Don’t Let Your Water Heater Poison You, Burn You or Explode

Below are tips to keep your water heater performing safely, and at it’s best.

When water heaters are working properly, you can install it and forget about it, right? Usually—unless of course you want your water heater to poison you, burn you or explode.

That’s right—explode. Think about it—you have a metal cylinder full of liquid that you’re heating on a regular basis. And what happens when you heat something up in a confined space? You build up pressure. Just like grandma’s pressure cooker. So, yes, in theory, your water heater is just a really big pressure cooker—and it could explode.

[RELATED: 6 Common Tankless Water Heater Problems Solved]

The good news is that thanks to an episode of “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel, we’ve learned just how difficult it is for a modern water heater to explode. Today’s water heaters have many back-up safety features that are designed to prevent your unit from exploding. Each of these safe-guards would have to fail at the same time (the odds of which are highly unlikely) before your water heater will actually explode.

In the meantime, here are some simple ways to take care of your water heater, so that it lasts a little longer and doesn’t poison you, burn you, or explode:

  • Keep paper, cardboard, excessive dust bunnies and other combustibles away from your water heater.
  • Extinguish the pilot light before using flammable liquids or aerosols near the unit (particularly flea and tick bombs, etc.)
  • If your heater is in the garage, make sure it’s on a pedestal and the pilot light is at least 18 inches above the floor to prevent igniting gasoline vapors that collect near the floor.
  • Inspect the vent, draft diverter and flex connectors regularly for breaks, leaks, gaps or corrosion.
  • Check the temperature pressure relief valve. If you lift up on the valve, water should come out. That’s how you’ll know it’s working. But checking it once a year should be fine. If you check it too often, sediment and debris could get stuck where the valve closes, which could cause the valve to drip continuously. Then, you’ll have to replace the valve.
  • Keep your water temperature at 130 degrees F. Some folks recommend 120 degrees and some folks will keep it lower than that to save money and energy. However, at 120 degrees and lower, legionella bacteria can grow—and that’s what causes Legionnaire’s disease. That could turn your water heater into one big cesspool—that can poison you.
  • Earthquake straps are required in places like California, to keep water heaters from disconnecting and exploding after a natural disaster. You can also consider an automatic shutoff valve. This valve will shutoff the gas if the ground moves or gas flow increases dramatically—which could save your life and your home after a natural disaster.
  • Check your drain valve, which can get clogged with all the sediment that settles at the bottom of your heater, especially if you have hard water.
  • To help clear all that sediment in the bottom of your heater, most manufacturers recommend flushing the water heater once a year. Check your maintenance instructions for how—and how often.

Some of these things you can do yourself. But, if you feel uncomfortable with any of these things, call us, and we’ll be happy to take a look at your water heater for you. In fact, when you’re protected by one of our Personalized Plumbing Prevention programs, we’ll take a look at your water heater as part of the annual inspection that’s included in the package.

If you want a really detailed, but fun, article about taking proper care of your water heater, click here. In the meantime, call us if you have any immediate questions or concerns, and we’ll be happy to help. We even have 24/7 emergency service for those night and weekend emergencies—like our friend who had a water heater go out in one of her apartments on July 3—as new tenants were moving in.

Doesn’t get much more exciting than that!

Enjoy those hot showers!