Blowing up a hot water cylinder

I made this GIF from an experiment done by Myth Busters to show the extent of damage a hot water cylinder can do when there is no pressure relief. blowing-up-hwc

The image above reinforces the importance of using individuals that understand the physics of hot water and the effects an installation can have on its surroundings.

So at what point will a cylinder explode?

In principal it’s simple to understand. Heating a substance causes molecules to speed up and spread slightly further apart, occupying a larger volume that results in a decrease in density. So “larger volume” means “more space” which is limited to the size of the hot water cylinder.

If hot water is not used and your thermostat fails, your immersion element will continue heating your water (to boiling point) until such time one of the pressure relief valves activates and relieves the pressure. Every installation should include two relief valves, one on the cold water side and one on the hot water side.

This regulation was put in place around 1997 meaning that any cylinders installed prior to that may only have one source of pressure relief. Hence the low pressure vent copper pipe going through the roof.

This is where it gets tricky. Many installers dont bother replacing older valves when replacing an old hot water cylinder with a new one. Others have managed to install a tempering valve on a low pressure system right into the overflow pipe, blocking the only means of pressure relief. The hot water system then becomes a time bomb which may result in something pictured above.

Sometimes its not the plumbers’ fault but rather the homeowner who sees a pipe dripping on the outside of a house and thinks.. “Oh, this should not be leaking” and decides to “blank” it off by any means available, creating the perfect conditions for a catastrophe. My recommendation on this is, see a dripping pipe? Please call the plumber.

If you are unsure about what valves you need or already have, send us an email or give us a call for help.