Why is my Water Heater Leaking?
Water on the floor near your hot water heater always evokes the worst thought: you’re going to have to replace your hot water heater. While that may sometimes be true, it’s not always the case. Not every leaky hot water heater needs to be replaced. The first step is figuring out where the heater is leaking from, and then determining whether a fix will work to keep it running. Sometimes that fix can even be quick and inexpensive, and keep the heater running for years to come. Other times, you may need a professional plumber to help out, or even a replacement heater.
Before trying to locate the leak, and diagnose what the problem is, make sure to turn off the heater’s power source. If it’s an electric water heater, turn it off at the breaker. If it’s gas, look for the “on/off” valve on the heater, and make sure it’s off. If you can easily see the leak, and a lot of water is coming out, you can turn off the valve for the cold water supply intake, in order to keep water out of the tank. This should slow or even stop the leak, depending on where it is.
This may sound obvious, but the hot water heater can be very hot. Be careful not to touch it while inspecting it for the leak. Make sure to let the water cool before working on the heater. The water inside a hot water tank can even cause first-degree burns, so always be careful around it.
1. Hot and Cold Water Connections
There are usually two major connections on a hot water heater: a cold supply inlet connection, and a hot water outlet connection. Take a look at both of these connections, to see if either connection is leaking. The leak may be fixed by simply tightening the connections, or replacing the parts.
2. Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve
Hot water heaters have a temperature and pressure relief valve. High temperatures in the tank can create steam, which causes the T&P valve to open over and over, in order to prevent the tank from exploding. Trying to figure out if this is the issue takes a bit more time. The first step is to lower the thermostat on the water heater. Then, turn the water and heat back on to the tank, and watch for what happens. The T&P valve connects to a long pipe that runs down the side of the water heater. If there is dripping around the bottom of where the pipe is on the floor, it’s a good indication that the T&P valve has been discharging.
If the T&P valve continues to leak, there may be an issue with the valve itself. You can flush the valve by putting a bucket underneath the discharge pipe, and opening the T&P valve. The water should flush out any debris that may have gotten stuck in the valve. If it’s still leaking after being flushed, it’ll need to be replaced by a licensed professional plumber.
3. Drain Valve
The drain valve at the bottom of the tank can also leak. Similarly to the T&P valve, you can check this by placing a bucket under the valve, and flushing water through it. This should clear out any debris or sediment that has built up in the valve. If it’s still leaking after flushing it, the valve is probably faulty, and will need to be replaced. Again, a licensed plumber should handle this.
With electric hot water heaters, electric elements inside the tank heat the water. At the bottom of the elements are rubber gaskets, which protect the base from water. As these gaskets erode over time, they can allow water to leak and seep into the connections. On the outside of an electric water heater, there are small hatch covers, through which the base of the heating elements can be reached. Make sure the electricity to the heater is turned off, remove the hatches, cut through any insulation that may be in the way, and check out each electrical connection for signs of water damage. If you discover leakage around the gaskets, you can drain the tank, remove each heating element, and replace the gaskets.
5. The Tank Itself
If the actual water heater tank is leaking, you’ll have to replace it. Sediment can build up in the tank over time, and if it’s not being flushed regularly, the sediment can erode the tank from the inside out. Unfortunately, the only solution in this case is to replace the water heater.
Water heater experts in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio
Figuring out what’s wrong with your water heater may require a licensed professional. For recommendations and a free estimate to repair, install or replace a water heater in your home, talk to the pros at Ohio Buckeye Plumbing. To schedule an appointment, call (440) 283-9377.