Common Causes Why Water Heaters Fail

February 27, 2018

A water heater failure, an incident we all dread, has taken place. Instead of using a knee-jerk reaction to call out the repair engineer, why not wait a minute? Stop and consider the cause of the failure. Everything being equal, there has to be a logical reason for the breakdown. What common faults trouble water heaters? Let’s start with rust, a relentless metal-eating culprit that often accompanies water.

Combating Water Heater Rust 

A leak is running down the unit’s enclosure. The circuit breakers are tripping and the hot water is tainted an ugly red-orange. The hot water storage unit is rusting. If it’s an older unit, that’s not so surprising. Older alloys didn’t include superior corrosion-resistant linings. Contemporary appliances use stronger alloys, materials that don’t rust easily. Furthermore, they often incorporate a sacrificial anode, a magnesium or aluminium rod that electrochemically protects the tank metal. Better yet, a powered sacrificial anode really augments the protective aid.

The Water is Dirty 

In truth, it’s not so much that there’s dirt in the water, but there is some kind of sedimentary action taking place in the fluid. Hard water and strange sediments are sometimes naturally suspended in the mains water supply. Dependent on location, that mineral load can be heavy. Imagine the hot water storage tank acting as an accumulator. The hard water creates a scaly film while the sediment settles at the bottom of the vessel. At first, the water just doesn’t seem as hot as it used to, but the property occupant puts the cooling effect down to appliance aging. Left unattended, the silt and scale will damage the water heater. Flush the appliance at least once a year. Consider a water conditioning unit.

Long-Term Usage 

There comes a point, sometime after 10 years but rarely longer than 15 years, which a hot water appliance simply cannot operate anymore. Sure, the sacrificial anode is still in there, but the anodizing metals have been eaten away. Loose seals are a problem, probably because the expansion and contraction effect has aged the containment alloy, and there’s that orange water again. This time, there’s no easy fix. Call your heating engineer, arrange an appointment, and have the old appliance replaced.

The problems multiply. A higher than normal mains water pressure is likely to damage the pipes and water heater. Corrosive air supplies and poor ventilation issues are problems, too. If the heating assembly draws combustion air, the quality of that air must be sound. Otherwise, the tank will corrode. Keep stored chemicals, bleaches and detergents, away from the water heater’s ventilation panel.

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