True Larger-Than-Life Water Heater Disasters

Having a water heater in your home is essential for both your comfort and your convenience. However, faulty installations, maintenance mistakes, and manufacturing errors can occasionally cause dangerous accidents.

Over the past few years, some water heater accidents caused enough damage to make news headlines. Here’s a look at some water heater disasters and the initial errors that led to their occurrences:

California School Flood

On February 3, 2016, the staff of the Montessori School in California arrived in the morning to find hallways flooded as the result of a water heater leak. 

Fortunately, the flood was relatively small. Educational materials didn’t suffer any serious damage because teachers’ supplies were stored in bookcases and cabinets, and the flooding receded by noon that day. However, small as it was, the flood still caused the school a lot of inconvenience. They were forced to cancel classes for the rest of the week so that they could relocate and the flooring had to be replaced.

Water heater leaks such as the one experienced by the Montessori school can be caused by several factors. For example, loose inlet or outlet connections, faulty drain valves, too much pressure, and even corrosion along the bottom of the tank can lead to disastrous leaks.

If you see any signs of a leak or parts of your water heater that are wearing out, you should seek out a professional water heater company’s expert advice so you can fix or replace worn-out parts before they cause damage to your home.

Home Water Heater Explosion

Faulty water heaters can cause more extreme damage than floods, as one Phoenix man discovered in 2008 when his water heater exploded and was thrown 135 yards.

Though no one was injured, authorities said the house suffered “catastrophic damage” and would need to be torn down. Several nearby homes also experienced minor damage. According to reports, the disaster happened because the pressure valve of the heater was shut and the safety valve didn’t function correctly.

It’s extremely rare for a water heater to actually explode, but it has happened on other occasions. In Australia in 2013, Victoria Spinks and her seven-year-old son both sustained serious hot water burns as a result of a water heating system explosion, which was caused by pressure build-up in the water heating system connected to a wood-burning stove. The family’s home suffered such extreme damage that they had to move.

Water heater mishaps are so intense and explosive that Mythbusters decided to test out the damage a water heater explosion can do. In their trials, they calculated that there was about 85,500 pounds of pressure on one heater as it exploded.

These rare, catastrophic water heater explosions are usually caused by a combination of operator error and technical malfunction. Under normal circumstances, the safety valve in a water heater system will self-activate when it senses that pressure is building up in a water heater with no release. Homeowners should routinely check their water heater safety valves to prevent occurrences such as these.

Deadly Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Tankless water heaters can also be dangerous and even deadly. In early May 2019, an Ohio family of four was killed when their tankless water heater leaked carbon monoxide at deadly levels. 

Investigators measured CO concentrations in the home to be around 999–1200 parts per million. Even at concentrations of 70 parts per million, carbon monoxide is hazardous. Examination of the water heater revealed that the appliance’s exhaust pipe had been dislodged. When it was put to the test, authorities noticed that the heated water emitted high levels of CO gas.

Authorities were unsure whether the leakage was due to a product defect, though several models of the same brand of water heater were recalled a few months earlier due to potential risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In cases where products are not defective, carbon monoxide leaks may arise from faulty installation. For example, an exhaust vent that has been installed incorrectly or rusted and become displaced can cause excessive carbon monoxide emissions.

To prevent carbon monoxide from leaking from your water heater, you should use quality products and work with trusted water heater repair and installation professionals to ensure everything is installed and maintained correctly.

Every home should also be equipped with at least one CO detector on each floor just in case the worst does happen.

Staying Safe

These types of catastrophic problems with water heaters are extremely rare, but they’re possible. To avoid disasters and stay safe, the most important thing to do is to get regular maintenance done within your warranty.

You should replace any parts that are wearing out and make sure to have any installations completed by trusted and knowledgeable water heater experts, since faulty installations can cause nearly as many problems as faulty parts.

The potential dangers inherent to both tank and tankless water heaters make regular maintenance of your home water systems a must.