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Thread: Water Heater - will salt water damage the unit?

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member BARJRD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Virginia Beach, VA

    Default Water Heater - will salt water damage the unit?

    Our garage (and electric water heater) flooded last week with 15" of brackish (salt) water. We turned off the breaker soon after the water entered the garage. We allowed it to dry out for a couple of days and then turned it on and it works! However, I am concerned about the future corrosion that may take place due to the salt water. The insulation inside the unit was soaked.

    We talked to 2 plumbers, and neither had a clue on whether this was potentially an issue. The unit was basically sitting in 15" of water for 30 hours.

    Any advice?


  2. #2
    In the trades Dana's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2009


    The insulation on the tank will dry out- if it was fiberglass it might not recover it's initial R-value but a retrofit tank blanket should keep it's efficiency up. If its was foam, it never lost it's R-value.

    As long as it remains dry corrosion won't progress. If any electrical connections were soaked there could be issues down the line, but that would likely be easily repairable stuff.

    You may see some corrosion or bubbles/flaking paint on the exterior jacket from moisture that got trapped on the interior side, but that would have little effect on function, only appearance. (And if you covered the thing in retrofit insulation you wouldn't have to look at it anyway.)

    I'd wait for (but not expect for) it to fail before doing anything beyond inspecting & cleaning any electrical connections below the high-water mark. (Did it reach as high as the lower heating element?)

  3. #3
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Sep 2004
    New England


    If this was a gas unit and it got to the valve, you'd have to replace at least the gas valve. But, for an electric, especially if it didn't make it up to the electrical parts, it should dry out and be okay.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  4. #4
    DIY Member WorthFlorida's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Lake Worth, Florida


    Replace the lower thermostat. A good chance that water did get inside of it and it may fail by keeping the element on all the time or not at all. It was good that you turned the power off before it got wet. A water heater has and inside tank and an other shell. If the insulation does dry out over time it will take a long time for it to corrode from the outside in but the tank may go before that happens.

    No matter what the water heater warranty is there are some general rules that I follow. If the tank is more than 7 years you did OK, if it is over ten years old you are on borrowed time. Replace it if in doubt because they are like a car battery, when you need it the most it will fail. Replace it before you need to call a plumber on the weekend because of no hot water or you'll be late for the wedding.
    Last edited by WorthFlorida; 12-14-2009 at 06:10 AM.

  5. #5
    Plumber Cass's Avatar
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    Nov 2005


    Replace the lower stat and turn it on and use it until it needs repair or replacement...


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