Why does it sound like my water heater is popping?
The sediment in the bottom of your water heater is solid material that settles in the tank; it can be sand or other debris from your well or the water supply. It can also be from minerals, (calcium carbonate), that precipitate out of the water at higher temperatures.
Lime-scale is the hard, off-white, chalky deposit you often find in kettles, hot-water boilers and the inside of poorly maintained hot-water central heating systems. It is often found as a similar deposit on the inner surface of old pipes and other surfaces where “hard water” has evaporated. The minerals from hard water may cause problems for your appliances, including your hot water heater. Scale is a buildup of minerals inside of your hot water heater, mostly calcium and magnesium, which looks like white particles or pieces of paper in plumbing fixtures.
The popping noise is water boiling underneath the sediment. Sediment drops to the bottom of the tank where the gas burner is (for gas water heaters). That gas burner starts heating water trapped underneath the sediment, causing it to percolate like coffee and creating the noise as a result. Sediment can cause noises like popping and other strange sounds as water between the tank bottom and the layer of sediment turns to steam bubbles.
When you don’t keep up on your water heater maintenance the result can be costly. Here are some pictures of a tank that was never maintained.
This water heater had sediment and scale build up so bad before it was cut in half the bottom third of the tank was full of sediment covering the bottom element. There is well over a quarter inch of scale build up on the inner liner.
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