The Silent Disaster……It sits quietly in your basement, it never complains, it works every time, you never give it a second thought, and if it breaks down the rental company will come and  repair it at no charge to you. What you don’t know is that your rented gas water heater is a potential catastrophe waiting to happen. It’s not a matter of maybe; it’s a certainty. The only questions are when and how much damage!

Many of us have rented water heaters from Reliance Home Comfort. One of our members, living on Abbey Dawn Drive, recently had her gas water heater start to leak causing several thousands of dollars worth of water damage to her finished basement.

Like most things that go wrong it is never at a convenient time. This flood was noticed at 6.00 on a Sunday evening.  A phone call to the emergency number of the rental company, presented her with an answering machine.

When you have water all over your basement floor an answering machine is not what you want to hear. The only thing she could do was to turn off the water and power to the heater. This left a tank full of hot water to drain into her finished basement.

At 7.30 on Monday morning a call to Reliance Home Comfort was answered and a service man dispatched. He arrived at 5.00 in the afternoon and pronounced the heater un-repairable. Not to worry. Reliance will replace the defective unit with a new one at no charge! The following Thursday, five days with no hot water, the new water heater arrived and was installed.

The question now is who pays for the damage to the basement?  Reliance Home Comfort pointed to their “Water Heater Terms and Conditions” which reads as follows.

We will not be liable for any loss, damage or injury of any type (including as a result of any water leakage) arising out of or related to this agreement or caused or contributed to in any way by the use and operation of the water heater or any indirect, incidental, special or consequential damages, even if reasonably foreseeable.

The above clause gets Reliance Home Comfort nicely off the hook. This particular water heater was 18 years old and Reliance had never serviced it. It is without doubt “Reasonably Foreseeable” that as water heaters age, especially with no maintenance; they will corrode leading to water leakage.

Most of us have home insurance which will pay to repair the damage, usually with a hefty deductable.

I called my home insurance company, Belair, and asked them what the policy was for water damage caused by the failure of a rented water heater. Although they advised that my policy would cover such water damage they cautioned that if the failure which caused the water damage was a result of not inspecting/maintaining the equipment they may not accept the claim. They also pointed out that it is the home owner’s responsibility to ensure that inspection and maintenance of all equipment in the home is carried out in a timely manner.

My gas water heater, also rented from Reliance, is three years old and Reliance has never come to service it. I called and asked them if they wanted to come and carry out some preventative maintenance or scheduled service on the unit. They informed me that there was nothing on the unit to service and that if it broke down they would repair it. I asked if there was an age when these types of water heaters became susceptible to corrosion and more likely to start leaking. They said no and advised that if it started to leak, I would notice it. Just give them a call and they would replace it.

With my engineering background this answer did not pass the sniff test.  After a  little research and a couple of phone calls it became obvious that water heaters, like all pieces of equipment, need regular maintenance to help avoid catastrophic failure and ensure reliable operation.

Rheem, the manufacturer of my water heater have an extensive maintenance regiment which includes the following two items designed to minimise corrosion in the tank.

  • Once a year flush the tank to remove any accumulation of debris in the bottom of the tank.
  • The anode rod should be removed from the water heater’s tank annually for inspection and replaced when more than 6” of core wire is exposed at either end of the rod.

When I asked Rheem what the life of a typical water heater would be they were a little less succinct. It depends very much on the use cycle, the condition of the water and the regularity of inspections and maintenance. As a general rule they have found that with poor maintenance the units have been known to corrode and start leaking in less than 10 years. Whereas with regular maintenance and ideal water conditions they have seen them last as long as 20 years.

I believe Reliance is remiss in not providing a regular preventative maintenance service for their rented equipment. The Reliance mantra seems to be “We will fix it if it is broken”. They are indemnified by their “Water Heater Terms and Conditions” from any consequences related to the rented equipment failure.

The lesson here is that if you have a rented unit in your home which is 10 years old or more and has not been regularly inspected/maintained you could be facing an unexpected catastrophe. If you are unlucky enough to have a flood in your basement you will find that insurance companies consider each claim individually. The cost to repair any damage caused by an unmaintained water heater may or may not be covered by your insurance company.

If your gas water heater is more than 10 years old and has never been serviced. It may be time to have a discussion with Reliance and with your insurance company.

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2 Comments, RSS

  • Alan Carrick

    A couple of years ago when changing house insurance companies, I was informed that as my water heater was over 13 years old, I would not be covered should the water heater leak. Regular maintenance did not extend this age limit.
    I have since replaced my water heater with a tankless model.

  • Gary Cronyn

    Thank you for the informative article you published regarding water heaters. About 10 years ago, before moving in, I had the rental gas unit removed and I installed an electric unit. Being new, I didn’t give much thought to water damage in the event of a failure, that is, until I read your warning. In reviewing the manual that came with the GE/Rheem unit they list a CAUTION that reads as follows: ‘The water heater should not be located in an area where leakage of the tank or connections will result in damage to the area adjacent to it or to lower floors of the structure. WHERE SUCH AREAS CANNOT BE AVOIDED, IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT A SUITABLE CATCH PAN, ADEQUATELY DRAINED, BE INSTALLED UNDER THE WATER HEATER.’

    I should have done that and didn’t. After reading your warning, I modified a catch pan so that it could be retrofitted and installed a drain pipe to our sump pump well. If and when it does fail, I will scrape the modified pan off the floor and install a new pan before placing a new electric heater in place.

    Thank you again for your timely advice.

    Gary Cronyn

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