Is your water heater leaking? Here are signs your water heater is leaking and what to do about it.
In the US, leaks in the average home waste 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) per year. Worse, 10% of US households have plumbing issues so bad they waste 32,850 gallons (124,350 liters) each year.
So, if you’ve noticed your water heater leaking or dripping, it’s best to get to the bottom of the issue ASAP. The sooner you do, the sooner you get to save water, money, and even the water tank itself. Leaks won’t fix themselves; instead, they’ll only get bigger over time.
Ready to put a stop to your water heater leaking water and wasting so much money? Then keep reading, as we’ll tell you how exactly to correct such plumbing woes!
Determine If You Have a Leak
First things first: don’t panic. Sometimes, a water heater tank that seems to leak isn’t really letting its contents go to waste. It can be moisture from the air that has condensed and formed water droplets on the outside surface of the tank.
To confirm if you have a faulty tank (or any other possible leak), conduct a whole-house leak check. You can do this by monitoring your water meter. In many homes, the water meter is outside, on the curb in front of the property. In some, the gauge is in the basement, along the lower section of a wall and near the floor junction. You may also find it in your basement washroom, laundry room, or on an exterior wall.
Once you find the meter, have everyone at home stop using the water as you run the test. Be sure to completely shut all the taps, toilets, fixtures, and water appliances. Your meter should have stopped moving at this point. If it’s an older model, the pin should be completely still. If it has a digital interface, you may have to wait for about half an hour to an hour to see if the reading changes. If the pin moves or the numbers on the gauge changes, you have a leak.
Confirm If It’s Really Your Water Heater Leaking
To determine if it’s really your electric or gas water heater leaking, wipe the tank dry first. For your safety, be sure to shut the tank’s power and don protective gloves.
Next, clean the valves as well as the supply lines. Aside from the tank itself, these parts can also develop problems that may lead to leaks.
Once the tank is all clean and dry, pay close attention to its exterior. If moisture develops evenly throughout the surface, then that’s likely condensation.
If you see only the water heater valve leaking, then that’s a surefire sign you have a tank problem. The same goes if water seeps out of a specific spot of the tank or its water supply line.
In some tanks, the damage can be super small that it may take time for the water to seep out. If you don’t see immediate leaks, cover the area right under the tank with some paper towels. Check them for signs of dampness every couple of hours. If the towels do become moist or wet, chances are, your have a water heater leaking problem.
Close the Tank’s Water Supply Valve
Once you’ve confirmed that your tank does leak, the next step is to close its shut-off valve (shut off the water). This stops more cold water from flowing into the tank. If you had to switch the heater back on, be sure to turn off the power again before working on the shut-off valve.
In most tanks, the shut-off valve is right above the water heater, installed on the cold water supply line. This may either be a gate valve that you need to turn or rotate, or a handle that you can easily pull down.
Fix the Leak
Depending on the severity and the location of the leak, you may be able to carry out a few DIY fixes. The easiest to repair are leaks in water connections. Prepare yourself, though, as you may have to call a licensed oplumber for bigger, more severe issues, such as tank leaks.
Leaking Water Connections
The two pipes connected to the top of your tank are the cold water inlet and hot water outlet. Since water continuously flows in and out of these lines, they can become loose or detached over time. If this is where your water heater leaks from, then you may only have to fasten the loose connections.
A pipe wrench should do the trick. Again, be sure that your water heater doesn’t have power before you secure the connections. This is especially important if it’s the hot water outlet that you need to deal with.
A Leaking Drain Valve
The valve near the bottom of your water heater tank is the “drain valve.” This is the component that lets you drain your tank for maintenance purposes. Speaking of which, you should flush and clean your tank at least once a year to get rid of sediment build-up.
Like all other connections, the drain valve can also become loose over time. If you’ve seen your water heater leaking from this part, tighten it slightly with a pipe wrench. Be sure to do this slowly to avoid overtightening the valve, which can lead to the leak getting worse.
If the leak doesn’t go away, you may need to replace the entire drain valve. This is a more complex job, so it might be best to leave it in the hands of a professional plumber.
A Leaking Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve
Your water heater comes with a temperature and pressure relief valve. It’s a device that lets steam or water exit the tank to avoid a build-up of excessive temperature or pressure. It should do its job if the temperature inside the tank exceeds 210 degrees, or if the pressure goes beyond 150 psi.
As you can see, a TPR valve is a crucial safety component of your water tank. If it fails, the excessive heat or pressure inside the tank may cause it to crack, or worse, explode.
That’s why you should also give this part of your water heater regular inspections. Test it at least once a year to ensure that it releases pressure (and some amount of water) quickly and easily.
Because it’s a valve, this component of your water heater is also susceptible to leaks. One way that this can happen if it gets stuck in a partially-open position. If it becomes defective, it may allow water to flow out of the pipe it connects to.
In this case, your best and safest bet is to ring up a plumber. After all, you’re dealing not only with leaks but also temperature and pressure. A slight mistake can cause severe health and safety hazards.
A Leaking Tank
Insulative materials cover the internal tank of a water heater. An outer skin then wraps around this entire part. If the inner part starts to leak, the most common symptom would be a leak that escapes from the bottom of the tank.
If this is the root cause of your water heater woes, then you’d need to get replace the water heater. These leaks are often non-repairable, as they’re usually a sign of deterioration.
Preventing Water Heater Leaking
Even if internal tank leaks are inevitable, the good news is that you can postpone them. With routine and preventative maintenance, you can make your water heater last longer.
Here are a few ways to delay the onset of costly internal water heater leaks.
Replace the Anode Rod Before It Completely Corrodes
Inside your water tank is a sacrificial part called “anode rod.” It’s a tube-like component made of metal. Traditional ones use a mix of metals like zinc, magnesium, and aluminum.
In any case, an anode rod sacrifices itself to protect the interior lining of a water heater tank. It attracts elements in the water that can corrode and destroy the other metal parts of the tank. You can think of the anode rod as a magnet. It draws in minerals and metal ions to itself that can otherwise cause oxidation and rust in the heater.
Because of its purpose, an anode rod has a shorter life than the entire tank. It’s also because of this function that water heater experts call it the “sacrificial lamb.” This is also why you need to replace the anode rod before it gets completely eroded. Otherwise, the rod will no longer be able to attract corrosive elements in the water. This then leaves the tank vulnerable to rust, corrosion, and, ultimately, damaging leaks.
Today, however, you’ll find anode rods that use current to protect the tank against corrosion. The Corro-Protec anode last way longer than traditional ones and doesn’t require any maintenance.
So, to protect your tank from future leaks, be sure that its anode rod doesn’t corrode completely. If you see severe rusting on the visible part of the rod, that’s your cue to replace it.
Consider a Water Softener
Hard water isn’t usually a health threat, but it can cut the life of your water heater short. It can also reduce the efficiency and impair the performance of your heating system.
In fact, a study found that hard water makes water heaters use more energy than those that heat soft water. The researchers also noted that households with soft water buy fewer cleaning products. That’s because soft water is easier to clean with than hard water.
Another study found that long-term exposure to hard water can cause damage to pipes. The dissolved minerals in hard water can cause limescale formation in the pipes. Over time, the hardened minerals can corrode pipe components. If that happen, you should see some hard water stains in all your faucet.
If you live somewhere where the water is hard, consider using a water softener or a powered anode. This can help your water heater last longer and become more energy-efficient. On the flip side, water softeners can make anode rods corrode faster. If you decide to soften your water, then you’d also need to replace the sacrificial rod more often. A titanium-coated rod is your best bet since this lasts longer than traditional rods.
Don’t Forget to Maintain Your Water Heater
Aside from flushing your tank and change the anode once a year, be sure to give all its parts a thorough cleaning too. Wipe your tank’s exterior as well as its valves and water connections. This way, you can get rid of dust and debris build-up, which can contribute to reduced performance.
Make sure that you also test your heater’s drain valve and TPR valve once a year. This way, you can catch leaks and fix them up before they make your water bills swell.
When testing your TPR valve, place a container or bucket right under its opening. As mentioned above, a working valve should release pressure and water quickly. You should also hear the sound of “rushing air” when relieving the valve.
It’s also vital to keep your water heater’s pressure set at 80 degrees or lower. Anything higher than that can cause early and excessive wear and tear on the tank’s parts.
Fix Water Heater Leaking ASAP to Make Your Water Heater Last Longer
There you have it, your ultimate guide on what to do if you notice your water heater leaking or dripping water. What’s important is to get to the bottom of the issue as soon as possible, as this may help you salvage your tank. To protect your water heater from future damages, carry out regular tank maintenance.
If you’re looking for a longer-lasting, better-performing anode rod, Corro-Protec can help. Check out our powered anode rod that delivers long-term protection for water heaters!