While rare, residential water heater explosions do occur and can be deadly. Explosions are possible with both gas and electric tank water heaters, primarily those that are poorly maintained. You can avoid such a catastrophe when you identify the signs a water heater might explode so you can call for plumbing service immediately.
Factors Leading to Water Heater Explosions
High internal temperatures and pressure can contribute to a water heater explosion. Units are equipped with safety mechanisms to prevent levels from becoming excessive, but when malfunctions occur, an explosion may result.
When the water heater’s temperature is set too high, thermal expansion of water increases pressure inside the tank to extreme levels. Sediment gathered in the bottom of the tank insulates, which can increase temperatures beyond a safe level. Rust and corrosion of metal components prevent proper performance and impedes pressure regulation. Other component defects can cause increased temperatures and resulting high pressure.
Typically, the system’s temperature and pressure relief valve allow excess pressure to escape the tank – if this component malfunctions, pressure continues to accumulate until the tank can no longer hold.
Gas leaks also create the potential for a hot water heater explosion and the risk of a fire.
Signs Your Water Heater Is Going to Explode
When temperature and pressure rise too high, the system produces some warning signs. If you detect any of the following signs your water heater is going to explode, call for emergency plumbing repair service.
Leaking Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve
The T&P valve regulates temperature and pressure inside the hot water heater tank. When this valve leaks, it’s a sign the component cannot handle internal tank pressure. Defects with the T&P valve are a leading cause of water heater explosions.
Always Open T&P Valve
When performing as designed, the T&P valve opens when internal pressure reaches a specific set point to relieve thermal expansion which lowers pressure. The valve also opens when water temperatures reach a high set point, allowing cool water to enter that tank and mix to reduce water temperatures. In either scenario, the valve closes once problematic conditions are relieved.
If the T&P valve always remains open, this indicates consistent issues with internal pressure and water temperature. which could cause an explosion should the valve fail.
When tanks are not maintained and flushing is not performed on a regular basis, sediment from the water supply gathers at the bottom of the water heater. Thick layers of sediment effectively become insulation between the water and heating elements, and temperatures increase because the heating elements are unable to efficiently heat the water supply. Popping occurs as water trapped below the sediment against the heating element boils.
A popping sound indicates the presence of sediment and the potential for overheating due to the conditions explained above. Sediment also poses a risk of T&P valve malfunction, as the sediment can clog this component and prevent it from opening when needed to relieve high pressure and temperature conditions, creating issues that are signs your water heater might explode.
Brown water is another sign your water heater may explode as it indicates the presence of sediment in the tank. Hot water from household taps may also present a brown color when rust is present, meaning components of the water heater or the tank have rusted and are at risk for malfunction. Sediment and its indicators are signs a hot water heater might explode.
Rotten Egg Odor
The smell of rotten eggs near your water heater is another sign your water heater could burst as it indicates a gas leak. Gas leaks occur due to poor installation, damaged gas lines and other system issues. The water heater’s pilot light can ignite the gas, leading to a severe explosion and fire.
Protect Your Household: Watch for Signs Your Water Heater Might Explode
A water heater explosion can be devastating. This extreme system failure can cause extensive damage to the home and its plumbing system, and the force of an exploding hot water heater tank has the potential to injure or kill occupants. Diligently watch for signs your water heater might explode, and contact your plumber immediately for emergency plumbing repairs. Schedule service now.