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Why Is My Water Heater Making a Popping Noise? A Michigan Plumber Explains

Does it sound like somebody’s brewing a fresh cup of coffee in your water heater? While we love the idea of a water-heater-sized coffee maker, the truth is less exciting.

What you're really hearing are tiny air bubbles bursting out of a hard layer of sediment buildup at the bottom of your tank. And if action isn’t taken to clean out that sediment, it could permanently damage your water heater.

Thornton & Grooms wants to make sure it doesn’t come down to that. Being informed about this issue can protect you from having to replace your water heater prematurely. So this blog will go over additional questions such as:

  • What caused the sediment buildup in the first place?
  • How do I fix the problem and prevent it from happening again?
  • What would happen if I blissfully ignored all that popping?


The best course of action here is to have a professional drain and flush the water heater. Not only will it save you time, but they have tools and procedures on hand to remove 100% of that sediment buildup.

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What caused the sediment buildup in the first place?

The first thing you need to know is that all potable water in Michigan and around the U.S. contains trace amounts of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium carbonates and bicarbonates. These minerals flow through your home’s piping, including the pipes connected to your water heater.

The second thing you need to know is that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) uses four classifications to define the hardness of water: soft, moderately hard, hard and very hard. The harder the water, the more minerals it contains. In the Farmington Hills area, our water is around 100-120 PPM, which falls into the moderately hard category.

Despite falling into the middling range of water hardness in the U.S., that amount of mineralization in drinking water is more than enough hard water to put your water heater at risk of sediment buildup (which can eventually damage the water heater if it’s not taken care of). Once those minerals settle at the bottom of your water heater, it can create a hardened bed of sediment that is very difficult to remove.

How do I fix the problem and prevent it from happening again?

As we mentioned earlier, the popping noise is due to bubbles of hot air bursting out of the sediment bed at the bottom of your water heater. The sediment at this point is so thick, that water trapped beneath the sediment gets superheated and reaches a boiling point. If something isn’t done to prevent this, it can cause major damage to the tank itself.

If your water heater is making popping noises, a tank “flush” will usually fix the issue. To clarify, that’s when the water heater tank is drained entirely and then the sediment is removed completely from the system.

Note: Flushing doesn’t always fix the issue if the problem has gone on for too long. If there is too much buildup, a plumber may need to completely replace the tank.

And to ensure all of that sediment buildup gets cleaned out, hiring a professional plumber for your water heater flush is the way to go.

As far as prevention goes, you have two options: get your tank maintained annually through a maintenance plan, or install a whole-home water softener. Either option will work well on its own. Paired together, you won’t ever have to worry about water heater popping noises ever again.

Option #1: Join a plumbing maintenance plan.

Flushing out your water heater once a year will prevent that sediment from building up. Joining a maintenance plan such as our Home Care Club is a great option because it guarantees an annual flush and cleaning of your water heater along with a lot of other great benefits, such as discounts on repairs and extended labor warranties.

Option #2: Install a whole-home water softener.

The more expensive option is to install a whole-home water softener with an ion-exchange system. These systems use negatively-charged plastic beads to attract and remove minerals from the water before they ever enter your home’s piping. Without any minerals in your water, sediment can’t effectively build up in your tank. Even better, it also prevents those same minerals from causing havoc on your home’s drains, which can extend their lifespan and increase your home’s value.

What would happen to my water heater if I did nothing at all?

Even if you decide you can live with the sound of a popping water heater, that’ll be the least of your worries if you wait too long to flush out that tank.

Some of the issues of waiting too long include:

  • Higher energy bills: Sediment buildup forces your system to work harder to heat up all that water. That means higher energy bills and eventually less hot water.
  • Heating element damage: Electric water heaters rely on a heating element which can be buried by sediment over time. That could lead to a burn out and more expensive repairs.
  • Damage to the tank: As sediment builds up, it slows heat transfer from the burner/elements to the water in the tank. When this happens, it can overheat the inside of the tank, and more specifically the inner lining of the tank itself. That can lead to a tank leak, which almost certainly means the tank will need to be replaced.

Ready for that water heater repair? Call Thornton & Grooms!

At Thornton & Grooms, we put our customers before everything else, including our own profits. We’ve had this mindset for over 80 years, and we continue to stay true to that mindset with:

  • 14 guarantees we honor every single day
  • Upfront, flat-rate pricing on all water heater repairs
  • Same-day service for all water heater flushes
Schedule today!