Unwanted water in your house is never a welcome sight. But when your water heater leaks you need to deal with it immediately. Here is what you need to do when your hot water tank is leaking.
When you heater tank is leaking it could be one of several issues. You may have started to notice low hot water pressure, or you may notice some water on the floor around your water heater. Either way, depending on where the leak is coming from you will need to take these steps.
How to source your hot water tank leak
Before we begin it’s important to note that hot water tanks contain enormous pressure and very hot water. Because of this we recommend contacting a professional to inspect your hot water tank. However if you choose to do this on your own please take all the precautions as the water can burn and cause severe damage to you.
Step 1: Identify where the leak is coming from
You will want to determine where the water heater leak is coming from. The best way to do this is to dry the area with a towel and see if any water begins to form.
Place some paper towels on the floor after you have dried the hot water tank. If you come back in an hour and the floor is wet again then there is a leak somewhere around your hot water heater.
Remember that water flows to the lowest point. If your water heater is at a low point in the basement, the water may be coming from somewhere else. Look around and make sure that the following items aren’t the source of your water. Your water heater is likely in an area with several other household appliances. So make sure to inspect the following places.
Water from pipes or ceiling
Look above to make sure that the leak is not coming from above the hot water tank via pipes or a drain. If your hot water tank is underneath a bathroom, you may find that something above it is leaking from the floor above or that the pipes have a leak.
Next check your water softener for condensation. Condensation forming on the water softener is common and that water may be finding its way to the floor around your heater tank.
Another thing people forget to check is the furnace. It is possible for your furnace to leak water and that water may be flowing down to your hot water tank.
Depending on the time of year you’re cold air return may be condensing and dripping down making it look like your hot water tank is leaking when in fact it is actually your dehumidifier.
Basement walls can leak water if there are cracks. There are many reasons for water seepage in a basement so don’t ignore this. Inspect the walls around the water heater and see if this is the issue.
Cracks in floor
Last place to inspect is cracks in the basement floor. Water can seep through basement floors when the soil is wet and a basement isn’t properly waterproofed.
Step 2: Turn off power
Assuming it was none of the above issues it is time to inspect the hot water tank. Before attempting to work on your hot water tank, make sure that there is no power going to it.
Electric Water Heater
If you have an electric hot water tank the best thing to do is to turn off the power at the breaker before doing anything with your tank. Simply find your panel and switch the break to the off position
Gas Water Heater
If you own a gas water heater that is leaking, shut off the gas before working on the tank. There will be a dedicated gas shut off valve on the line going into the tank. Simply put it to the off position.
Step 3: Turn off water supply
Your water heater tank should have a shut off valve at the cold inlet. This is where the cold water supply comes into the tank to be heated. Turn the lever to the off position.
If your tank has a wheel on it, turn it clockwise until the water shuts off. At this point you do not need to drain the tank. However if you will be repairing or replacing the tank then you will need to drain it.
How to source the leak on your hot water tank
There are a few places that water heaters will leak from over time. Here are the places you want to inspect.
Hot water outlet and cold water inlet
Now that you have turned off the cold water inlet already, dry the surrounding area and see if this is where the water is coming out from.
If this is where the leak is coming from you may just need to tighten the connectors with a pipe wrench. It’s a very simple thing to do with the right tool.
Your hot water tank consists of two separate tanks. There is the internal tank which is covered with insulation and then the outer tank which is the one you see.
If you have an internal tank that is leaking you will not be able to see it as it is covered by the outside tank. It’s common for internal tanks to leak over time as they wear down and deteriorate.
If the internal tank leaking is the cause of your tank leak there is no way to fix this. You need to get a new water heater and take the old one to a scrap yard near you.
If your hot water heater is leaking in the internal tank the water will make its way out of the bottom of the tank and you will need to replace the tank immediately before water damage is done to your basement. There is nothing worse than having water damage to your floors or worse your walls and personal items.
Another common place for a water heater leaking from bottom. Inspect the drain valve to make sure that it is completely shut off and check around where the valve enters the tank. This is where our last week happened and it was easy to fix. A simple turn with the pipe wrench to tighten the valve and the leaking stopped.
Temperature and pressure relief valve
More commonly referred to as the T&P valve this is a device on your tank to relieve pressure when there is excessive heat or excessive water in the tank. This prevents the tank from bursting and it does so by relieving pressure. The TP valve can be on the top or the side of the water tank.
To see if the T/P relief valve is leaking make sure that it is in the closed position and that no water is flowing from the attached pipe. There will be an attached pipe from the TP valve down to the side of the hot water tank.
It’s important to see if this is where the water is coming from as it may look like your hot water heater is leaking from the bottom when in fact it is the pipe coming out of the TP relief valve.
If your TP valve is open there may be an issue. This can just mean that there is internal pressure in your hot water heater tank and the excess pressure is being relieved via the valve.This can be a symptom of a larger problem and shouldn’t be ignored. The best thing to do in this case is to contact a plumber to see about fixing the problem.
Do not plug the tubing of the TP valve, this will cause it to back up and create even bigger problems for you.
Causes of water heater leaks
A leaking water heater can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there is a loose fitting other times it could be something more severe. Here are the main causes of water heater leaks.
This should be the first thing you inspect. If the tank’s outer shell has condensation on it, this is not a leak. The reason for this condensation is that the hot water from the tank is coming in contact with the cooler air in the basement and moisture is forming on the outside of the tank. It could be that the insulation around the inner tank has broken down, or damaged.
This could be that the internal temperature of the tank is too high and needs to be dialed down. Often homeowners will turn this up when they notice their hot water isn’t as hot as it used to be. Condensation on a tank is more common with older tanks but it does happen so make sure to check for it.
If you have had your hot water heater for over a decade it may be that your tank is starting to get on in age and will need to be replaced. Rust and other build up can develop over time and cause the internal tank to corrode.
As that happens small cracks can develop in the tank causing water to leak out. This water may only be a slight drip in the beginning but over time pressure from inside the tank can cause that dripping to get bigger.
Much like the aging of a water heater tank, the internal tank is what contains the water so you can’t tell the condition it’s in by just looking at your hot water heater. Like all appliances it will start to wear and tear. When this happens your water tank will need to be replaced as there is nothing you can do to fix an internal tank leak. Contact a professional plumber to replace your water heater.
Drain valve leak
This is what you use to empty the tank when you are doing your water heater maintenance. When the drain valve is not completely closed, water can start to drip out of it causing your tank to leak. If the connection from the valve to the tank becomes loose it can cause water to leak out of it as well.
Grab a plumbers wrench and tighten it to see if that fixes the problem. If that doesn’t work check to make sure there is nothing blocking the drain valve such as sediment from the inside of the tank.
To flush the drain, put a bucket underneath the valve or attach a garden hose to it and open the valve for a few seconds to flush out anything that may be preventing the valve from properly closing.
If neither of these work you may need to replace the drain valve on your water heater.
To look at your hot water tank you wouldn’t know that it is under immense pressure. This tank is responsible for heating gallons upon gallons of water every day and in doing so creates steam which causes internal pressure inside the hot water tank.
As this pressure builds and does not get released it can cause cracks. there is also the amount of pressure from the water that is entering the tank through the municipal water system. These two types of pressures can cause your water heater tank to leak.
Cold Inlet and hot outlet
These two tubes coming out of the top of your water heater can become loose over time. When these connections become loose, they will start to leak water and they require tightening. It’s an easy fix.
Leaking overflow pipe
This pipe is connected to the TP valve, when pressure builds in the tank this will start to drip water. While it is doing its job this pressure isn’t something you can ignore. Too much pressure inside your water heater tank needs to be fixed. You can replace the TP valve but it’s best to contact a plumber who can assess the situation and decide what is best.
Over time particles from the water will build up inside the tank. This sediment if not drained can cause your hot water tank to crack.
How to prevent water heaters leaking?
The best way to prevent leaking is to do your water heater maintenance on a regular basis and to mitigate any leaking with some preventative measures.
If you are worried about water damage from your water tank, you aren’t alone. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t end up with a ton of water damage form your hot water tank.
Perform regular maintenance on your water heater
This should be part of your regular household maintenance, but because the tank is out of sight it often gets forgotten. Take the time to maintain your water heater and it will last a lot longer.
Get a wifi water sensor
Place a water sensor by your tank. There are some great ones out there (we used this one). If you want to learn more about it. you can read our d-link wifi water sensor review here
Put a drain pan system in place
If it’s possible have a drain pan put in under your water tank so that when it does leak the water flows out to the drain and avoids your basement getting damp or worse.
Can You Fix a Broken Water Heater?
Depending on the type of issue you have with your water tank you may be able to repair it. If it is the internal tank you will need to replace the whole thing, but there are a few things you can attempt to do without replacing the whole water heater tank.
If you’re going to attempt to fix your hot water heater on your own you need to determine what needs to be replaced. The pressure relief valve can be replaced but to do that you will need to drain your hot water heater, the same goes for replacing the drain valve.
In most cases it is best to contact a professional plumber. Use the link below to find a plumber in your area.