What Happens When A Water Heater Goes Bad?

Water heaters aren't typically invulnerable to certain issues. But what happens if your water heater goes bad? We researched this matter for your convenience, and here's what we found.

The adverse effects of bad water heaters often differ based on the underlying issues. For instance, using leaky water heaters can increase monthly utility bills. On the other hand, bathing or showering with murky water from the water heater might increase users' health risks.

It might be best to avoid using the water heater upon noticing the warning signs that it’s going bad. Continue reading as we talk about these indicators in greater detail. We’ll also discuss the potential adverse effects of using faulty water heaters based on each warning sign.

 hand turning on electric water heater (boiler). What Happens When A Water Heater Goes Bad

What Are The Warning Signs Hot Water Heater Is Going Out?

Take note of the following warning signs of your water heater going bad. Also, each section will tackle the different possible effects of using faulty water heaters:

new white water heater at the kitchen closet


A typical water heater lasts about 8 to 12 years. Once it reaches and exceeds that period, the fixture can become prone to different issues. Some relatively common problems that may involve a water heater’s old age are:

  • Water line leak
  • A leak from the pressure release valve
  • Hisses or sizzles due to significant sediment buildup

Also, water heater lifespans often depend on their manufacturers. For instance, read our post on how long does a Rheem water heater last to know the typical shelf life of this particular plumbing fixture.

Water leaking from the plastic faucet on a residential electric water heater sitting on a concrete floor


Water heaters can go bad over time, particularly when homeowners leave leaks unchecked. Take note that water heater leaks can come from different sources, such as:

  • Loose drain valve: An improper seal can result in leaks.
  • Old age: Some water heater components might become brittle over time.
  • Incorrect temperature and/or pressure: A faulty temperature and pressure release valve (also known as the T&P valve) may loosen, leading to water leaks.
  • Corroded anode rod: Anode rods function by protecting the water heater tanks from corrosion and rust. It’s a sacrificial component that needs replacement, especially when leaks occur.

Keep in mind that utility bills can skyrocket regardless of the source of the water heater leak. It’s essential to repair or replace any damaged component that resulted in the water discharge to prevent the unwanted rise in energy costs.

Lack or Absence of Hot Water

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends water heaters, particularly geothermal heat pumps, set the fixture's provided water temperatures at around 32 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. But a water heater that’s going or is already bad can reduce or eliminate the presence of cold water in your bath or shower.

This event can lead to bathing or showering in cold water, which can be an uncomfortable situation in the winter. Still, taking a cold bath or shower because of a broken or malfunctioning water heater may provide some health benefits like:

  • Enhanced blood circulation
  • Boost immunity
  • Aids in muscle recovery
  • Improves hair and skin

However, bear in mind that bathing or showering in cold water shouldn’t replace going to the doctor. Consult the aid of a medical expert if you have serious health concerns.

Unknown Noises

Odd noises coming from the water heater are generally not good signs. This racket usually means that certain parts aren’t functioning as intended. If used continuously, despite the existence of these noises, water heaters might be at high risk of irreparable harm.

Homeowners can diagnose the source of the issue by the type of sound from the plumbing fixture. Some examples are:

  • Banging: Typically means significant sediment buildup.
  • Ticking: Sudden water pressure change.
  • Whistling: Generally means loose valves.
  • Hissing: An obstruction might be blocking the heating element.

Sometimes these sounds disappear after a while. However, it might be time to replace the water heater if these noises persist.

Check out this electric tankless water heater on Amazon.

Aside from strange noises coming from your water heater, it may also display a warning LED that indicates a certain error or malfunction. Our post on what a blinking red light on a Rheem water heater means may help you identify the cause of this concern.

Dirty brown water running into a white sink.

Rusty, Cloudy, or Murky Water

Showering or bathing with rusty, cloudy, or murky water can lead to serious health issues. Some of the possible health issues that may occur if you continue those tasks with unclean water are:

  • Hair and skin might turn an unnatural red or yellow color.
  • Early signs of aging, such as wrinkles and dry skin.
  • Acne buildup and clogged pores.

Keep in mind that the accidental drinking of cloudy water may not promote any ill effects on your health. But avoid drinking or using water if it appears any other color besides white.

At best, your bath or shower water should appear clear and colorless. You may need to have your water heating system checked and repaired by a professional if water appears with colors like brown, green, or yellow.

Should I Replace My Water Heater Before It Fails?

It might be ideal to replace a water heater upon recognizing certain warning signs that it’s about to go bad. Doing so can promote certain benefits like:

  • Avoid the sudden loss of hot water.
  • Prevent potential health concerns from bathing or showering with unclean water.
  • Reduce the risks of skyrocketing utility bills.

Check out this tankless water heater on Amazon.

Can You Get Sick From A Bad Water Heater?

Continuous use of a bad water heater can lead to mild to serious health consequences. In this case, it’s important to mention Legionella pneumophila, which is a harmful bacteria that can lead to Legionellosis. This substance can grow in faulty water heaters, promoting serious health concerns if left unchecked.

Aside from the rise of harmful bacteria, bad water heaters may also be susceptible to mold growth. Leaks in these systems can increase the risks of mold and mildew outbreaks, resulting in risks of allergic reactions like sneezing, skin rash, and runny nose.

Can A Water Heater Explode?

A water heater can explode if it encounters an unnatural buildup of internal pressure. Stop using the fixture if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Pressure valve leak
  • Popping noises
  • Stench similar to rotten eggs
  • Brown water from connected faucets or water outlets

What Are The Steps To Replacing A Water Heater?

Before proceeding with this task, it’s important to note that each water heater replacement job often demands different procedures based on the fixture’s type. In this section, you’ll learn how to replace a conventional water heater:

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Close the property’s main water line.
  2. Drain the water from the old water heater. Check your owner’s manual if you have trouble draining the water from your specific model.
  3. Take out the old water heater and set the new model at the same location as the previous unit.
  4. Check your owner’s manual to attach the fittings at the correct terminals.
  5. Once you connect the water heater properly, open the main water line and fill the fixture with water.
  6. Turn on the new water heater to check for new and/or persisting issues.

You can also watch the video below to gain additional insight into this project. In particular, you'll learn about the importance of installing a compatible water heater for your household:

Which Water Heater Is The Best?

Generally, one water heater can’t supply different homes with the same benefits. Still, some water heaters stand out from the rest, thanks to their pros outweighing their cons. Some of these models are:

1. Stiebel Eltron Tankless Electric Water Heater

This versatile yet reasonably-priced water heater is usable with different bathroom and kitchen fixtures. It’s also possible to install this unit in a boat or RV.

Check out this product on Amazon.

2. Rinnai RU199iN Tankless Hot Water Heater

Although quite expensive, this premium water heater has features and traits that justify the relatively luxurious price tag. For instance, the manufacturer flaunts this particular unit to help homes save up to 32% in utility costs.

Check out this product on Amazon.

3. Rheem RTGH-84DVLN-2 Professional Prestige Water Heater

Convenience is perhaps the main advantage delivered by this particular water heater. It has an easy-to-use control panel, allowing straightforward water temperature controls.

Check out this product on Amazon.

Close-up of man hands setting the temperature of water in Electric Boiler. What Happens When A Water Heater Goes Bad

Final Words

Different events can happen if you use a water heater that’s going bad or is already due for a replacement. Some adverse effects that may occur may include increasing utility expenses and high risks of serious illnesses. If the problems with this plumbing fixture persist for extended periods, call a professional to have the unit checked, repaired, and/or replaced.

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