Neglect

Water heater maintenance may not be on top of your to-do list, but lack of regular maintenance can lead to various issues that could trigger an explosion. Sediment build-up, for example, can cause the tank to overheat or corrode, weakening its structural integrity.

Signs Your Water Heater Is at Risk of Exploding

One of the good things about water heaters is that they’ll often tell you that there’s something wrong. And recognizing the warning signs of a failing water heater can help you take action before it’s too late. 

Here are a few that you should watch out for:

Unusual Noises

If you hear popping, rumbling, or banging noises coming from your water heater as it heats up, it could be a sign that it’s dealing with some sediment buildup or overheating. These noises occur when steam bubbles form under the sediment and burst.

Leaking Water

Any sign of leaking water around your water heater should be taken seriously, as leaks can weaken the tank and lead to pressure buildup. If this is the problem, then you should be able to spot pooling water or damp spots around the unit. 

Discolored Water

Rusty or discolored water can indicate corrosion inside the tank, which can weaken its walls and increase the risk of an explosion. So, if you’re noticing discolored water, it’s time to inspect your water heater.

Rotten Egg Smell

If you’re suddenly smelling rotten eggs, then it may not be your neighbor’s cooking – it could be a sulfur leak. Sulfur and flames don’t mix well, so be sure to contact a professional to address the problem as soon as possible.

Faulty T&P Valve

The T&P valve’s purpose is to open up only when enough pressure or temperature builds up inside the tank – not stay open all the time. If it’s leaking or stuck open, it’s not functioning correctly and can lead to dangerous pressure buildup.

Tips for Preventing Water Heater Explosions

While knowing the signs can help you recognize that there’s a problem, proper maintenance can help you prevent water heater explosions in the first place. 

Here are some practical tips to keep your water heater in good shape:

Regular Inspections

One of the best things you can do is schedule annual inspections with a professional to check for any potential issues. Regular inspections can help you identify problems before they become dangerous, especially if you’re worried that you won’t recognize the signs in time.

Adjust Temperature Settings

Always keep the thermostat set to a safe temperature, usually around 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). This helps prevent overheating, and as a bonus, reduces energy costs.

Drain the Tank

We’ve mentioned sediment buildup a few times in this article, so at this point you may be wondering: is there something I can do about it? Well, since sediment buildup is a common problem in water heaters, it can help to drain your tank annually to remove it and improve efficiency. 

If you prefer a DIY approach, then you can try following the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular unit. Or, consult a professional for help.

Test the Pressure Relief Valve

Check the pressure relief valve every so often to ensure it’s functioning properly. Just lift the valve’s lever, and then let it snap back. 

If water flows out and stops when you release the lever, the valve is working correctly. If not, then you should call in a professional plumber to replace it.

Water Plumber Pros Can Help You Avoid Water Heater Explosions

By recognizing the signs and following these maintenance tips, you can greatly reduce the risk of your water heater exploding. However, it’s always a good idea to have a professional plumber inspect your water heater every once in a while to ensure everything is in good condition.

At Water Plumber Pros, we pride ourselves on providing top-notch plumbing services including water heater inspections, repairs, and replacements. Our team of licensed plumbers can help you keep your water heater in excellent condition and prevent any potential disasters.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Click here to schedule a Water Pros Plumber online, or call (480) 459-4424 to address your water heater needs today.

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