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The Most Dramatic Plumbing Problems, Part 1

What is it about gross horror stories that captivate all of us so much? Whether it’s a medical horror story or a plumbing problem gone horribly wrong, it seems like everyone’s suddenly all-ears. For us, stories like this make us feel how Spider-Man must feel when he hears about a crime he couldn’t stop. If only we had been there!

Here they are. Some of the wildest, most dramatic (not to mention most expensive) plumbing problem disaster stories from around the world. The “super villains” of the plumbing world, if you will. We’re also going to explain exactly how we could have saved the day if only we’d been there. Just to make ourselves feel better, really.    

The Exploding Toilet

Exploding toilets happen a lot more than you’d think. In fact, you may have heard about the 2014 recall on a toilet part that was particularly explosion prone! Toilet explosions can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, they occur because of a plumbing problem. That’s right: a plumbing problem could literally make your toilet explode.  

The Story

This particular case happened in Barcelona, Spain, in 2014. A woman was just trying to use the facilities at an old bar in the city’s gothic quarter when she got a nasty surprise.

Unbeknownst to our unfortunate protagonist, the bathroom she entered was filled with flammable methane sewer gas. When the woman sat on the toilet and flipped a light switch, the switch produced a spark, and… BOOM! The toilet the woman was sitting on exploded, leaving her with second and third-degree leg burns.

Why It Happened

Methane gas built up in the bar’s bathroom for a couple of reasons: first, the bar’s septic tank or sewer pipe must have been poorly maintained. Next, the plumbing in the bathroom must have been improperly installed. Normally, the toilets’ p-trap would prevent sewer gas from traveling back up. Finally, the pipe and room were not ventilated, so the gas had nowhere to go but back through the pipe.

Add it all up and you get a room full of flammable gas, and all that gas is flowing out of the toilet. Then all it takes is a spark…

What We Could Have Done

The really painful part of this one is, we could have solved all of these problems really easily! We’d start by thoroughly clean and sanitizing the drain pipe. Then, we’d replace the faulty drain pipe connection, and maybe the whole toilet.

After that, it’s just a matter of venting the room and the pipes properly, and voila: one toilet that won’t blow your legs off when you try to use it!

Water Heater Rocket

Everyone’s seen the Mythbusters episode. When too much pressure and heat build in a water heater, the tank will warp and expand until it can’t take it anymore. When it reaches the breaking point, the pressure finds a way out–through the tank. It usually escapes out of the bottom of the tank because sediment and rust affect that part of the tank first.

The Story

This particular story comes from our partners in Phoenix, but this sort of thing happens all over. John Schmidt was sleeping at 6 am when he was awakened by what he said felt like “an earthquake”. The home’s electric water heater overheated, the pressure built up, and finally, the heater’s tank took off like a rocket straight through the roof of the garage.

The incident left a gaping hole in the home’s roof, buckled the walls on either side of the garage, and jettisoned debris over a wide radius. Nearby neighbors had to evacuate their homes while they were inspected for damage. Amazingly, no one was hurt. The water heater tank was eventually found, nearly ripped apart, 300 feet away!

Why It Happened

Chances are, the water heater’s temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve malfunctioned. The T&P valve opens to let excess heat and pressure out of the water heater’s tank by expelling hot water safely into a drain. Without it, heat and pressure can build up unchecked.

The ferocity of the explosion implies there was a problem with sediment in the tank or the heating element’s settings, too. When sediment builds up in the bottom of a water heater tank, it collects around the heating element. When the element contacts sediment it heats it up too much and too unevenly, leading to overheating.

What We Could Have Done

Another frustratingly simple fix! A water heater that’s working properly should never overheat, much less explode. We’d start by making sure the T&P valve works when it’s supposed to. Then, we’d flush and deep clean the tank itself, wiping out sediment and mineral buildups and making sure the heating element could heat the water evenly and properly.

While we’re in there, we’d check the rust-preventing anode rod and make sure the heating element wasn’t worn down. Maybe most importantly, we could show the unfortunate homeowner how to properly care for their water heater to prevent something like this from happening again.

Do these seem pretty extreme to you? We’re just getting started. We’ll confront more dramatic plumbing problems in part 2, coming soon! In the meantime, do you have any plumbing problem horror stories? If you’ve got a real stumper, let us know! We haven’t found a problem that could lick us yet, and we’ve seen our fair share.

And remember: if ever you require plumbing help, big or small, call on Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® of Dallas. We’ll make sure you never end up on this list–guaranteed.