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Help! My Water Heater Burst: What Should I Do?

Chances are, you don’t spend much time thinking about your water heater. If it supplies hot water when you need it, you probably take the appliance for granted…

Until something goes wrong.

What many homeowners don’t know is that ruptured water tanks are one of the top causes of residential water damage, costing homeowners an average of $4,444 after paying the deductible. 

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, our team provides water damage cleanup and restoration services for customers throughout the Chicago area, so we know a thing or two about how to respond to a burst water heater. If a water heater bursts in your home or apartment, we’re here for you. 

In this blog, we’ll share our top tips for addressing residential water damage and decreasing the risk of a burst water heater in the first place.

Let’s dive in. 

What to Do When Your Hot Water Heater Bursts: 5 Steps to Take Right Now 

The worst has happened, and your hot water heater burst.

Keep calm and follow these steps:

1. Stop the water flow

First things first: stop the water from flowing.

Locate the water supply line that runs into the water heater. Turn this line off by twisting the valve clockwise.

If you cannot find the supply line, turn off your home’s main water supply. This will stop the flow of water and help prevent more extensive damage to your home. 

2. Turn off the power

A broken water heater can create a large pool of water, which creates a serious electrical hazard.

Additionally, your water heater’s electric or gas heating element may continue to run after the tank fails, which could start a fire.

With this in mind, find the breaker for the hot water tank in your main breaker box and turn it off. If your hot water heater is gas-powered, shut off the gas supply line at the source. 

3. Contact a plumber

A failed water heater requires the help of a skilled plumber. Contact a plumber who offers emergency services to help you repair or replace the water heater and get your house back to working order.

4. Start the cleanup process

Next, begin cleaning up standing water.

Use towels to sop up standing water, and position fans in the affected area to promote airflow and expedite the drying process.

Remember that you should only begin cleanup if you’re sure the area is safe to enter, and that the water heater is no longer an explosion risk.

5. Contact a trusted restoration company

Finally, contact a trusted water damage restoration company in your area like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore here in Chicago, IL to begin the restoration process.

Our team provides 24/7 emergency service and will work quickly to help you restore your space and prevent additional damage. Our team can also work with you and your insurance team to help you file a claim and begin the process of getting the water damage covered. 

What Causes a Hot Water Heater to Burst? 

Is your water heater at risk of exploding? Here are the most common factors that can cause a hot water heater to burst:

1. Sediment build-up

If your home has hard water, the water carries minerals that, over time, can accumulate in the bottom of your hot water heater’s tank.

As this sediment builds up, it creates a layer between the heating element and the water itself, which places an excessive strain on the heating element. Eventually, this results in overheating that can compromise the integrity of the tank.

If your water heater makes a popping or knocking sound as it warms up, you could have sediment buildup in your tank. Fortunately, you can prevent this issue by having a plumber drain and flush the tank every year.

2. Excess pressure

Water heaters are made to handle pressure. Still, excess pressure within the tank can cause it to burst. Modern water heaters feature built-in temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valves, but these safety features can wear down over the years. 

If your T&P valve opens frequently or has begun to leak, your hot water heater probably has a pressure problem.

Pressure problems can also occur if your water temperature is set too high – above 120-125 degrees. 

3. Corrosion

While modern water heater tanks are constructed from steel, which is highly durable, it does eventually rust. To combat this problem, most water heaters feature a sacrificial anode rod, which is designed to help protect the system from rust.

Still, anode rods eventually break down, and the tank will begin to rust soon after. If your hot water comes out of the tap with a brown tint, your tank is probably rusting on the inside. Eventually, this will lead to corrosion that can cause the water heater to fail or burst. 

5 Signs of a Busted Water Heater

detecting broken water heater damage

Nobody wants to get the news that it’s time to replace their water heater. While these essential appliances have a lifespan of about ten years, replacing a broken unit is critical if you want to continue enjoying hot water, prevent water damage, and avoid a dangerous water heater explosion. 

With that in mind, keep an eye out for these explosion warning signs:

1. Leaking

Leaking is generally one of the first signs of a failing water heater. Usually, it begins as a pool of water near the base of the water heater’s tank. Leaking is most common in tanks that are at least six years old.

If you’ve noticed leaking around your hot water heater, it’s important to replace the tank right away, since deterioration can accelerate quickly.

2. Corrosion

For safety reasons, water heaters contain pressure release valves. Unfortunately, these valves are usually the first to wear out. When they do, it becomes impossible for the water heater to produce appropriately hot water. You’ll know the valves are failing if you’re always increasing the tank’s temperature manually.

3. Failed parts

Parts like heating elements and safety limit switches are generally the first to fail in a hot water heater.

You’ll know your heating element is bad if the tank stops producing hot water. The safety limit switch, meanwhile, helps the pilot light stay lit. If the pilot light is not reliable, the safety limit switch may have gone bad.

4. Strange water temperatures

One of the most common signs of a broken water heater is that it produces water that is not at the correct temperature. Either the water is not hot enough or it gets too hot.

Sometimes, the solution is as simple as manually adjusting the thermostat on the unit until it sits at the correct temperature – between 120-125 degrees. Other times, though, the problem could be the result of a broken heating element. 

The good news about these failures is that some of them are easy to fix. For example, a broken heating element could be fixed by replacing the part, rather than replacing the entire tank. Be sure to talk to a skilled plumber about your water temperature problems before you assume the tank is bad. 

5. Strange noises

Noises like clunking, popping, whining, or knocking are typical in a busted water heater. Often, these noises are the result of sediment buildup at the bottom of the tank. 

Is a Broken Water Heater an Emergency?

In general, yes.

In addition to the fact that your water heater serves the important purpose of supplying your household with hot water, a broken water heater can quickly become a major safety concern. 

A failed water heater may begin leaking, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of water damage, or – worse – explode, creating a safety concern for your family, pets, and anyone else in your household.

While it can be tempting to delay dealing with a broken hot water heater, addressing it quickly will help prevent dangerous situations. 

How to Deal with Mold or Mildew in Your Home After Your Water Heater Burst

busted water heater mold

Mold and mildew are two of the most unfortunate side effects of water damage – and they happen quickly. According to FEMA, mold and mildew can start to grow within just 24-48 hours of water damage. 

Unfortunately, you cannot clean up mold or mildew on your own. To ensure your home is safe and fit for habitation, you’ll have to work with a team like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore to stop mold growth, remove affected building materials, and remediate the damaged spaces of your home. 

Our team provides comprehensive mold removal services to protect your home’s indoor air quality and remove harmful microorganisms. 

Do You Have Water Damage Due to a Broken Water Heater in the Chicago Area? We Can Help!

If you’re dealing with water damage because of a broken water heater, we can help. Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we provide water damage restoration and remediation services for Chicago homeowners like you.

Contact us today to learn more about our team or services, or to request your quote now. Our team is standing by and ready to respond to your call. 

    Get Help Now

    (312) 707-8597


    Our office is located in downtown Chicago, IL just west of Millennium Park, nearby Willis Tower and Magnificent Mile. We provide 24 hour emergency fire and water damage cleanup to all of Chicagoland including Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Gold Coast, Lake View, Magnificent Mile and Little Village. We also provide a variety of specialty cleaning services.