Does your water heater smell like it’s burning?
A burning smell coming from your water heater is a sign of a component failing or overheating.
Do not ignore these smells as they indicate a potential fire risk with your water heater.
If you’ve traced a burning odor back to your water heater, check out this guide to learn the cause.
5 Reasons Your Water Heater Smells Like Burning
1. Water Heater Smells Like: Burning Rubber or Plastic
If you smell burning rubber or burning plastic, turn off the power source at the breaker first before trying to pinpoint the smell.
If the electrical contacts on the thermostat mounted outside the water heater are overheating, the plastic parts around the switch may overheat and burn.
Additionally, the insulative coating on the wires could be overheating and burning. If the insulation is old or not packed properly, it could cause the wiring to come into contact and heating elements and overheat.
Solution: If you can pinpoint the cause of the burning smell, you can try to replace the insulation yourself or adjust the plastic pieces so that they don’t overheat. If you can’t locate or fix the problem yourself, contact a local plumber.
2. Water Heater Smells Like: Electrical Burning
If your water heater emits an electrical burning smell, this indicates that something electrical is starting to overload.
There are 2 common components in electric water heaters that can fail and cause an electrical burning smell.
Overheated Electrical Contacts. A hot wiring smell or electrical fire smell indicates that you need to check your wiring for arcing. After years of operation, the electrical contacts can erode and cause a higher resistance. When this happens, the contacts can heat up and arc, resulting in heat generating at the contacts instead of the fire rod. In this scenario, the heated contacts emit the electrical burning smell.
Fire Rod Failure. Over time, fire rods can crack and short out. As a result, the excess current from the short can cause the wiring and thermostat to heat up and emit an electrical burning smell.
Solution: Both of these issues will require a trained plumber to repair. It may even make sense to replace your water heater at this time instead of repairing it.
3. Water Heater Smells Like: Burning Dust
Over time, your water heater can accumulate dust and other debris and when it runs the dust and other debris can burn up, causing a burning dust smell.
Solution: Clean your water heater regularly and wipe off the dust and other debris that accumulate over time to resolve this issue.
4. Water Heater Smells Like: Gas
Chances are if you have a gas water heater and smell gas, you have a gas leak.
Solution: Immediately turn off the gas, air out your home, and call a plumber or your gas company to check for and fix the leaks. If you don’t know how to turn off the gas, you’ll want to evacuate your home and call the fire department for help, as the gas could ignite and cause a fire.
5. Water Heater Smells Like: Rotten Eggs or Sulfur
If your water heater smells like rotten eggs or sulfur, you most likely need to replace your sacrificial anode rod. These metal rods “sacrifice” themselves to rust and corrode first, preventing the water heater tank from rusting.
Solution: Replacing an anode rod will most likely require a trained plumber. It may even make sense to replace your water heater at this time instead of repairing it.
Can Hot Water Heaters Cause a Fire?
Yes. Your hot water heater can cause a fire or even explode in your home. According to the National Fire Protection Association, water heaters account for roughly 10% of all home fires that involve heating equipment.
There are 3 common reasons a water heater will cause fires. These include:
Overheating: As stated above, the plastic parts or insulation can overheat and catch on fire.
Gas leaks: If you have a gas water heater and it has a gas leak, the ignition flame can ignite the gas and cause an explosion.
High water pressure: As water is heated, pressure builds inside the tank. A properly functioning water heater will shut off or release the pressure through a safety valve. However, if these safety mechanisms fail, the pressure can increase to an unstable amount, causing the tank to explode.