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Can a Water Heater Explode? Understanding Risks and Prevention

July 31, 2023
Water Heater Explosion

Asking yourself can my water heater explode in my home can be terrifying. Even though, it is a rare event, it’s crucial to understand the causes, warning signs to prevent such a potentially dangerous situation.

Whether you own a traditional tank or a tankless water heater, this guide will help you understand water heater explosions.

Various safety mechanisms intervene to prevent this particularly rare phenomenon. However, there is no such thing as zero risk, and it is often the result of a combination of different factors.

Can a Water Heater Explode?

The short answer is, yes, a water heater can explode. When a water heater tank builds up excess pressure or overheats, it can lead to a hot water heater explosion. This can happen due to malfunctioning safety devices, poor maintenance, or a gas leak. Fortunately, understanding the risks and recognizing early warning signs can help prevent a water heater from exploding.

Causes of Water Heater Explosions

Excess pressure is the primary cause of water heater explosions. When the water heater tank heats up, the water expands, leading to increased pressure. If the temperature and pressure relief valve (TP valve), is faulty or blocked, it can lead to a buildup of pressure in the tank, resulting in an explosion.

These valves are designed to release water when temperatures and pressure reach dangerous levels.

Similarly, if the thermostat controlling the water temperatures fails and allows the water to reach boiling point, the tank can explode due to steam pressure. This situation can occur in both gas and electric water heaters.

Gas water heaters can also explode if there’s a gas leak. When the gas accumulates and is ignited (by a spark or flame), it can lead to an explosion.

Water Heater Explosion Warning Signs

Detecting the warning signs of a potential water heater explosion is crucial to preventing an accident. Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. Popping noises: Sediment buildup at the bottom of the tank can cause the water heater to make popping or rumbling noises as the unit heats the water. This buildup increases pressure in the tank and can lead to an explosion if not addressed. Protect the inner shell of your heater by installing the Corro-Protec powered anode. This new technology will prevent the sediments from gathering at the bottom of the tank.
  2. Leaking Pressure Relief Valve: If your pressure relief valve is leaking water, it could mean it’s frequently opening to relieve excess pressure, signaling a problem.
  3. Extremely hot water: If your water temperatures suddenly rise, it could indicate a faulty thermostat, which can cause excess pressure.
  4. Brown water: Rusty or brown water coming from your heater can signify a corroding tank that could eventually fail.
  5. Rotten egg smell: A sulfur smell can signal a gas leak, which is a serious hazard and should be addressed immediately.

Preventing Water Heater Explosions

Preventing a water heater explosion involves regular maintenance and prompt response to any signs of malfunction. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Regular Inspections: Have your water heater inspected by a professional annually. They will check the TPR valve, clean out any sediment, and ensure all components are functioning properly.
  2. Temperature Check: Ensure the temperature setting on your water heater doesn’t exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher settings can lead to excess pressure and risk of explosion.
  3. Install a Pressure Relief Valve: A pressure relief valve will release excess pressure. If the water heater tank pressure reaches dangerous levels, the valve will take over.
  4. Sediment Flush: Flush the tank annually to remove any sediment that could cause the tank to overheat and increase pressure.
  5. Replace Old Units: If your water heater is old and showing rust or leaking, it may be safer to replace it. Those signs of decline are important to acknowledge.
  6. Ensure Adequate Installation: When installing a new tank water heater or a tankless water heater, proper installation is paramount to prevent explosions.
  7. Always hire a qualified professional plumber or technician for installation.

Is a Water Heater Explosion Dangerous?

Absolutely, a water heater explosion can be extremely dangerous. An exploding water heater can cause significant damage to your property. In worst-case scenarios, it can result in severe injury or even loss of life.

The force of an explosion can send the heater shooting like a rocket. In addition to the immediate explosion, there’s also a risk of scalding from hot water and steam.

If the water heater is gas-powered, a gas leak can also lead to a fire or an explosion.

While the chances of a water heater exploding are low, the potential consequences are serious enough to warrant attention and proactive measures to ensure the safety of your household.

Conclusion

While water heater explosions are rare, they can cause significant damage and injury. Understanding the risks and warning signs can help you take the necessary preventative measures.

Bare in mind, the possible reasons, an explosion may occur:

  • tank overpressure
  • poor heater maintenance
  • gas leaks
  • sediment and mineral build-up
  • extreme thermostat setting or pressure relief valve malfunction
  • no or incorrect maintenance
  • upper limit switch failure
  • flammable chemicals around the heater

By ensuring regular maintenance and responding promptly to warning signs, you can keep your water heater functioning safely and efficiently, providing peace of mind and a steady supply of hot water for your home.

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