A leaking water heater can indicate a more serious defect in the water heater. Unfortunately, many homeowners choose to dismiss a leak as a minor inconvenience, especially if the water leak comes and goes. First of all, you need to understand that once a water heater starts leaking, the problem will simply not resolve itself: even when it seems like the leak has stopped, you can rest assured that it will occur again. When left unaddressed, a water heater that is leaking from the top or the bottom can lead to more serious problems.
For one thing, the constant exposure to water can gradually lead to floor or wall damage. In worst case scenarios, the small leak in your water heater can end up flooding an entire part of your house, leading to more repairs and costs. Since water heater repairs can be quite costly, you have the option of seeing if you can troubleshoot the problem yourself first. But what if you don’t know the first thing about water heaters? Here are some comprehensive steps to follow when you find that your water heater is leaking.
1. Make sure your water heater is the cause of the leak.
The first thing you ought to do is to make sure that the leak is coming from the water heater in the first place. Just because you found a puddle or drops of water under your water heater doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s coming from the heater itself. Another source of leak is possible especially if your water heater is located in the basement, surrounded by different pipes and other appliances. Naturally, you should carefully inspect everything to determine where the water is coming from. If the leak persists after a day or two and you have eliminated other possible sources, then your water heater is likely the problem.
2. Turn off the power and water supply.
Once you are 100% sure that your water heater is the source of the leak, make sure that you turn off both the power and water supply before proceeding to any repair. Gas water heaters typically have a switch or dial that can easily be turned on and off. If you have an electric water heater, turning it off can be more tricky since you have to find the circuit breaker in order to turn it off. Be extra careful when turning off an electric water heater since the presence of water and electricity can be extremely dangerous.
Turning off the water supply also requires extra care. You have to keep in mind that the water inside the heater is extremely hot and can cause serious burns if you should come in contact with it. The water supply valve is typically found on top of the water heater. If you want to be extra sure then you can also turn off the water supply to the entire house. If your water heater is constantly leaking, then the leak should stop once the water supply is cut.
3. Repair a water heater that is leaking from the top.
A water heater that is leaking from the top is generally less serious than a water heater that is leaking from the bottom. Therefore, it can usually be resolved without the need for professional repair services. A water heater that is leaking from the top can be caused by two things: a loose or defective inlet/outlet pipe or a loose T&P valve.
The inlet and outlet pipes are located on top of the water heater. Observe them closely to determine where the leak is coming from. Chances are you need to tighten that portion using a pipe wrench. However, the problem is more serious if the pipe is corroded or if it has burst. If this is the case, you will likely need to have the pipe replaced by a professional.
If the water is leaking from the top of your water heater down to the side then chances are the problem is with the Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve, otherwise known as the T&P valve. If the valve is not watertight then all you have to do is use a Teflon tape to wrap the end of the valve and attach it back to the tank. The tape will keep the valve sealed and tight. However, if you remove the valve and you find corrosion in the tank opening, then the entire water heater will need to be replaced.
4. Repair a water heater that is leaking from the bottom.
A water heater that is leaking from the bottom is a more serious concern. In many cases, water heaters leak at the bottom due to a faulty T&P valve. The T&P valve is designed to release water to decrease pressure inside the tank. Any discharged water is designed to go to the bottom so this could be where the leak is coming from. In this case, either the valve is faulty or there is a pressure problem within the tank that needs to be fixed by a plumber.
A leak coming from the drain valve is a less serious problem. The drain valve collects build-up from the water and can easily be replaced when faulty.
The most serious cause of a water heater that is leaking from the bottom is a defect in the water tank itself. If the tank has corroded inside or has been damaged by sediment buildup, then this means you will have to replace it.