As a homeowner, you are likely to experience a leaking water heater at some point due to their limited lifespans. Here are some simple steps you can take to find the cause of the leak, and more importantly, find a resolution to prevent water damage and get your hot water back.
Note: It’s important to always remember that the water inside a water heater can be dangerously hot, ranging in temperatures from 120°F to 170°F at the highest setting. These temperatures can cause severe injuries including first degree burns, so you should always take extra precautions to protect yourself.
- Confirm the source of the leak
To determine if you are experiencing condensation or a leak, you should thoroughly dry any wet areas and closely inspect the plumbing connections, valves, and the tank for signs of new water in or around the water heater. You can also lay some paper towels down in the area where you first noticed the water and check on it periodically to see if your water heater is leaking or merely harmless condensation.
- Turn it off
Regardless of whether you have a gas or electric water heater, shutting the power source off is an important first step. Here’s how:
- Go to your circuit breaker box and find the switch for the water heater and flip the switch.
- If your panel isn’t labeled for some reason, the safest thing to do is shut off the main breaker just to be sure.
- Turn off the gas supply.
- Locate the supply valve by following the supply line from the side of, or behind the water tank and turn the valve clockwise until it stops. This should leave the valve perpendicular to the line.
After turning off the power supply, you will next want to turn off the water supply.
- This is a handle style valve. You will need to turn it 90° and so that it is perpendicular to the pipe to ensure it is properly shut off.
- This appears as a wheel or knob style valve, and you should turn it clockwise until it stops.
If you cannot access these valves for whatever reason, the alternative is simply shutting off the main water supply to the house (typically where piping enters the outside of the house or at the street).
- Find the source of the leak
Here are some of the most common areas to inspect for finding the source of a water heater leak:
- Pressure Relief Valve – (also known as a T&P or TPR valve) A standard safety device that is a part of every water heater to prevent too much pressure inside the tank. This is the most frequent source of a water heater leaks near the top of a tank.
- Pipe Fittings– Take a look at both the inlet for cold water and the outlet for hot water. These are typically found at the top of the tank.
- Heating Element Gasket (electric only) – Not commonly the cause of leaks, but better to be safe than sorry. This can be found by removing the cover plate and looking behind insulation.
- Hot water tank – When the leak is located here, due to rust or corrosion, the only option you have is to replace the water heater.
- Repair or Replace
When dealing with a leaky water heater, decisions need to be made quickly in order to prevent further water damage and potentially serious health issues. If your water heater is 10 years old or more, replacement is the most common and recommended remedy. While water heaters are not very complex appliances and a lot of simple repairs can be done on your own fairly cheap, hiring a licensed and experienced plumber is always the better option when replacing the entire unit is necessary.