Boiler Room Bulletin

Advice on commercial water heater selection, maintenance and safety. Reliable Water Services is the leading provider of commercial water heaters and other water-related products in the Midwest. Here at the Boiler Room Bulletin, we apply over 50 years of experience and industry knowledge to issues affecting our customer base and other owners of restaurants, apartment buildings and hotels across the USA.

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Early Signs of Water Heater Failure

If you run a restaurant or a hotel and you’re experiencing zero hot water for your dishwashers or your showers – it can be a panic situation. Remember: your commercial water heater is a mechanical piece of equipment. So it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when your water heater will eventually fail.

The good news is that you can stay ahead of the game by recognizing the visual signs and the auditory signs that your water heater is about to fail. These signs indicate your water heater might be on its last legs – so if you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s time to get your commercial water heater checked out by a trained water heater technician.

Signs You Can See:
Advance Visual Signs of Water Heater Failure

Visual Sign # 1: Dripping Water

When you see some water on the floor near your water heater, it’s potentially leaking from two different places – and it’s very important you understand the difference.

Image courtesy smartplumber.org.

Image courtesy smartplumber.org.

Possibility # 1 (T&P Valve): When you see water on the floor near the side of your water heater and/or dripping from the pipe that runs down the side of that unit, this means your temperature and pressure (T&P) valve is venting excess steam. This steam condenses into water, which travels down that pipe and into your floor drain, preventing your water heater from exploding. This is normal. NEVER tamper with or block the T&P valve or pipe. Proper operation of the T&P valve is critical to safe water heater operation. If you’re concerned that there’s a large volume of water coming from that pipe (or elsewhere), it’s time to call a trained water heater technician.

Possibility # 2 (Leaker): When water is leaking from the base of the water heater (or if you notice water on the floor under the water heater), that means your commercial water heater is leaking internally. So your water heater is losing the water it’s supposed to be heating. This can happen slowly over time, or very abruptly. This is because when that water heater tank heats up and cools down, the metal expands and contracts. Over time, hairline cracks can form in the tank itself or in the flue tubes inside the water heater, causing water to leak out onto the floor.

In the commercial water heater industry, there’s a reason we call a failed water heater a “leaker.” When that water heater is leaking water from the bottom of the tank, it’s a sure sign you’ve got a leaker – meaning your water heater is about to fail completely, and soon.

Visual Sign # 2: Corrosion

If you notice a lot of corrosion around the pipe fittings attached to your commercial water heater, this indicates that water is leaking through what should be sealed pipe fittings. Pipe fitting corrosion occurs because mineral deposits from the water are seeping out through the gaps in those pipe connections. This is often called a “slow leak,” which means your water heater might be able to limp along for a while, but it could definitely fail if the problem isn’t addressed.

Visual Sign # 3: Burn Marks

If you see burn marks on the bottom of your water heater, that’s typically an indication of two possible problems.

Problem # 1: Burn marks could mean improper water heater venting is causing backdrafting. This is a serious problem that requires urgent attention and repair because this means you’ve got natural gas and exhaust fumes that aren’t exiting your building, as they should. Instead, those toxic fumes are seeping into your establishment. Not a good situation.

Problem # 2: Burn marks can also indicate that the flue pipes (located inside water heater) are blocked or damaged. This is also a potentially unsafe situation, so that water heater will need to be replaced – and soon.

Visual Sign # 4: Yellow Flame Color

While your water heater is running, you’ll notice a nice, blue colored flame underneath the tank, heating up your water. Now if that pilot light flame is real yellow or orange instead of blue, this is an indication that the burner isn’t working properly and the unit needs to be serviced. Much like the light on the top of your gas stove, a yellow hued flame means it’s burning too cool.

Signs You Can Hear:
Advance Auditory Signs of Water Heater Failure

Auditory Sign # 1: Do I Hear Popcorn?

The most obvious auditory signal that your water heater is about to fail is when it starts to sound like a popcorn machine. This popping noise is from an accumulation of honeycombed mineral sludge, caused when that water heater has to take on hard water. Water trapped in that honeycomb becomes super-heated, and it flashes off into steam. That flash-boiled water is causing those pop POP pop noises. Eventually that sludge is going to stress your water heater tank, causing a leaker – and you’ll need a replacement commercial water heater.

Those loud popcorn sounds are also a sign that it’s time to invest in a water softener! Without a water softener to filter out that mineral sludge and gunk, your water heater tank becomes extremely inefficient and more prone to a shortened life and impending failure.

Auditory Sign # 2: Loud Blower

If your water heater setup has a blower motor attachment on the water heater itself, and that blower motor is noisy and just plain LOUD, that means the blower bearings are about to fail. Here’s the thing: when that blower motor dies, your water heater won’t work. Why? Because your water heater is equipped with a failsafe mechanism that prevents operation in case of blower failure.

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So the moral of the story is when you know and understand the visual and auditory signs of looming commercial water heater failure, you may be able to prevent a zero hot water emergency situation before it happens. The more you know about your commercial water heater, the more likely you’ll be able to stay in hot water, and the better off your business will be in the long run.

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