Why tank heaters are ticking time bombs

Posted by James Memije on Dec 18, 2015 3:18:00 AM
James Memije

Tank Water Heaters Ticking Time Bombs

In this article, you will discover why purchasing a “conventional” tank water heater is akin to purchasing a ticking time bomb. The potentially costly decision stems from the inevitable failure of two of the conventional waters heater’s components – the tank itself and the sacrificial anode - which we discuss below.


Ticking Time Bomb?

Although conventional water heaters sometimes can be literal time bombs, exploding at a moment’s notice, this is not the main issue for most homeowners.[1] Instead, the “ticking time bomb aspect” we speak of here relates to the eventual creation of holes in the hot water heater. Holes equal leaks, and leaks equal problems.


The most obvious problem here is hot water gushing out of your water heater due to a hole created by corrosion. Such a hole can be a source of financial damage: repair funds for the water tank and a loss in energy efficiency resulting from some of the heat escaping. But a more severe consequence is the flooding that results from an unnoticed hole that grows and causes large leaks.


Your Water Heater’s Defense: The Anode Rod

Inside your water heater is a metal rod by the name of the sacrificial anode rod. This rod comes built into conventional water heaters, and though unseen by you, it is working hard to protect your home. The idea behind the sacrificial anode rod is to take the blunt end of the oxidation process that occurs within the water heater’s tank.


Oxidation is a chemical process that eliminates contaminates such as hydrogen sulfide.[2] During the process, the water becomes oxidized and highly corrosive. Without the rod, oxidized water inside the tank will eat away at the tank from the inside out, eventually creating holes in the tank. But with the rod, the oxidized water eats away at the rod instead of the tank, sparing your tank from holes.


Anode rods must be regularly replaced, as they eventually dissipate into nothing. If your tank’s anode rod has been completely corroded as a result of oxidation, oxidized water will begin to eat away at your hot water tank, causing leaks. You should check your anode rod once every two years to prevent leaks.


What Are The Chances It Will Happen to Me?


Statistics on hot water heater leaks do not paint a pretty picture.[3] According to the statistics, you have a 98% probability of experiencing water damage in the room in which you hold your hot water heater during your lifetime. This high probability is likely due to lack of knowledge on the nature of hot water heaters.


The average cost of water damage is $9,974. The conclusion you can draw is that proper maintenance of your tank hot water heater will save you $10,000 over your lifetime. With roughly one-third of homeowners having already experienced this water damage, we hope you are in the two-thirds category and can completely avoid any loss.


The types of damage range from small, internal leaks to completely flooded homes. The latter can cost up to $40,000 in property damage and repairs. The former still will cost you thousands of dollars in repair.


Water heater problems rank in the top five reasons for water waste. On top of this, the majority of water heater problems are leak-related – 69% to be exact.[4] All of these leaks were caused by internal rusting or corrosion.


In this study, the average lifespan of a water heater was under 11 years. Some water heaters lasted only 1 year, while others lasted 30 years. This exemplifies the power of maintenance.


Overall, everybody is at risk! All tank water heaters will eventually rupture and cause water damage to the room in which the water heater is stored. Internal rust is inevitable, which is why all tank water heater manufacturers install sacrificial anodes in their water heaters.


The problem lies in the fact that these anodes are eventually used up. Even the best of anodes cannot permanently protect a water heater tank; they merely prolong the need to change the rod. The warranty of a hot water heater tank is almost always tied to the anode; so ensure that you change your anode at the time of your warranty’s expiration to get the best bang for your buck.


Power anodes and water softeners can help reduce tank corrosion. Nevertheless, these are not permanent solutions. You should still see yourself at risk and take the appropriate measures to reduce the risk of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in home repairs.


Whether you have an electric hot water heater or a gas hot water heater, the science is the same. Cold water enters the hot water heater and is subsequently heated by an element (electric) or burner (gas) at the bottom on the tank. The heated water rises to the top of the tank and enters your home through hot water pipes that connect to your taps.


While the inside of the tank is lined with a protective coating (the type of which varies by manufacturer), this coating alone is not enough to prevent the corrosive water from eating away at the tank and producing the holes that eventually lead to costly leaks. Hence, steel wires surrounded by magnesium or steel are placed within the tank; these anodes take the blunt damage of the corrosive water, protecting the tank itself.


Though we mentioned these anode rods before, it bears repeating, as most homeowners are not aware of the anode’s existence: These anodes should be checked regularly for decay. Once an anode is fully decayed, nothing is preventing the corrosive water inside the hot water tank from eating away at the tank itself.


Preventing the Ticking Time Bomb Effect:

Solution #1: Regular Inspection and Replacement of Anode Rod

This can be an expensive and time consuming solution. It includes regular visits to determine the integrity of the anode rod. Such checkups cannot prevent the eventual destruction of the anode rod, only delay it. Nevertheless, that delay can be a substantial delay, buying you ample time before having to replace your anode rod.


Solution #2: Ditch the Tank

Although it might sound too good to be true, the tankless water heater is a cure-all to the ticking time bomb problem. It allows you to avoid most of the major problems associated with a tank water heater. As a tankless water heater foregoes the tank, it only uses a couple gallons of water at a time, making leaks and explosions impossible. In addition, its construction is of high-grade stainless steel, which is resistant to the corrosive effects of heating water. Learn more about tankless water heaters here.


[1] http://www.accuservheating.com/blog/why-tank-heaters-are-ticking-time-bombs

[2] http://waterquality.cce.cornell.edu/publications/CCEWQ-07-HydrogenSulfide.pdf

[3] https://www.behance.net/gallery/Water-Damage-Statistics/9664813

[4] Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), At the Forefront: Emerging Issues in Property Loss, Water Heater Failure Risks. (2007)


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