If your hot water heater is leaking, never ignore the problem. A leaking water heater is more than a nuisance that adds to your water bill. It's a sign that you have a serious maintenance problem that can only get worse. As the leak grows, the probability of a complete water heater failure increases. Eventually, the little leak grows into a torrent that causes thousands of dollars in water damage. Read on to find out how to stop damaging hot water heater leaking.
My Hot Water Heater Is Leaking: What Should I Do?
First, take the problem seriously, even if the leak looks minor. Leaks grow and even small amounts of water can seep into floors and walls, causing black mold. Second, accept that the water heater will need to be repaired or replaced sooner rather than later. Third, determine the cause. Determining the cause can be done by following a five step hot water heater leaking diagnosis procedure:
1. Determine the Source of the Heater Leak
Let's start with the good news: not every puddle is the result of a leak! Condensation often forms on pipes and appliances and accumulates on the floor, giving the impression of a hot water heater leaking. Condensation pooling on the floor occurs frequently in basements and during damp weather. If water has pooled on the floor, first check for condensation on pipes and the water heater to determine if it's the cause.
If the water is not from condensation, then you need to perform several tests to determine if the leak is coming from the water heater or another source, such as the furnace drain lines or water softener discharge pipes. First, dry the area and inspect the water heater, plumbing fittings and other areas for signs of a leak. If you see no leak, check any other nearby sources. Remember: water always travels downwards. Should you find no leaks in the area, place paper towels where the water was found and check in a few hours to see if they are absorbing water.
When water reappears on the paper towels, it's likely your water heater that's leaking. However, if no water reappears after a few days, your water heater is most likely okay.
2. Turn Off the Power
When electricity contacts water, there is serious danger of electrocution, so never work on a water heater while the power is on. For electric water heaters, turning off the power simply requires turning off the circuit breaker that corresponds to the water heater. Natural gas heaters have an on/off switch or dial near the base. Simply make sure it is set to off.
3. Turn Off the Water
Hopefully, you've caught the leak before it has grown to the level where shutting off the water to the house or building is necessary. To shut off the water supply to the water heater, locate the cold water shut-off valve. The valve is normally located above the water heater. The shut-off valve may have a handle, or it may = be a dial which needs to be turned clockwise.
Do not close the valve if touching it puts you in contact with water. When you can't reach it safely, you'll need to locate the shut-off valve for the entire home of building, shut the water down completely, and contact a plumber.
4. Determine the Cause
If you can get the power and water safely turned off, then it's possible to examine the water heater to determine the leak's cause. Here are the main culprits of hot water heater leaking:
The Cold Water Inlet and Hot Water Outlet Connections
The inlet- and outlet pipes connect to the water heater at the top of the unit. If these are leaking, try using a pipe wrench to tighten the connections and stop the leak. If this solves the problem, you're home free.
The Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve
This important safety feature prevents water heaters from overheating or bursting due to excessive pressure. It relieves tank pressure by letting some of the water out of the tank. To determine if it is the source of the leak, inspect the point where the valve enters the tank and then the valve itself. If the valve is closed and water is still running from the attached pipe, it needs replacement. In some cases, the valve will be open because it is draining the tank. If it's leaking while open, it can probably be fixed.
The Drain Valve
Check that the drain valve, which is located near the bottom of the tank, is completely closed. In addition, check the point where the drain valve enters the tank. In many cases, that area can be the source of a leak. A plumber can generally fix a leaky drain valve.
The Internal Tank
If you're hoping to avoid replacing the water heater, then an internal tank leak is bad news. The water tank is wrapped in insulation and housed inside an outer skin. Internal tanks generally leak out of the bottom of the tank. This is a common problem once water heaters are nearing the end of their service life and have significant deterioration. Internal tank leaks require water heater replacement.
5. Repair or Replace
Whether to repair or replace a leaky water heater depends on if the leak is fixable, the cost of repair versus purchasing a new unit ,and the age of the water heater. Water heaters generally last between 8 and 12 years. Units under 8 years old may be worth fixing, but unless the fix is inexpensive, think about replacing older ones. A plumber can give you a quote on a repair and a new water heater. If you elect to replace the unit, the plumber can even haul your old one away.
Should You Consider a Tankless Water Heater?
When confronted with a leaking water heater, many homeowners decide that their current unit is unreliable and out of date. They wonder if they should consider replacing it with a tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters have many advantages, but there are some drawbacks that convince many people to stick with a traditional model.
Advantages of a Tankless Water Heater
Also known as on-demand and instant water heaters, the tankless variety uses 30 to 50 percent less energy, which saves the average family about $100 per year. They save energy because they heat water only after you turn on the faucet, steadily warming water as it passes out of the unit and into the pipe. Traditional water heaters must keep 40 to 50 gallons of water hot at all times, which boosts your utility bills. Tankless water heaters use natural gas or propane for fuel.
In addition to the energy savings, tankless water heaters are ideal if you frequently fill a big hot tub or whirlpool because the continuous heating ensures you won't run out of hot water. Tankless water heaters are also smaller and can even be mounted on a wall.
Disadvantages of Tankless Water Heaters
Despite the benefits of tankless water heaters, many homeowners opt against them because of the high upfront cost. The reason for the high cost is that larger tankless water heaters are required to provide hot water to an entire house. The smaller units only produce enough water to serve one faucet at a time. For example, if the dishwasher is running, you can't get hot water to shower. Extra cost for installation is also a factor. Tankless water heaters require a dedicated, sealed vent system because of their powerful burners. In addition, natural gas powered water heaters require the installation of a larger pipe.
It's far too easy to take water heaters for granted. They provide faithful service for many years and most people have relatively few problems with them. However, once a leak starts, there is a danger of it growing to the point where major flood damage becomes a real possibility. Because of this danger, it is important to check your water heater for leaks on a regular basis. Often, water on the floor turns out to be condensation, in which case you have no worries. However, if the problem is from a leak rather than natural condensation, you need to take immediate action.
Failure to take immediate action on a hot water heater leaking only delays the inevitable. Worse, if the leak becomes large, it will result in black mold, which may require expensive mold remediation. When a leak occurs, follow the five steps outlined to determine the source and the cause. Loose water connections can easily be tightened with a pipe wrench. A temperature and pressure valve leak may be fixable or require a new valve. Drain valve leaks can also be fixed readily; however, a tank leak always means replacement.
Now you know how to determine if you have a water heater leak and the probable cause. Knowing this gives you peace of mind and can save you money if it's a simple fix, such as loose connections. More serious problems require the services of a plumber. Either way, now that you understand what to do if you have a leaky water heater, you are prepared to tackle any water heater challenges.