Troubleshooting a Water Heater Leak

Water Heater Leaks

Troubleshooting a leaking hot water heater is something that needs to be done from time to time, when your water heater leaks. If you notice water dripping, or water pooling out from underneath the tank of your water heater, use this troubleshooting guide to find the cause of the hot water heater leak.

Troubleshooting a Water Heater Leak

A water leak at the base of your water heater does not always indicate a hot water heater needs to be replaced. There are several other factors to check before determining the cause of the leak, ranging from the relief valve, to the water heater water inlet and outlet pipes. Although a tank corroding and springing a leak and needing to be replace is a common cause of leaks, often times, the leak may turn out to be a more minor repair.

Condensation drips from under the water heater vent.

In conventional gas water heaters, the gas combustion vent flue that is built into the center of gas water heater tanks can condensate near the top where the cold water comes into the tank, and then drip down the gas flue and drip on the gas pan. If the dripping problem appears when the tank is first filled with cold water, but then disappears when the water has had time to get hot, this usually indicates an acceptable temporary condensation condition.

If the condensation is a chronic issue, then there is probably something wrong with the vent. An improperly installed gas water heater vent can cause condensation problems, or much more serious issues and should be checked by a licensed plumbing or heating contractor to make sure the water heater is vented to code for safety reasons.
Water Heater Leaking from the Temperature & Pressure relief valve.

Troubleshooting a Water Heater LeakThe temperature and pressure relief valve is a brass valve near the top of the heater. A leak from this valve or from a pipe coming down from that valve is a common problem that has a wide variety of causes. A leaking T&P relief valve can be caused by the temperature being set too high, by the main water pressure being too high, or by check valves, pressure reducing valves or backflow preventers that prevent hot water expansion in the tank from escaping. Sometimes, the TP relief valve itself may just be corroded, or otherwise faulty.

If you find the leak is coming from your TP relief valve, turn off the power or gas to your water heater and clsoe the water inlet shutoff valve to the “off” position. Then call a licensed plumber to further diagnose the problem. High pressure and/or temperature causes relief valve leaks and can be a very dangerous condition, so shutting off the hot water heater and calling a licensed plumber is recommended.

Water Heater leaking from the drain valve.

Troubleshooting a Water Heater LeakIf the small brass drain valve at the bottom of the water heater is leaking, then you can sometimes temporarily fix it just by tightening the handle. Otherwise you’ll have to turn off the water, drain the water heater tank and replace the drain valve.

Water Heater leaks from an element, or other tank port.

If your water heater seems to have leak underneath the jacket, and you can inspect the area safely, you may find a tank tap or port leaking. Electric water heaters, can often develop leaks from the heating element gaskets, make sure to turn the electricity off before inspecting the electrical element ports. A leak could also develop at one of the threaded taps, or ports where the water inlet pipes or other valves screws into the water heater tank.

If this is the case, you’ll have to first repair the part that screws into the part, such as changing an element or drain valve that appears to be leaking, but if the leak is on the female threads of the tank tap itself, then the water heater tank will have to be replaced.Troubleshooting a Water Heater Leak
Leaks from the water pipes.

Inspect the water pipes connected to your water heater. The cold inlet and hot outlet water pipes are located at the top of traditional tank type water heaters, but sometimes on the side of other tank type heaters. If you find the leak is coming from the actual water pipes, then your leak is a water pipe leak, and not related to the water heater itself. You’ll have to shut the main water off and have the leak repaired on the pipe and or fitting that is leaking.
Water Heater is leaking from the tank, or pooling at the bottom.

If you can visibly see the water leaking directly from the tank itself, or coming out from the bottom of the tank, then the water heater will have to be replaced. By process of elimination if none of the things on the troubleshooting list above are leaking, then the leak must be coming from the water heating vessel itself and it is time to replace your hot water heater. The average lifespan of a water heater tank is only about 9-11 years old. Most tanks have a 6 year warranty, but some have higher.

If your water heater has developed a leak at the tank, turn off the power, and the water inlet shutoff valve and hook a hose to the bottom drain valve to drain the tank. Check to see if it is still under warranty, and start shopping for a new, more efficient, more comfortable water heater!

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