A water heater that isn’t grounded can have lethal consequences.
You may not even realize that your water heater’s grounding is malfunctioning until it’s too late.
Knowing why a water heater is dangerous and how you can prevent its consequences is important.
What Happens If Water Heater Is Not Grounded? (Consequences)
Improper or malfunctioning grounding means the electric current stays in the water tank.
When you use the water, it creates an electric current from the tank to wherever the water is going.
If you’re in that current, then the current of electricity will pass through you on its way to the ground.
Here are the dangers as a result of the faulty grounding.
1. Can Cause Electrocution In Showers
There are a few reasons you can face electrocution in the shower.
The first is the path of the water from the water heater.
When water heaters aren’t grounded, there’s nowhere for escaped electrons to travel.
As a rule, electricity is always seeking a way to travel to the ground.
If the path isn’t there, then they’ll remain in a circuit until the path emerges.
In the case of a shower, the electrons that are floating around in the water follow the release of the water.
It passes through the plumbing, likely electrifying the pipes if they’re metal, and then entering through the showerhead.
You make contact with the electrified water.
As a result, you’re electrocuted.
Another reason you can face electrocution in the shower is the presence of metal taps.
To turn on the water in the first place, you need to turn the tap.
As soon as the water hits you, you make a circuit with the metal taps and the electrified water.
If you hadn’t been touching the taps, then there was a chance you might escape.
Touching the taps, on the other hand, completes the circuit.
When the body experiences electrocution, its muscles contract.
Your hand grips onto the metal tabs and is unable to let it go.
You need to be physically pushed from them to let it go.
There have been cases where people have died from electrocution in the shower.
The cause was a faulty water heater.
2. Can Cause Electrocution In Sinks
The shower isn’t the only place where electrocution can happen.
Your sink is also at risk.
If you turn on the hot water from the sink, then you’re emptying water from the water heater.
If the tank has electrified water, then it’s coming to the sink.
Just like with the shower, sinks have metal taps.
If you hold onto the tap while running your hand under the water, then you may face electrocution.
Sinks are a bit safer than showers because you’re not standing in the water.
You’re also not usually touching the tap while the water is running.
The contact can break.
At most, you’ll receive an unpleasant shock from the water.
It could be your first sign that your water heater’s grounding needs repair.
3. Can Cause Electrocution In Baths
The bath is another place where lethal electrocution can occur.
It’s just as dangerous as a shower because you’re in a pool of water.
There’s no way to escape from the water.
There are a few ways electrocution can occur in the bath.
The first is by touching the tap.
When you turn the hot water tap, it allows the electrified water to make contact with your body.
If you have a habit of testing the water while turning the tap, then you’re going to complete the circuit and face electrocution.
Another way is experiencing a fault in the grounding while you’re in the water.
While you’re lying in the water, you may turn on the hot water again to either warm the water or fill it further.
If you avoided electrocution beforehand, then you’re going to face it now.
The electrified water will fill the tub of water with you in it.
Because your muscles are contracting, you can’t get out of the tub.
You’re experiencing shock after shock as the electrons try to seek the ground.
There’s no escape from it.
You may also experience the unfortunate luck of having a problem with the grounding while you’re in the tub.
It may have worked perfectly before you got in the tub.
However, something may have caused it to short or break.
While you’re in the water, you may turn on the hot water and experience electrocution by the now-faulty water heater.
Like showers, baths can have lethal consequences if your water heater’s grounding isn’t working.
4. Can Cause Shock In Washing Machines
Your water heater won’t just electrify your shower and bath.
It can also electrify appliances that aren’t grounded.
One example is your washing machine.
If you use hot water to wash your clothes, then an ungrounded water heater sends electrons to the washing machine.
Newer washing machines come with a plug that grounds them.
However, if your washing machine is older or if you don’t have it plugged into the right type of outlet, then it’s not grounded.
As a result, the electrons rest on the surface of the washing machine.
When you touch the washing machine, you’ll receive a shock.
The good news is that you’re unlikely to experience electrocution.
You’re standing on the ground.
The electrons will pass through you to reach the ground.
If you’re standing in water, then you will experience electrocution.
Receiving a shock from your washing machine can tell you a few things.
The first is that your water heater’s grounding may be failing.
The second is that your washing machine’s grounding may be failing.
Sometimes washing machines host static electricity.
While it doesn’t feel good, sometimes a shock is nothing more than static electricity.
5. Can Cause Shorts That Trip And Fry Circuit Breakers
When water heaters have functioning grounding, it trips the circuit breaker.
It’s a fail-safe system.
The escaped electrons travel to the circuit breaker which tells it to shut off the power.
It’s called a short.
The problem is that sometimes a powerful short can actually damage the circuit breaker.
As a result, it may not do its job.
When this happens, the power isn’t shut off.
It remains active.
If you’re in the shower when this happens, then there’s no way you can break contact with the water.
Fried circuit breakers also mean your other circuits may no longer work.
It may turn off the entire power if you’re lucky.
Perhaps it’s only a few appliances that no longer work.
A short can also damage other appliances.
Anything that’s connected to the electrical system has a chance of frying.
That could end up costing you thousands of dollars to repair or replace.
6. Can Cause Electrical Fires
As the electrons pass through the wire, it can cause a short in other wires.
Some wires may fuse together and overheat.
A spark forms.
A fire is lit.
Electrical fires are extremely dangerous.
They spread fast and are difficult to subdue.
One reason they’re difficult to extinguish is that they’re inside the wall.
By the time firefighters have a chance to extinguish it, the fire may have spread too far.
They’re also dangerous because you can’t see them.
If something is on fire in your microwave, you can see and smell the smoke.
You’re able to react immediately.
That isn’t the case with electrical fires.
Sometimes you may notice an outlet is smoking or burning.
Usually, it happens behind the wall and out of sight.
You may be fast asleep in bed while an electrical fire begins.
If your smoke detectors don’t alert you, then you can succumb to oxygen deprivation.
The fire consumes you and your house.
This is all traced back to your water heater which caused the short in the first place.
How Does Water Heater Grounding Work?
To completely understand how tragic situations can occur, it’s important to know how grounding works.
The act of grounding is to allow electricity to have a path to the ground.
Electricity seeks the ground.
That’s why lightning shoots downwards rather than across the sky.
A water heater that runs on electricity uses a live wire and a normal wire to heat the water.
Electrons pass through the live wire and return to the circuit through the normal wire inside of the heating element.
Sometimes an electron may attempt to escape the live wire.
Its escape is successful if the insulation of the live wire is compromised.
This can occur for many different reasons.
The common reason is that the copper wire corrodes.
This is inevitable when water is involved.
The sheathing that protects the copper wire will wear down over time.
The moment that the water makes contact with the copper wire, it becomes electrified.
A grounded water heater will have a grounding, or earthing, wire also attached to it.
This wire sends the stray electrons to the ground or foundation of your home.
It also trips the circuit breaker.
The power shuts off, preventing electrocution.
Sometimes the grounding wire may be broken.
Electrons are unable to complete the circuit.
They remain inside of the water, seeking a path to the ground.
Sometimes there’s a material that stops the flow of electrons.
Rubber tubing, for example, makes it difficult for electrons to pass through it.
It’s not conductive.
The circuit is incomplete.
Electrons remain in the water.
The grounding wire also passes through the walls.
It runs parallel to the live and neutral wire.
If an electron ever jumps a wire, then the grounding wire is there to catch it.
Even if the water heater’s heating element is working correctly, one of its wires may have a short down the line.
Proper grounding still does its job.
It removes the electrons and keeps them from making contact with anyone in the home.
How To Prevent Water Heater Electrocution
There are a few methods you can use to prevent electrocution from a water heater.
These methods stem from the common reasons behind water heater electrocution.
1. Use Proper Outlet To Power Water Heater
One reason households face electrocution is that they use the wrong outlet.
Water heaters need a lot of power.
If the outlet doesn’t produce enough, then it puts strain on the water heater and wiring system.
As a result, the wires overheat.
When they overheat, they fuse together.
Once they’re fused together, they cause shorts.
A short can lead to electrocution.
Many homeowners plug their water heaters into 13A outlets.
This is a mistake.
You need to plug the water heater into a 15A/20A front flex outlet instead.
This type of outlet is standard in new homes.
2. Secure Wires To Avoid Melting and Fusing
A common practice among electricians is to tape wires together.
It holds them together and makes the electrical wiring neat.
The problem with this is that it creates greater resistance and promotes overheating.
A better solution is to use a closed-end wire connector.
It’s not as neat as taping wires together, but it does keep them separate.
With the space between them, the wires are able to stay cool.
They’re less likely to overheat and fuse together.
3. Test Circuit Breaker Once A Month
Your circuit breaker is the first indicator that something is wrong with your grounding.
It trips when it receives a short or spike of electricity.
The problem is that if the circuit breaker isn’t working right, then you have no idea if your grounding is working.
You can solve this by testing your circuit breaker.
Every circuit breaker has a test button.
Pressing the test button makes the circuit board trip itself.
If it does trip after pushing the button, then the circuit breaker is working.
If it doesn’t trip, then the circuit breaker isn’t working, or the grounding isn’t working.
At this point, you can perform other tests to determine where the problem rests.
4. Have Water Heater Maintained
Maintenance is vital when it comes to your water heater.
You will never know if something is wrong with it otherwise.
A contractor needs to maintain your water heater at least once a year.
They can check to see if the copper wire’s insulation is holding up or if it’s becoming corroded.
They can also check to see if the grounding wire is still attached.
A water heater that’s maintained will last longer and save you money.
5. Maintain Heating Element
The heating element is the most important part of your water heater.
It’s also where the grounding problems originate.
Even if you don’t want someone maintaining the rest of your water heater, the heating element needs it.
Replacing it every few years can ensure the copper wire never corrodes.
There are several fatal consequences that can occur if a water heater isn’t grounded.
Electrocution is the main consequence.
Burned skin from shocks is another.
An ungrounded water heater can also cause an electrical fire or fry other appliances.
Having the water heater maintained and testing your circuit breaker can keep you safe.