A hot water heater explosion can cause serious damage, physical injury, and even death. Thankfully, there are very clear preventative measures and warning signs to keep in mind. In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about preventing such an explosion and even what to do should it occur.
Water Heater Explosion Causes
A water heater explosion produces enough force to completely destroy your home.
Water heaters rely on both pressure and high temperatures. A water heater explosion often occurs when either (or both) of these factors reach dangerous levels that cannot be resolved through safety mechanisms like the temperature and pressure relief valve.
In one common explosion scenario, excessively high temperatures produce a buildup of gas inside the water heater. If the temperature and pressure relief valve is clogged (typically with sediment), the excess gas won’t be able to escape. It continues to build until the tank effectively becomes a bomb.
The results can be devastating. Anyone near the water heater will likely be hit with a combination of scalding hot water and debris, not to mention the incredible force with which these explosions occur. Serious injury is virtually guaranteed and one would be lucky to escape death.
Even those not in the same room as the water heater are at risk of death or injury. Exploding heaters can shoot up like a rocket, piercing right through your home’s roof and landing several blocks away. As you can imagine, this isn’t exactly healthy for the structural integrity of your home.
Take a look at the video below for a demonstration of just how severe a gas or electric water heater explosion can be.
Less severe explosions can occur if sediment or rust fester inside your hot water heater tank. Both compromise the heater’s structural integrity and function, which can cause water to gush out of the unit, damaging your home and potentially causing serious injury.
Note: A Water Heater Gas Explosion Is Something Different
A water heater gas explosion occurs when gas from the heater (or any other source really) has filled the room and a spark (usually from the pilot light but it can also come from, say, a lighter) ignites it.
In such a case, the explosive force itself doesn’t originate from within the tank. It can still be quite deadly, though. Such explosions routinely level homes and kill all occupants.
As it relates to your water heater, these explosions occur as a result of a faulty thermocouple. Read more about that in our article about common water heater problems.
Water Heater Explosion Statistics
While reliable hot water heater explosion statistics can be difficult to track down, they happen often enough that you hear about them in the news frequently.
As of writing, it’s only February 2020 and there are already several news stories from 2020 detailing such incidents. It happened in Russia, California, Illinois, and Alaska, to name a few occurrences.
Such explosions are also common enough to warrant substantial investments and research concerning solutions.
So while we’d never suggest that you ought to be afraid of your water heater exploding at any moment, it is a very real issue that you should be aware of.
To help increase your awareness, let’s now explore some of the common warning signs.
Water Heater Explosion Warning Signs
Pressure Relief Valve Leakage
A leaking pressure relief valve is one of the primary water heater explosion warning signs to look out for. Such a leak indicates that the valve is unable to properly handle the pressure within the tank for one reason or another. As you’ll recall, this is one of the most common causes of severe tank explosions.
A Consistent Popping Noise
Water heaters in Phoenix are especially susceptible to sediment. The water in Arizona is especially hard, meaning it contains lots of sediment. If you don’t have a water softener installed, this sediment will build up in your tank and reduce its structural integrity.
The popping noise is the sound of water trying to escape the sediment layer. When the layer has gotten this thick, it means that the heating element needs to work excessively to achieve the desired temperature. This sediment can also clog your temperature and pressure relief valve.
When combined, the excessive temperature and improper pressure relief valve function can cause an explosion.
The Pressure Relief Valve is Constantly Open
As mentioned earlier, a pressure relief valve is designed to open when excessive temperatures and pressure require it. If you constantly observe the valve in an open state, this is a sign that your water heater’s temperature and pressure are out of whack. If the relief valve were to stop functioning properly, an explosion would be likely.
A Leaking Tank
There are many types of water heater leaks. Most of them can (but don’t always) signify that a leak is imminent. None should be taken as seriously as a leak from the tank itself, however. This is a sign that the tank itself has deteriorated substantially, either due to age or damage. Even a slight tank perforation can cause a gas or electric water heater explosion.
How to Prevent a Water Heater Explosion
Say you’ve noticed one of the aforementioned warning signs. What next?
Well, for starters, you should disconnect the water heater’s electricity and/or gas lines if you suspect an explosion is imminent. Follow the instructions in your unit’s manual for the correct protocol concerning turning the heater off entirely.
Once you’ve done that (which should reduce some of the imminent risks of an explosion), call a professional. Unless you’re trained to repair water heaters yourself, this really isn’t an issue you want to deal with on your own. In fact, many fatal incidents (such as this one in which a family lost their father and their home) occur as a result of people attempting to fix their water heaters on their own. It’s really not worth the risk to yourself and your home.
Water Heater Explosions: What NOT To Do
In addition to not attempting to fix a water heater you fear may explode on your own, avoid the following:
- placing tape over a perforation in your tank; this will only increase the pressure and the likelihood of an explosion
- going for more than a year without having your water heater inspected
- leaving any issue unchecked for extended periods
- having unlicensed or untrustworthy technicians work on your water heater
Trust American Home Water and Air for Keeping Your Water Heater In Good Shape
If your water heater is in need of repair or replacement and you live in the Phoenix, Arizona area, give American Home Water and Air a call. We offer the most comprehensive diagnostic, repair, and replacement services in the area and, with our more than 30 years in existence, we have the experience to back it up.
Visit us today at 23439 North 35th Dr. #7, Glendale, AZ 85310.
Exploding water heaters aren’t just an urban legend; it happens quite frequently. In this post, we took a deep look at water heater explosion causes, warning signs, and preventative measures. You now have everything you need to know about what to do if you suspect your water heater may explode.