Busted Water Heater

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A busted water heater leads to disruptions inconveniences, and sometimes, safety risks, and costly repairs. Despite the many benefits water heaters offer homeowners and businesses, a malfunction is likely to occur once in a while. And when this happens, you might not get your favorite hot temperature. In extreme cases, a faulty water heater may pose safety and financial risks to yourself, your family, and your property.

Generally, typical water heaters have a limited service life of about 8 to 10 years. Although regular maintenance enables you to get the best out of your investment, the water heater will eventually reach the end of its service life. At this time, you start experiencing regular leaks and other problems due to rust, tear and wear, corrosion, scale buildup, and other unavoidable failures that result from aging. 

Most of these issues compromise the integrity of the water heater hence increasing the risks of failure. In most cases, there are always signs of an impending water heater bust. 

Warning signs of a potential water heater bust 

Water heaters with metal storage tanks are the most vulnerable to failure. For example, there are risks of water leaking from the seams or loose fittings and even explosions due to rust, excess pressure, and temperature. 

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Old water heater Image The Blue Book

Some of the warning signs of an impending water tank bust include;

  • You have an aging water heater that is more than ten years old.
  • The water heater makes some unusual sounds, such as rumbling noises, popping, clanking, or banging as it heats up. Most often, this happens due to sediment build-up in the tank.
  • Heater produces brownish or yellowish-colored water with unusual odors. With time, water heaters accumulate minerals and from the water, and debris from corroding or rusting metallic parts.
  • Visible rust on the tank exterior, especially at the seams and around the pipe fittings.
  • Water does not heat to the temperature setting level
  • A leaking water heater due to a weak tank structure, broken seam, a crack, or a faulty T&P valve is another sign of an impending problem.

Most leaks are not always serious to cause the water heaters to completely malfunction, but you need to fix them. Some of the problems are easy to repair, while others require a plumber. 

What causes busted water heaters?

Although a busted water heater is probably not one of your top concerns, it is a common occurrence that you should prepare for. Generally, there is always the risk of rupturing, and this comes about due to aging, maintenance, structural, and operations issues. Among the most common causes of busting water heaters include;


With time, the metal that makes the water heater tanks will suffer from corrosion. The rusting weakens the affected parts that may give way when they are unable to withstand the pressure. Although some heaters have sacrificial anode rods to prevent or reduce corrosion on the critical parts, these deteriorate with time. A worn-out rod provides less protection hence resulting in corroded and weak tank walls.

A brown tint on your heater tank’s internal walls is a sign of rust that requires addressing. One way of addressing this is to check for and replace a worn-out anode rod. Additionally, monitor the exteriors for the water tank and address any corrosion issues. If you notice small leakages from the tanks, have a plumber check it because this could be a sign of pinholes and a weakened tank structure with the potential to leak significantly.

Excess internal pressure

An excessive pressure builds up inside the tank results in rupturing, especially at high temperatures. Although heaters have pressure and temperature relief valves, these are prone to failure wear and tear. A malfunctioning valve will start leaking or opening more frequently. The lack of proper control has the potential to cause serious pressure problems and busting. The risk increases at higher temperatures since this is when the pressure builds up faster. A much safer temperature to overcome this problem is between 120 and 125 degrees F.

Sediment or scale build-up

Hard water contains various minerals that, over time, will settle at the bottom of the heater tank. As time goes, a significant amount of sediment will settle at the bottom and around the heating element or burner, hence insulating it and prevent direct contact with water. As this happens, the elements cannot heat the water to the desired temperature using the normal settings and time, and will, therefore, work harder to achieve desired results.  

Eventually, this will mean overheating and accelerating the deterioration of the tank material. Some of the signs of sediment build-up include a knocking or popping sound from your water heater.

What to do when you have a busted water heater

A busted water heater presents several risks and, therefore, dangerous. Although you may not fix it by yourself, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risks and further damage, as you wait for professional help. 

  • Shut off the electrical power or gas line and water supply to the tank. If the leakage is extensive, consider powering off the entire electrical system to prevent the risk of shocks from water in contact with live conductors.
  • Take the photographs of the busted water tank, the damage, and the entire leak for investigation and insurance purposes.
  • Clean up the area, preferably starting with a wet vacuum cleaner to remove as much water as possible. Afterward, you may consider using a dehumidifier to dry out the areas at risk of growing molds due to dampness. 
  • Call a plumber or a professional with experience handling such failures. If you are not comfortable cleaning up, call the plumber after switching off the power and water. Additionally, you may report the bust to your insurance for compensation.

What to do when you have leakages

Because of the potential risks and damage a busted water tank presents, there are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening. In particular, the following are the steps to take when you notice leakage. In most cases, it is better to engage a plumber in some of these tasks. However, before you call the plumber, here are the things you can do to minimize the risks.

Busted water heater leaking
Busted water heater -leaking

Since the leaks are the signs of an impending failure, here is how to respond.

Shutdown the water supply

Stop the flow of water into the tank by turning the shutoff valve clockwise. If your system uses the lever control, turn it to the close position. In case you do not locate the shutoff valve or other means to stop the water, close the main supply to the house.

Turn off the electrical or gas supply to the heater 

Shut off the electrical power by switching off the circuit breaker at the service panel. For gas-powered systems, turn off the gas line the goes into the system. Failure to disconnect electrical power to the systems means that the heating elements will remain hot – increasing the risk of damage or fire.  

Locate the water leak

Check your water heater and identify where there is a leak. Potential areas include the seams, water inlet pipe or fitting at the top of the tank, a broken temperature and pressure (T&P) valve, drain valve, etc. In particular, look for areas that show signs of corrosion or rust. 

Fix the leakage

Depending on the location and type of leakage, take the necessary measures to fix the problem. The repair could be a simple task such as replacing a faulty T&P valve, tightening loose fittings using a pipe wrench, and more. However, it could also be a complex repair job that requires a plumber. If you cannot figure out where the problem is or do not have the necessary skills or tools to fix the leakage, consider engaging a professional plumber. 


Water heaters require regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure safe and reliable operations. However, even after doing this, problems may occur due to a variety of reasons. In particular, aging, corrosion, sediment build-up, and excessive pressure are major problems that lead to leaking water tanks and water heaters failures.

To reduce safety and financial risks associated with a busted water heater, ensure that you regularly check the system while addressing any issues. For problems that you cannot fix, shut off the power, gas, and water supply to the heater, and then call an experienced plumber.