How to Fix a Water Heater Leak
Troubleshooting Tips

Gas and electric water heater leak repair guide. A detailed explanation of the leaking problem, common causes, and tips on troubleshooting leaky heater from the bottom, from the top, and the drain valve.

Why do water heaters leak?

Almost all gas and electric water heaters that are made of steel are exposed to corrosive water action.

So because of that, every heater could develop a leak after some time, especially if it is old unless they are correctly maintained or made of the plastic such as Rheem Marathon models. Leaking is one of the primary reasons why tank-type heaters should not be installed in the area where the leakage could damage the property, such as in the attic.

Determine the source of the leak

There are many reasons why a water heater leaks, and some are explained below. It is essential to find the source, as soon as possible. Even if you see a small puddle of water. Inspect the area and try to determine the cause. If it is hard to figure out where it is coming from, dry the area and put some kitchen towels where you first noticed the water, and wait. The wet area might reveal the source.

If it is hard to determine the source, immediately contact a plumber to help you, to avoid costly repairs.

Puddle of water as the symptom of the water heater leak

The most obvious sign of a water heater leak is the puddle of water underneath the unit. So there are several reasons why there is a puddle of water: a leak from the tank, plumbing fittings, TPR valve or condensation. Wherever the problems are coming from, the operating costs will increase, or you won’t have enough hot water for a shower.

Water leaking from the drain valve

Water is leaking on the drain valve when the part is not closed tightly, or there is a crack in the element, especially if it is made from plastic.

Remove the faulty valve or install a new one, put the Teflon tape around the threads and after you tighten it firmly, the dripping should stop. If the problem is still there, the drain valve must be replaced.

Condensation

Condensation is usually considered as the water heater leak. Condensation usually takes place after the long draw of hot water or when the gas water heater is used for the first time. Modern, high efficient heaters will condensate more than the old ones as the temperature of products of combustion is lower.

So how to fix the condensation?

If there is a puddle under the heater, wipe it up, turn the unit ON and wait for several hours. After the water temperature is above 110-115 F condensation should stop. Install the water heater with the capacity that will minimize the temperature drop during usage.

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TPR valve leak

Be aware that the TPR valve is the safety device. If the temperature and pressure relief valve is leaking, or it is coming from the discharge pipe, a TPR valve might be releasing the build-up pressure inside the water tank. Excessive pressure in the tank causes joints, welds, and gaskets to fail so adding the expansion tank will solve the problem. If the TPR goes bad and it doesn’t open when the pressure is high, the tank might eventually burst.

First, check where it is leaking from. If the problem is with the threaded connection, you might have to tighten it up or put more Teflon tape on its threads. If the TPR valve is opened, you should check the cause of its activation.

Make sure that the temperature on the thermostat is not set too high (keep it around 125 F) and test the valve at least twice a year.

If you see that the heater started to deform, immediately contact a plumber.

Leaking from the piping fittings, gas valve or electric elements

Check all the connections and fittings for possible leaks, both inlet and outlet sides. Remove the fittings or valves, re-apply pipe joint compound or Teflon tape, replace damaged gaskets or check for threads. Whatever is damaged, replace it, and tighten and the loose connections.

Rusty tank leak

If there is a water heater leak due to the tank corrosion, you might have to replace your old water heater. This is how. All metal tanks are protected with one or two anode rods, so when the rod is depleted the corrosion will increase rapidly.

If the rust is corroding the tank, most often you will see hot water at the tap brown or rusty color. This is a sign to consider replacing the water heater, to prevent damages due to leaking.

Regular inspection of the anode rod and replacement, if it is needed, will make your tank last longer and eliminate the potential problem.

Sediment build-up

Sediment build-up at the bottom of the water heater creates a layer which insulates the water inside the tank from the gas burner, so the heater will run longer, overheat, deteriorate and eventually rupture.

Popping noise, lower performance and efficiency, and lukewarm water are some of the signs that there is a sediment build-up inside the heater.

To reduce the risk, it is recommended to flush and drain the tank at least once a year.

Contaminated air

Contaminated air is another reason for the rust and leaky water heater. When the air is polluted with all kinds of household chemical vapors and dust, and when they come in contact with the flame or electrical connection, various acids will form and attack the metal tank.

Could a drain pan help?

To protect the surrounding from water, it is a good idea to install a drain pan, especially when installing a new water heater. A metal drain pan with the diameter of at least 4" larger than the diameter of the heater and close to 2" in height is recommended. Keep in mind that condensation is sometimes considered as the water heater leak and depends on the season it will increase and decrease.

Conclusion

It is essential to understand that a leaky water heater could, from a minor issue lead to a big problem. When a leak develops, first there is a slow leak so water won’t rush out at once. It may go unnoticed for days or weeks. Then, as the problem becomes more significant, it will not only affect the heating operation but will cause flooding, damage the property and make a severe impact on your wallet.

A leaking water heater can also be a health-related problem, as the wet area is a fertile ground for mold and mildew growth. This is why it is important to contact a professional not only for repairs but proper regular inspection and maintenance before the problem occurs.

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