What to Do When Your Water Heater Breaks: 5 Critical Steps

Author: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Last Updated on

It might spring a bad a leak and flood the basement overnight. It could suddenly stop supplying hot water for morning showers. When this appliance goes bad, you want it fixed right away.

Do you know what to do if your hot water heater breaks?

Most of us don’t live next door to our favorite plumber, so it’s smart to be prepared for a water heater breakdown. This 5-point guide outlines things you can do before and after you get help from the pros.

5 Things Every Homeowner Should Know About Dealing With Water Heaters

Whether it’s in the basement or a separate utility room, a bad water heater can cause extensive property damage. The average unit holds as much as 80 gallons. That’s more than enough to flood floors and soak walls.

1. What Are the Signs of a Broken Water Heater?

When the water heater ruptures and floods your home, you know you’re in trouble. More often, the unit develops signs of trouble that aren’t as dramatic. These are some of the most common signs that your hot water heater is about to become a serious homeowner’s headache.

• Leaking pipe connections and water pooling under the tank are sure indicators of water heater failure.
• Rusty water coming from hot water taps is often caused by aging pipes in the unit.
• Rumbling, banging or popping sounds are usually signs of sediment buildup in the tank.

2. How Do You Deal With a Busted Water Heater?

Knowing what to do if your hot water heater breaks can minimize water damage and make cleanup easier. After you call your plumber, these steps can help you get things back under control.

• Shut off a gas water heater by slowly and firmly turning the temperature dial located on top of its thermostat. If you have an electric model, throw the switch at the circuit breaker.

• Turn off the tank’s main water line at the top of the water heater by rotating its valve clockwise. If you can’t reach it, turn off the main water supply valve outside your home.

• Attach a hose to the tank’s bottom drain valve, and run it to a basement drain or outside to a low area. Flip the pressure relief valve to keep a vacuum from forming inside the tank as it empties.

3. Where Do You Start With Cleanup?

When a hot water heater floods the house, take pictures documenting the damage for your homeowners insurance claim. Your policy probably won’t replace the appliance, but it should cover water damage restoration costs.

Move as much as possible out of the affected area. You might be able to mop up most of the water, but a wet vac gets the job done much more quickly. Pay special attention to damp baseboards and drywall that can turn into breeding grounds for mold and mildew.

Use heavy fans and a dehumidifier to dry floors and walls. Consider calling in a professional restoration contractor who speeds up the process with applied structural drying techniques.

4. Why Does a Water Heater Break Down?

Standard gas and electric water heaters start to show their age after eight to 12 years. Most problems are caused by sediment buildup that damages the unit’s interior. The steel tank begins to rust, corrode and develop tiny pinholes that eventually turn into big leaks.

A system’s controls can malfunction and result in a busted water heater too. A bad thermostat can raise internal temperatures to dangerously high levels. A faulty pressure relief valve can even cause a water heater explosion.

5. How Do You Prevent Water Heater Problems?

Regular inspection and maintenance are your best tools for preventing water heater problems. Keep the trusty appliance in good shape with a spring and fall checkup that includes these simple chores.

• Check and tighten loose fittings.
• Use a flashlight to detect leaks under the tank.
• Look closely at the floor and adjacent walls for signs of dampness.
• Have a plumber inspect, drain and refill the unit at least once a year.

When the Problem’s Too Big, Call a Professional

drying water damage from burst kitchen pipe
A professional can tackle the root cause of your broken water heater and clean up water damage.

We recommend printing out this broken water heater guide just in case. Keep it handy, and know that you can always call us too. We pump out flooded basements, dry out soaked utility rooms and take care of mold problems. Our technicians are water damage restoration specialists who also handle minor plumbing emergencies.

We don’t fix broken water heaters, but we do work with a trusted network of plumbing professionals who can help. When you need the best in the business, start with us here at ServiceMaser Restoration by Zaba.