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Tanklets > When Water Heaters Get Wet

Q: We have a pump but it is not working fast enough and the water heater is under about six inches of water. What should I do and is this dangerous. Can I relight the pilot light when the water goes down.

A: Drowning the control could be dangerous. You may want to have a plumber check it over after the water level drops. -- Randy

Q1: Thank you....our builder is coming over later today. He said that the lake is above some level which has caused the flooding.

A1: Hello: At a minimum, you'll need to replace the control and probably the burner assembly. Your insurance company may simply want to replace the entire heater because of wet insulation issues. -- Larry

A2: If your heater is a FVIR and flooded then the manufacturer will recommend you replace the heater. -- Ej (11/14/09)

Q: Two months ago I had a well-known plumbing group replace my antique 30 gal water heater with one of their units. The tank is located outside & has an aluminum shed that had 2 holes in the top of it. Within a week we had a rainfall & the shed started shaking violently after a few minutes of turning on the hot water in the kitchen.

Billows of steam came pouring out of the shed, along with gallons of water pouring out the top of the tank & maybe the bottom also. The racket was deafening. The first service man told his mgr that the unit was defective & should be replaced. A supervisor later decided that water coming through the top of the shed got into the top of the tank & created the problem.

So they plugged up the holes in the shed & squeezed some kind of synthetic in a tube all around the exhaust pipe the goes straight up from the tank through the shed, just where the pipe emerges from the shed. Then they vacuumed out some water from the tank. I asked why I never had this problem with my antique tank, and they said that ALL brands of gas tanks are constructed so that water is able to get into the top of the tank.

I am unfamiliar with tanks, but I am skeptical that all tanks are constructed this way. Besides, no 2 of their service people seem to agree on anything about this problem, & I've talked with 5 so far. Last night (2 months later after last incident), we had another rain storm (this is Southern CA, LA County), and the same problem happened all over again.

The fellow they sent out likes to cut corners, so he wasn't going to vacuum out the water, but I insisted he do so. He covered the previously filled 2 holes in the top of the shed with metal tape. Then he scraped the old synthetic stuff off the pipe & plastered a bunch of metal tape there, too. I am scheduling to see his supervisor this week when our next storm hits, as I predict there will still be a problem.

I am willing to buy a new gas 30 gal tank that doesn't allow water to leak into the top of it--if such exists--and have this plumbing group install it, but I want some expert opinions from this forum first. Do you think the tank is defective? Is there a tank model that won't have this problem of water leaking into the top? Do you think there's another problem they haven't addressed? All opinions welcome.

A: And who says water heaters are boring? I would love to see a couple of pictures of your water heater installation, overview and closeup. That would tell us a lot. I don't quite agree that all water heaters are designed to let water into them. Or that any are. Was there any sort of cap on the vent to the water heater?

It sounds as if rain poured down the vent into the water heater flue and then when the burner came on, it got steamy. Or maybe there is another scenario here. I don't understand the part about vacuuming up the rain water. On my heater, at least, the only places any water could collect are the dimples where the nipples are. Questions and questions. Why did the shed shake? Is the heater strapped down in any way? Could it fall over? Tell us some more and show us some more. This is fun. -- Randy

A1: Hello: Installed properly, I can't think of a condition where significant rain could get into a heater. Only the inside of a heater is protected by the glass lining, but it sounds like the bare outside of your tank has been wetted repeatedly. Violent shaking makes me wonder if there is a safety concern here. Without photos and more information, this is pure speculation. It may be the relief valve is not hooked up to a drain line, or a pressure problem, or both. Whatever, we need to figure it out. -- Larry

Q1: OK. I'm new here so I'll take some photos & try to figure out how to post them here. A number of folks on other forums think there was a bad install, which is entirely possible, considering that the first install didn't pass inspection with the City Inspector & had to be reinstalled to a new gas line & modifications made to the valves on the lower portion of the tank.

I think the shaking has to do with the heat in the tank getting hit with very cold rain & then there's condensation producing buckets of "fog." But it literally rattles the entire old house. The first time I thought there were waves of aircraft going overhead when it started to rumble! That's when I went outside & saw what was happening.

I also found a lake of water surrounding the tin cabinet (shed) the tank's housed in. The racket is from the vibrating cabinet. The question has arisen as to whether the tank is now ruined & could also be a hazard now that it's had water trapped in it 3X. Next rain due Thursday. Hope we can figure out what's happening & what I need to do. Thanks for your comments & those of the others here!

A2: If you live in Los Angeles (my neck of the woods) and depending on your brand of heater you stand the chance that your heater is no longer safe. The brands GE, Rheem, Rudd once flooded void the warranty and are unsafe to continue to use. Water coming in the vent hole is a common problem when placed under an eve of a rain faced wall and should have been sealed with flashing if needed. Vacuuming out the water in these models is not an acceptable solution.

With A. O. Smith, Whirlpool, Kenmore, Reliance, American it is possible to form rust over the flame arrestor which would limit airflow into the heater and cause you other problems with the heater once flooded. Your best source of information will be your manual. -- Ej (12/9/09)