As many adjusters know, water heater
failure often leads to significant property
damage. Water heaters have an average
lifespan of 10–20 years, but that can be
significantly reduced without proper routine maintenance—substantially increasing the risk of failure.
According to an IBHS study, 69% of all
water heater failures result from a slow
leak or a sudden burst. A residential water heater holds 20 to 80 gallons of water,
which can cause significant water damage to property upon failure. On average,
residential water heaters cost only $1,500
to replace, but a leaking or burst water
heater typically tacks on over $3,000 in
additional property damage, not including any additional living expenses that
may be incurred. Adjusters need to handle these claims with care, as the exact
cause of the damage may or may not be a
loss covered by the policy.
The most common reason for a leaking
water heater, internal rust or corrosion,
often results from a lack of routine maintenance. By periodically checking the
water heater for any signs of rust and performing preventative maintenance, property owners can prolong the life of their
water heater and greatly reduce the risk
of premature failure. Two primary causes
of tank rust or corrosion are failing to replace the sacrificial anode and allowing
scale to build up.
Failure to replace the sacrificial
Traditional, tank-style water heaters are
installed with at least one sacrificial an-
ode rod, whose sole purpose, as the name
implies, is to attract corrosive elements in
the water and prevent the tank’s steel lin-
ing from deteriorating. Some larger resi-
dential tanks can contain two rods, while
commercial tanks may contain up to five.
These anode rods are composed
of magnesium, aluminum or an alu-minum-zinc alloy with a steel core wire.
Because the rods attract these corrosive
elements, they must be monitored for
corrosion. If not replaced in time, the
water’s corrosive elements will begin to
attack the steel lining of the tank.
Property owners should replace the
water heater’s anode rod(s) every five
years to prevent steel liner corrosion.
Homeowners using a water softener
should increase the frequency of anode
rod replacement, as salt used in water
softeners increases the rate of corrosion.
When hard water (which has a high mineral content) is heated, it creates a calcium
carbonate deposit known as “scale.” Over
What Causes a Water Heater
to Leak or Rupture?
Diagrams of gas (left)
and electric (right)