Noisy Water Heater – Its Causes and How to Solve Them

Noisy Water Heater – Its Causes and How to Solve Them
April 5, 2012 Lorelie

Water heaters are very convenient household appliances that enable us to feel comfortable when it comes to the usage of water at home such as taking a warm or hot bath, washing our clothes with warm water, washing the dishes in the dishwasher with warm water, or washing our hands with lukewarm water from the faucet.

Most of the times, homeowners and their family members tend to ignore the maintenance of their water heater at home, and the only time they will pay attention to it is when it starts to make some unusual noises.  A noisy water heater in a residential area can have a number of common problems depending on the noise it makes such as rumbling, pounding, ticking, etc.

Water heater noises are typically associated with two major conditions – water hammer and mineral buildup.  Unfortunately, there are also other reasons why a water heater could become noisy over time.

It is fairly common to experience the irritating noise that your water heater creates after a short period of service.  Even if your water heater is installed in an area away from your living room or bedroom, you might still hear some kind of noise in the plumbing that travels with vibration waves from the water heater.

The irritating noises, for example, can originate either from the gas water heater because of the droplets on the crusty formations and sediments, or it is associated with the hissing sound created by the electric units and formation of lime scale on the immersed heating elements of the water heater.

There are 6 common types of noises that a water heater makes which may indicate that there is something wrong with it:

1.  Pounding Noise

You may be wondering why your water heater is making an awful pounding noise.  The two major causes of a pounding noise coming from your water heater are water hammer and mineral buildup.

When water is freely flowing through the plumbing system and then it is stopped abruptly, what will happen is that the high intensity shock wave tends to travel through the pipeline, which in turn makes some vibrations in the piping system, and then followed by a sort of banging, thumping and pounding noise.

The pounding noise could be associated with the occurrence of water hammer.

The pounding noise could also occur due to lime formations and sediments that settle at the bottom of the tank.  In order to eradicate the noise, some professionals would most likely recommend installing a water softener, or occasionally flushing out the system.

2.  Ticking Noise

The ticking noise coming from your water heater is usually caused by a fluctuation in pressure inside the piping system.  If your water heater is an energy-efficient unit, then the odds are that it has heat traps that are installed.  Because of the temperature change as well as the expansion and contraction of the heating elements, the heat trap ball is rattling in the nipple.

If there is no other way to get rid of the ticking noise, you may try removing the heat traps from the water heater.  Be aware that there will be only a small reduction in its energy efficiency, but it will surely not affect the safety of the water heater’s operation.

One other possible reason for the ticking sound may be that it comes from the plumbing pipes, and this may be due to expanding and contracting against a loose-fitting strap or wood framing while making a hot water draw.  One of the simple solutions would be to track down where the ticking noise is the loudest, and then try to secure the pipe or install some plastic spacers.

The simplest solution when it comes to ticking noises is to turn the temperature on your water heater just a few more degrees down.

3.  Rumbling Noise

One of the main causes of a rumbling noise coming out of your water heater is the aluminum hydroxide gel inside it, whereas mineral buildup could also be an underlying factor.  The aluminum hydroxide gel is actually the result of the chemical reaction between the water condition and the anode rod.

Aluminum hydroxide gel can either be blue, gray or green gel beads that tend to accumulate in the water heater drain or in faucet aerators as well.

There are two simple ways on how to solve this rumbling noise in your water heater:

  1. If your water heater is fairly new and there is no lime buildup yet, you can simply turn the water heater off, remove the anode rod and then flush the system thoroughly.  After that, bring the anode back and turn on the water heater.
  2. If your water heater already has lime buildup in it, you may then use one of the recommended de-limers (such as phosphoric acid or maybe you could ask one from the manufacturer) and then follow the correct procedure for flushing out the deposits.

4.  Sizzling Noise

The sizzling noise coming out of your gas water heater may primarily be due to condensation and/or a leaking problem – when there are drops of water dripping down the flame in the burner or any other hot surface.

Condensation is typically created when the hot flue gases come in contact with cooler surfaces.  Condensation forms inside the vent and drops of water will hit a hot surface every few seconds, and that makes the sizzling noise.  It can be seen by means of looking into the combustion chamber where the flame will first grow very bright and then very dim afterwards.

Condensation must stop when the whole heater is heated at over 115 F. If the problem is due to leakage, then locating and repairing or even replacing the leaking element or tightening the loose fittings, is the most common solution.

When you own a gas water heater, the sizzling noise is considered to be a normal sign because natural gas has a very high moisture content.

When it comes to electric water heaters, the sizzling noise may come from the heating elements, due to lime scale formation, and water that is trapped next to the element will also make the sizzling noise, when the boiling water becomes steam.

5.  Popping and Crackling Noises

The popping and crackling noises are typically caused by water that is trapped under the lime deposits.  Lime (CaCO3) that is present in the water heater is normally the result of water hardness, and it is usually present in almost every home plumbing, more or less.  As you heat up the water more and because of the water heater’s prolonged usage in the excessive hardness environment, more lime is created.

The solution for the popping and crackling noises made by your water heater due to lime buildup is very simple.  You only have to flush out the water heater with the proper acidic compound such as a de-limer recommended by the manufacturer.

If the flow of water is abruptly stopped, it can also cause the popping and crackling noise.

Another possible reason for the crackling sound coming out of your water heater may be that condensation is dripping on the burner or any other hot part’s surface.

Closing Thoughts

Noise coming from your water heater can be minimized by disconnecting the heater as well as doing a regular flushing, which is the most common solution to these irritating noises. If the water in your area is too hard, you may want to consider installing a water softener, but of course, do consider a negative influence on the anode rod.

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