What happens when your old water heater finally bursts?

It's the scenario every homeowner dreads: You're at work, on the road or on vacation when you get a call from a neighbor or the fire department. Your old water heater has finally kicked the bucket and burst all over your basement. Along with dozens of gallons of water, you now have to deal with the cleanup of rust and other harmful substances that may take months to get completely out of your home.

Unfortunately, this is an inevitable result of all storage-type water heaters regardless of how faithfully you maintain them. Eventually, the buildup of mineral deposits or old machinery could cause a catastrophic failure that leaves your house a mess, but the range of damage could be much worse depending on several factors around your home. If you still supply your house with a storage-type heater but have noticed it running a little slower lately, you might want to brush up on how devastating a burst water heater can be.

Don't leave this in your basement while you go off on vacation.Don't leave this in your basement while you go off on vacation.

Ticking time bombs
What you choose to heat your home's water supply with is one of the first and largest purchases you make while setting up a new house. And because storage-type water heaters can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, you may be tricked into thinking that the price you pay entitles you to at least a decade or two of reliable use.

Unfortunately, few water heaters make it that long, and when it's their time to go, they make sure you know it. According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, the average storage-type water heater only lasts about 10 years. By the 9-year mark, more than 40 percent have burst, and just 6 years after setting up your new model, there's still a 15 percent chance it will explode all over your basement.

How it all goes wrong
If the raw numbers don't prove to you that burst storage heaters can wreak havoc on your otherwise pristine home, maybe an account of how it all happens will show you that even the cleanup isn't worth the effort for storage-water heaters.

Usually due to mineral buildups in either the tank portion of the heater, the valves leading to and from the tank or any other chokepoint for water moving in and out of the system, pressure can build up over time if the heating element is active. When the pressure causes the weakest point in the system to burst, the water in the tank will suddenly flow across the floor. If you're lucky enough to have room in the basement, the impact could be minimal. However, if you live in a condominium or space requirements force you to have your heater on an upper floor, the surge of water could leak into the floor and damage the internal structure of your home as well.

"Burst tanks do not always automatically shut off."

Apart from the obvious threat of water damage, burst tanks do not always automatically shut off, and the heating element could continue to run for hours if nobody is around to shut the power off. In the worst-case scenario, an exposed flame will start a fire that can cause much more destruction than water from your heater ever could.

With even a miniscule chance of catastrophic damage cause by faulty water heaters, it's a wonder why homeowners would put up with the risk at all – especially when tankless water heaters offer improved performance with none of the risk involved with their old-fashioned home-heating counterparts.

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