Water Heater Leaking
A leaking water heater is something that needs to be addressed rather quickly as it can lead to larger issues such as flooding and water damage in the surrounding area.
Fixing a leaking water heater can mean anything from a simple fix to a complete replacement.
This guide on water heater basics will help you work through what to do if your water heater is leaking or not working and how to preserve the life of your water heater.
What Does a Water Heater Do?
A water heater, typically located in the basement of a home or building, is the device that heats the water in that particular place for showers, sinks, appliances, etc.
If there is no hot water in the house, the water heater is the likely culprit.
Cold water enters the water heater, is heated by a heating source, and is distributed as warm water when a warm tap is opened.
The default temperature that most water heaters are set to is 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Two key aspects of water heaters that work hand in hand are their recovery rate and tank capacity.
Recovery rate is how fast a water heater can heat water and capacity is how much water the tank can store. Some water heaters have very small tanks to store heated water or no tanks at all.
Tankless water heaters typically have high recovery rates. Because they can heat water faster, there is less of a need to store it. If there is a low recovery rate, a larger tank would be helpful so that it can store more hot water for use to make up for the slower heating rate.
How to Fix
a Leaking Water Heater
A leaking water heater can mean a range of things, from something as minor as condensation or as major as complete failure.
Below are some different water leaking scenarios and how to handle them.
If there is spraying water, shut off the water supply to the house right away. There should be a shutoff valve or lever near or in the same vicinity as the water heater. It often has a red handle. Turn the handle clockwise to shut it off.
You may also need to drain the water heater to get a look at what is going on inside of it. Sometimes corrosion deposits can render the water heater less effective.
in order To drain the tank:
Shut off the water supply to the water tank (if you haven’t already).
Cut off the source of the water heater’s power. If it is an electric heater, then go to the breaker and cut off power to the area. If it is a gas-fired heater then turn off the gas valve.
Go to the drain valve near the bottom of the tank and attach a hose to one end and position the other end over a drain.
Open the drain valve so that the water drains out of the tank and into the drain.
water heater leaking from the top
This is where the cold water inlet and hot water outlet are located so the issue is likely minor and related to one of these two pipes. It could be a sign that the pipes could use some tightening.
Grab a wrench to tighten up the connections and wait and see if the problem is solved. If not, there could be an issue with the quality of the pipes themselves.
water heater leaking from the side
The temperature and pressure relief valve is located on the top or side of your water heater. This is the safety measure on the water heater that opens up when it gets too hot or the pressure gets too high and releases some water out of the tank.
If water is leaking down the overflow pipe attached to the valve along the side of the water heater, check to make sure all of the connections on this pipe and valve are tight.
If all of the connections are good, then there was either an excess heat or pressure situation and the valve had to release some water or the valve no longer works and needs replacement.
water heater leaking from the bottom
The first and most innocent cause of leaking from the bottom of a water heater is condensation. If the water disappears after the tank has had a chance to warm the water within it, then it is likely condensation and not a sign of any serious problem. Condensation can also appear on the vents of gas-fired water heaters, which is a sign that they need to be cleaned.
The drain valve is located at the bottom and could be another source of the leaking. It is possible that the valve is not closed all of the way or is faulty and needs to be replaced.
A leak not attributed to the drain valve could be a sign of a leak within the tank itself. If the tank has an internal leak, it could mean that parts of the tank are wearing away and the only option is to replace the water heater completely.
Leaks from electric water heater
Often for electric water heaters, the heating element gasket can spring a leak and require replacement. If this is the case, you will need to drain the water out before replacing.
Again, be careful whenever draining water from a water heater as the water can be dangerously hot.
It is also important after the gasket replacement is complete to switch on the water supply to the heater and run some hot water in a sink or tub in the house before turning the power back on. If you fail to do this, it could ruin the heater.
No Hot Water – My Water Heater Is Not Working
All of a sudden your water heater is no longer heating the water in your home. This could be due to mineral deposits that build up in the tank and make it more difficult for the heat to reach the water, which fatigues and wears on the tank. Eventually, the tank will begin to leak and need a complete replacement.
To help combat this, flushing the water heater tank once a year is important.
Signs That a Water Heater is Close to Failing:
it is over 10 years old
10-15 years is the typical lifespan of a tank water heater (20 years for tankless).
no hot water in the house
Check the tank for those mineral deposits that could be making your water heater less efficient and that will eventually cause it to fail.
signs of rust or cloudiness in the water
This is likely mineral deposits from the tank reaching your faucets. Not only is this a sign that your water heater needs replacement, it also is clogging up your faucet screens and slowing down your water flow.
The mineral deposits that build up in the tank eventually harden and start to make noises as they are heated.
the tank itself is leaking
If this is the case, then immediate replacement is recommended as this could lead to your basement flooding quite quickly.
water heater leak prevention measures
The number one reason a water heater tank fails is corrosion.
There are a couple of safety measures within the tank that work against corrosion:
The interior of the tank is lined with glass
How this can fail:
The glass cannot protect the tank from rusting and forming holes, which are signs that the tank needs replacement.
The anode rod
There is a rod made of magnesium inside of the tank known as the anode rod. The purpose of the rod is to corrode so that the steel does not.
How this can fail:
Once the rod corrodes so much that it is depleted, the steel will begin to corrode. Check the anode rod annually and replace it when needed in order to prevent this.
Water heater leak alarm
There are many kinds of water heater leak detectors and shut-off systems that you can install to alert you when leaking occurs. This is particularly helpful as water heaters are typically located in areas that are not visited often, such as a corner of the basement. These will also typically shut off your water source if you are not home to stop it yourself.
How this can fail:
If the power goes out or battery fails, then this safety measure is no longer viable until power is returned.
Cost to Repair a Water Heater
The cost to repair a water heater can range from $100 to $1,500, depending on if the damage is something minor and fixable or if complete replacement is needed. Some examples of simple water heater repairs include a broken control panel, failed thermostat, or faulty pipes or valves. These are relatively inexpensive fixes.
However, if the entire water heater needs to be replaced, that’s when prices can get high. In addition to a new water heater, there could be other costs to factor in that professional could recommend such as updating supply pipes, venting system, etc.
Types of Water Heaters
Tank Water Heaters
The standard type of water heater is the one that comes in a cylindrical tank form. Here are more aspects of tank water heaters:
The tanks are typically made of steel
Tank water heaters will heat the water and store it for later use within the insulated tank so that it is hot and ready when it is needed.
The cold water inlet pipe as well as the hot water outlet pipe are typically located at the top of the tank.
The tank is insulated to store heated water so it is ready when it is needed.
A temperature and pressure relief valve is located along the side of the water heater tank. This valve acts as a safety measure and opens up if the water temperature or pressure reaches an unsafe level. If it opens, it could release water onto the floor.
Never cap a temperature and pressure relief valve. If that exit point is blocked, it could cause the water heater to explode with extreme force.
Tankless Water Heaters
If there is no water heater tank, the home’s water could be heated by the boiler or en electric heating element.
In a tankless water heater, water is heated as it is needed instead of storing it for future use like the tanktype allows for. This reduces some energy costs.
However, boilers can be more wasteful in warmer weather and they can make water excessively hot, which is why the addition of a cold mixing valve is recommended.
Tanks can be added to allow for water storage.
Tankless water heaters that are fuel-fired are unable to keep up with demand in houses with frequent simultaneous use of hot water. Installing an additional tankless water heater can help keep up with demand in this situation.
Tankless versions are typically more expensive than tank water heaters, but they also tend to have a longer lifespan than tank heaters.
Electric Water Heaters vs. Fuel-Fired Water Heaters
Electric Water Heaters
Electric water heaters require a nearby outlet so you can plug it in
Electric water heaters tend to last longer, because the heating process within them takes less of a toll on the tank
Fuel-Fired Water Heaters
Fuel-fired water heaters use either natural gas, propane or oil to power them
There is an exhaust pipe on fuel-powered water heaters for releasing gases
Fuel-fired heaters have a higher recovery rate than electric heaters
For tankless water heaters, fuel-fired versions have a higher flow rate than electric
Tips for Extending the Life of Your Water Heater
Instead of paying attention to your water heater after a leak or issue occurs, be proactive in extending the life of your water heater by taking protective measures.
Here are some tips that will help maintain your water heater for longer:
Do regular checks of the temperature and pressure relief valve to make sure it is still in working order.
In areas where water has a high mineral content, otherwise known as hard water, add water softener to reduce the negative effects that those mineral deposits can have on a water heater tank.
Parts of a Water Heater
Here are some of the key parts of a water heater identified:
gas water heater
Hot water outlet
Gas supply shutoff
Cold water inlet/valve
Temperature & pressure relief valve
electric water heater
Hot water outlet
Cold water inlet/valve
Temperature & pressure relief valve
Getting to know your water heater is key to determining the source of water heater leaks and taking the best course of action for the situation.