A water heater failure can dampen your spirits

Water heaters don’t last forever. But with some basic maintenance and periodic checkups, they can last longer.

If your tank’s water heater is close to or older than seven years, it’s important to check regularly for corrosion that can lead to a tank failure – and possibly a flood in your home. Water heater failure is one of the top five sources of residential water damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).

Along with getting an annual water heater tank inspection by a plumbing professional, here’s what you should be checking – and what to do if your water heater tank fails.

Corrosion breaks down tanks early

A water heater tank is a steel canister with a liner inside that protects the steel from contacting water. Over time, that liner breaks down. As that happens, sediment collects on the bottom of the tank. That sediment further corrodes the liner, as well as the heating elements inside a water heater, which in turn leads to premature failure of the liner and the tank.

Hard water, or water with high levels of minerals, speeds up this corrosive process. The hardness of the water in your area directly influences the amount of sediment deposited. It can also be more corrosive to the steel that is exposed by the tank liner breaking down.

Periodic draining can help

You can help slow down corrosion by periodically draining a small bit of water from your tank. This removes some of the sediment that collects at the bottom. As an added bonus, doing this can also increase the efficiency of your water heater.

Check the anode rod

Along with the tank liner, water heaters have a built-in rust protector: the anode rod. It’s a long piece of metal-coated steel that attracts corrosive elements inside the water tank. It acts as an extra layer of defense because it breaks down instead of the steel tank. For that reason, the anode rod is the most important component inside your tank that will determine how long it lasts.

Multiple factors impact the life of the anode rod, from the amount of water used to the quality of the water, water temperature and the quality of your tank.

We recommend that a plumbing professional familiar with water heater tanks inspect your anode rod, and replace it if necessary. If your tank is still under warranty, have this done bi-annually and if beyond the warranty period annually.

Reduce the potential for failures

Even with regular maintenance, water heaters can fail without warning. If that happens, the water in the tank and cold water supply could potentially cause extensive damage – especially if no one is home to shut the water valve.

Time is of the essence to minimize the damage. Here are some things you can do to minimize your water heater tank failing and reduce your potential for damage.

  • Create a channel for small leaks. If a small leak does develop, it helps to have a way to channel water away safely. This can be a catch pan that drains to a waste line, a sump pump or some other means. For minor leaks, it will give you time to shut off the water and contact a plumbing professional to help.
  • Install an automatic shut off. A better way to prevent leaks is to install a water heater leak alarm and automatic shut off system. This will shut off the cold water supply line in the event of a leak – and minimize the risk of flooding your home. These systems cost around $150 and should only be installed by a plumbing professional familiar with water heater tank operations.

For more information on caring for your home’s equipment and appliances, visit MyHomeWorksThis website features practical tools and information to help maximize your home’s energy efficiency, save you money and help you protect the systems that run your home.


© 2016 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only. All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment. Contact your equipment service representative or manufacturer with specific questions.

Ernest Freeman

Vice President of Engineering in Hartford Steam Boiler's Loss Control Engineering Group, with over 39 years of experience in equipment operation and maintenance. He is a Certified School Risk Manager (CSRM), member of The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), Certified Energy Auditor (CEA) and a licensed commissioned Inspector by The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors.


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