water heater explosions

Water Heater Explosions are Real

It’s true; your water heater can explode.

As a business owner, you’ve always got a lot on your plate. But even when you’re running around keeping your business up and running smoothly, safety should always be your number one priority.

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So if you try to fix your commercial water heater yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing, or if someone tampers with your equipment, the safety of your staff, tenants, customers and building could be in serious jeopardy. A mishandled water heater is essentially a bomb. That’s right, that water heater has the potential to explode with great force, resulting in extensive damage to your building and your business, not to mention potential loss of life!

Myth Busted: Yes, Water Heaters Can Explode
You don’t have to take my word for it. Just google ‘water heater explosion’ and you’ll get thousands of telling results. Even the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters put this “myth” to the test.

Watch as this 52-gallon residential heater shoots through two stories and out the roof like a rocket!

Wow, that is one serious explosion. Pretty fun to watch too, as long as it’s not YOUR property that ends up destroyed, and as long as you’re not the mannequin on the second floor that gets sprayed with 200-degree water as a scorching bomb rips through the building!

Now think about this
52 gallons? That’s just a residential water heater. Your commercial water heater unit in your restaurant or apartment complex is twice as big. That means an explosion even more massive than MythBusters’! Take this absolutely tragic example of a commercial water heater explosion at an elementary school in Oklahoma. That water heater is said to have exploded with the force and effect of two pounds of dynamite.

What’s Really Happening…
As you can see in the MythBusters video, the pounds per square inch gets up around 336 psi, meaning there’s about 85,000 pounds of force building up right before that water heater explodes. By removing the safety components from the heater, the steam vapor from the water (as the water continues to heat up) is trapped in the tank with nowhere to go. Unlike water, steam is a gas, so it can be compressed. The more steam is created, the more it will continue to compress, until something has to give. Eventually the tank cannot hold all that pressure and it splits. Instantly, all that pressure is released, expanding rapidly to its original size. The result?


How Do You Prevent Water Heater Explosions?
First and foremost, if you have a problem with your commercial hot water equipment, or you’re concerned about anything related to your commercial water heater, please call a trained commercial water heater technician. If you don’t know who to call, you can always call us at Reliable Water Services (800-356-1444). We’re open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to serve you.

Know your T&P valve
Typically, a bomb-like scenario results from an unlicensed, inexperienced person tampering with your commercial water heater. This person might tamper with the T&P valve. T&P stands for temperature and pressure. It’s also called the relief valve, and that’s no coincidence! You might not believe this, but trust me, I’ve seen it before: NEVER replace a leaky T&P valve with a plug! Your heater must have a T&P valve to release built up pressure.

Water heater explosions can result from a faulty T&P valve!

You can also check to make sure your T&P valve is working, in case it’s defective or damaged. Your water heater should also have a discharge tube that runs straight down the side of the unit. According to code, this pipe must end no more than 6 inches from the ground. If there is no discharge pipe, when you test the T&P valve, hot water will spray everywhere, so be careful!

To check your T&P valve, simply lift the lever. Water should come out easily and flow down the pipe into the floor drain.

If you are at all concerned with your T&P valve, or any other part of your commercial water equipment’s safety or performance, please call a trained water heater technician as soon as possible. A trained technician is not just any old plumber, so be sure your tech knows what they’re doing.

For more commercial water heater safety tips, check out our handy DOs & DON’Ts graphic that you can hang up near your equipment for the safety of your staff, your tenants/customers, and your building. Please note: this is not a comprehensive, commercial water heater safety guide. For safety questions regarding residential water heaters, please contact your manufacturer or installer.

Image “WH Safety Valve” courtesy of Wikimedia user Adam 850.