Why do Water Heaters Leak?

December 20th, 2019 | Carter Lovinggood

Ever wondered why that old water heater decided to spring a leak? Stick around and I’ll show you how!

So, you wake up, it’s a great day! You make breakfast, watch a few YouTube videos, and hop in the shower. So you turn the water on and get washing. You think to yourself. “Boy, this is pretty cold!” You keep on washing, waiting for the water to get hotter, and it’s just not happening. It’s chillingly evident. Something is wrong. You hop out, dry off, get dressed and run downstairs to the dusty old water heater. “Oh great! There’s water all over the floor!”

Old reliable has gone out on you. But how did we get here? Let’s have a look.

Water Hardness

Here in Salt Lake County and Utah County, we have very hard water. On average, our water tests at approximately 25 grains per gallon. That’s like sandpaper! This “Hard Water” is composed of minerals from our mountains. (Check out our video on hard water here for some cool information!)

This hard water deteriorates fixtures, and causes the build-up of nasty sediment in water lines, toilets, and yes — especially water heaters. The first thing the sediment will do is go on the attack! It

will wreck the first line of defense for the water heater. A thin piece of aluminum, magnesium, and zinc put together, called an “Anode Rod.” This rod acts as a shield. The potent mineral contents force the hard water to deteriorate the rod before it attacks the tank. But eventually, time wins the battle. The rod collapses, and all the residual sinks to the bottom, like a James Cameron movie. The water then changes its target, and it goes for the tank itself. It eats the glass lining and begins work on the metal, until eventually… POP!

Water Pressure

But, the hard water did not do this alone! There was a conspirator! Water pressure. Whether high or low, water pressure affects every appliance in your house. Water pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and it shows the exact force exerted on what it touches. A force pushing on anything long enough will wear it out. Older homes here in Utah, especially in the Lehi, Salt Lake City, and West Valley areas, have high water pressure. This is usually due to an out of date Water Pressure Regulator, commonly referred to as a “PRV.” This a valve that sits right above the water shut off in your house. What it does is run the water through a series of screens and a bladder, causing the water to sit at just the right amount of pressure. Your water pressure should never be above 75 pounds. If this is the case, your Pressure Regulator just might be a culprit in the failure of your water heater! (Not sure what your water pressure is? Have an Expert come out and check it for you! 801-224-8118)

Now what?

Usually, when a water heater is leaking from the bottom, it will need to be replaced. The water heater industry is loaded with options, and here at Expert, we can help you cipher through these and help you understand them. Residential Water heaters fall into two categories. Tanked and tankless, Let’s have a brief look at some of the main contenders in the industry.

Tanked Water Heaters

Some of the lead brands in tanked water heaters are AO Smith, Bradford White, State, and Rheem. These water heaters are nearly identical to each other, utilizing the same type of burner technology. The idea behind natural gas tanked water heaters is simple. Cold water comes in and is moved to the bottom of the tank. A burner plate turns on at the bottom, heating the water. As warmed water rises in the tank, it comes out the hot side, going wherever you need it. Although, there is a downside. A small flame remains activated on the burner throughout the unit’s life. This can be costly on utility bills.

A Natural Gas Tanked Water Heater

A second option to tanked water heaters is an electric water heater. The principle is very similar, but instead of a gas burner at the bottom, there are two electric heating elements inside the tank that heat the water. These units also attempt to keep the water always hot, regardless of usage. But, here in Utah, electric costs more than gas. An electric tank will cost you more than a gas water heater in due time. To check out how much it would cost you, check out this cool calculator!

Tankless Water Heaters

A Navien Tankless Water Heater, located at our facility in Orem UT

A Navien Tankless Water Heater, located at our facility in Orem UT

It’s no secret the technology behind tankless water heaters is incredible. The science put into these units puts you, the consumer, right at the forefront of comfort. Some of the brands that have reached that goal are Rinnai (We are PROUD to be a Rinnai PRO Installer), Navien, and Noritz. Tankless water heaters use a simple, but genius and effective way of heating your water, for as long as you need it. A sensor on the inside detects water usage and instantly starts heating the water. The water passes through a coil – known as a heat exchanger – getting hit from flames on all sides. The water then passes through another coil, identical to the first, but instead of being heated by flame, it is heated with the exhaust from the previous burners. The water then leaves the unit hot and headed for wherever you want it. Due to this, these units are ultra-efficient, saving you astronomical amounts of money in the long run. Take a glance at this article by the Department of Energy for some more information

Conclusion

Long story short, just like anything else in life, there are pros, and there are cons.

If you have any questions at all about water heaters, be sure to call an Expert. We would love to help you out. We proudly have been serving Utah communities for over thirty years, gladly helping families in Lehi, Orem, Salt Lake City, West Valley, Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Provo, and beyond. We also have an after-hours emergency plumber on call every night. If you need anything, give us a call at 801-224-8118

It doesn’t hurt to call an Expert!