Can An Electric Water Heater Explode?

_An Electric Water Heater

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad incendiary news, but yes… your electric water heater can absolutely explode. In fact, gas water heaters are also liable to burst, but before you call the bomb squad out to your house, you should know that you have very little to be concerned about.

Can water heaters explode? Yes. Can these explosions be dangerous? Yes. Do residential water heaters explode often?

Nope! The truth of the matter is, an exploding water heater is a rarity, and as long as you stay on top of maintenance and learn the warning signs, you’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about.

What Causes Electric Water Heater Explosions?

Anything that puts an excessive amount of pressure on your electric water heater can eventually lead to an explosion. The usual suspects are:

Faulty Anode Rods

Sediment Build-Ups

Excessive Steam

Rust and Corrosion

Each of these causal factors can lead to increased internal temperatures and pressure in your electric water heater.

Now, typically, a water heater will have a pressure release valve designed to keep internal forces from getting out of hand, but should this component malfunction, the pressure will build continuously until, well, you know… boom.

Warning Signs To Look Out For

Now let’s take a look at the electric water heater warning signs that should send alarm bells ringing if you notice them.

Brown Water From Your Faucets

If your faucets are running brown, it’s a sure sign that something’s not right with your electric water heater. Usually, this means that there are excessive levels of sediment building up inside, so much that it’s actually dyeing your water supply.

Brown or orange water may also be a sign that your water heater is suffering from a pretty severe case of internal rust.

Needless to say, this brown liquid is not safe to drink or to bathe in, so you may have to head to a friend or family member’s home to wash until a professional can take a look at your heater.

This is one of the clearest signals that your boiler could explode, so I’d advise calling in a pro sooner rather than later.

Audible Popping, Knocking, Or Banging

Popping noises coming from your boiler? Don’t get too close, as it just might burst! 

Yep, that popping noise means that there’s a buildup of sediment in your boiler that’s gotten so thick, it’s acting as a layer of insulation, isolating most of the water in the tank from the heating element.

The popping you’re hearing is actually the small amount of water below the sediment perpetually boiling due to its proximity to the heating element.

What’s more, as the heating element can’t reach the bulk of the water to heat it, it goes into overdrive trying to do its job, increasing the chances of overheating/malfunctioning.

But explosions aren’t the only possibility when you’re dealing with such a significant amount of sediment.

This stuff can also clog the temperature and pressure valve, preventing it from purging the turbulent forces within. If this is the case, your water heater is at an even greater risk of exploding.

Can An Electric Water Heater Explode

Temperature And Pressure Relief Valve Won’t Settle

As we’ve touched upon already, it’s the T&P valve’s job to regulate your electric water heater’s internal temperature and pressure. 

On most modern heaters, this component operates automatically, kicking in when it’s needed, then shutting off once conditions are stable. So, if your valve seems to be working overtime, it’s not for no reason. It usually indicates that conditions inside your water heater are consistently out of control.

Your valve may be keeping on top of it for now by staying open 24/7, but working without a break is a big burden for such a small component, and if it finally gives up the ghost, it’s only a matter of time before your water heater explodes.

Leaking T&P relief valve

If you notice that your temperature and pressure relief valve is literally sweating under the pressure of regulating your water heater’s internals, it’s a pretty sure sign that it’s not coping with the stress, which can eventually lead to a water tank explosion.

So, keep a close eye on your valve. If you notice any leaks, stay well away from your heater and call in a professional immediately. T&P valve disrepair and defects are the number one cause of electric water heater explosions.

Smell Of Sulfur

If you can smell rotten eggs, it usually means you’ve got a gas leak on your hands, which wouldn’t typically affect an electric system, but perhaps if you recently switched from gas to electric, the gas line wasn’t sufficiently capped. All that gas needs is a little spark, and, well… you know the rest.

How To Prevent An Electric Water Heater Explosion

Before we go our separate ways, let’s discuss how you can ensure an electric water heater won’t explode.

Learn The Operating Limits Of Your Water Heater

If you know what temperature and pressure levels are considered safe for your heater, you can check the T&P valve regularly to make sure everything is under control. If it isn’t, you’ll be able to act quickly to get the matter resolved before anything bad happens.

Keep Water Temperature At A Safe Level

Most internal water heater deterioration occurs when water temperatures are too high, so keep them within safe limits, and your heater will live a long and happy life. 

Regular Maintenance

Much like any electrical contraption, routine maintenance is crucial if you want to keep it running smoothly. Call in a professional at least once a year to flush it and check everything’s in working order.

Final Thoughts

There you have it — Electric water heaters can indeed explode, but it will never be out of the blue. Stay vigilant, keep an eye out for the warning signs discussed here today, and there’s very little chance you’ll ever even have to deal with a minor water heater malfunction, let alone an explosion.