Hard water can destroy a water heater, greatly reducing the appliance's useful service life. Knowing the effects and how to deal with them is important for every homeowner.
Signs of Hard Water Failure
Your water will begin to show symptoms of mineral buildup long before it fails completely. Early signs are usually audible. You may notice an increase in popping and banging when the tank is refilling and reheating. This is caused by mineral scale cracking and breaking off the interior walls of the tank. There may also be a reduction in the amount of hot water available because the mineral scale is taking up more and more room inside the tank.
Leaks sometimes begin to form, as well. Leaks can be at the seals that surround the inlet and outlet valve. The cause is mineral blockages in the line that aren't allowing the water to flow freely. The overflow valve may also begin to leak since mineral buildup can lead to pressure buildup in the tank. Finally, rust, corrosion, and leaks in the tank itself may form if the mineral buildup is especially heavy.
Repair Vs. Replacement
Once you realize there is a hard water issue, the next decision to make is whether the water heater can be repaired or if replacement is the better option. Repair is a possibility if the tank itself is still in good condition. Valves, seals, and water lines can also be easily and inexpensively replaced. If your heater is only a few years old, it also makes sense to replace any damaged internal components, such as heating elements and anode rods.
When tank damage is present, such as existing leaks or rust and corrosion, replacement is the better option so that there is no risk of the tank bursting in the future. It's also usually more cost-effective to simply replace tanks that are more than a decade old since they are likely reaching the end of their useful service life anyway.
Once your tank is repaired or replaced, the next step is to prevent future hard water problems. The installation of additional anode rods, which help prevent hard water from causing rust and corrosion in the tank, may be necessary. You should also have the tank flushed once a year to remove any hard water mineralization buildup.
Installing a water softener on the water inlet line that feeds the water heater will reduce most hard water issues, although preventative maintenance such as flushing is still recommended.
Contact a plumber to learn more about hard water issues and how they can affect your water heater replacement needs.