Why is my water heater leaking?

Your water heater is a luxury that your household may take for granted until you start noticing problems with it. Then, it can quickly become a nuisance until you address the issues that it has caused. One common issue is a sudden leak that wasn’t there before. Below, you can explore some potential reasons for a leaking water heater. We also provide tips for diagnosing the problem so you can reduce water waste and restore this appliance back to its full functionality.

An Old Rusted Tank

If you have an old water heater in your home, it might have developed rust over the years. You can decide if this is the problem by performing a visual inspection. Look for orange spots on the outside of your water heater. Determine if the rust has caused the material to corrode or otherwise deteriorate. You can see if there are any cracks through which water is leaking. You may also become aware of rust spots if the water your household receives from the heater has an orange tint.

In most cases, it’s not wise to repair any rusted holes in a water heater. Even when you use sealant, there’s still a risk that rust can affect the water quality inside your unit. Replace a water heater that has acquired rust spots as soon as possible.

Sediment Collection

As a water heater operates throughout the years, it can collect sediment on its bottom. If you clean out this area of your water heater regularly, you’re unlikely to experience problems with a buildup of sediment. If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned out the bottom of your water heater, sediment might have had some time to develop. When sediment builds up, it can cause cracks to form at the heater’s base, which may eventually lead to leaks.

While it’s difficult to reverse the damage that sediment collection causes, it’s easy to prevent. Flush out your water heater at least once a year. Each time you flush it, you only have to dedicate anywhere between 20 and 50 minutes of your time. If you use your water heater regularly, you may benefit from flushing it out at a higher frequency like every six months.

A Loose Drain Valve

You must remove the drain valve whenever you clean sediment out of your water heater. The drain valve is what prevents water from leaking out of the heater’s base. Over time, the drain valve may lose its watertight seal. This loss of tightness may be due to repeated screwing and unscrewing of the drain valve. It may also occur as the result of a cheaply made product that wasn’t meant to last for the long term. In any case, replacing a nonfunctional drain valve is an easy solution. It’s quite affordable and only takes under a minute to replace.

Too Much Pressure Within the Water Heater

Your water heater may be leaking as a result of the temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valve. The T&P valve exists as a safety precaution, but it may cause a water leak when it does its job.

To understand how a T&P valve works, you can first think about the water temperature of your showers. Is the water ever scalding hot, or is it a warming and comfortable temperature that could never cause burns or skin irritation? If the former is true, there may be too much pressure built up within your water heater.

When the water is too hot, it creates steam. The steam floats up into the empty space within your unit. However, if there’s excess steam, it has nowhere to go. This increase in pressure will trigger the T&P valve. When this valve opens, extra steam can escape and reduce the pressure within your unit. However, the opening of this valve may also result in some water leaks.

You can easily fix this problem by reducing the temperature of your water. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting your water temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is warm enough to wash laundry and shower with, but it’s not overly hot to cause problems with the T&P valve. Most water heaters come with thermostats set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s important to make the appropriate adjustment to prevent or fix a water leak.

Loose Fittings on the Inlet and Outlet Pipes

If you notice a water leak at the top of your water heater, you may blame the inlet and outlet pipes. The inlet pipe takes in cold water that requires heating by your water heater. The outlet pipe sends heated water back to your home so you can use it to clean dishes, wash laundry, or take a shower.

Sometimes, the connections or fittings may become loose over time. You can determine if this is the problem by using a pipe wrench to tighten the connections. If the leak was minor, you may have to wait a day or two to see if water pools at the top of your water heater once again. If the top of your water heater is as dry as a bone, you’ve addressed the problem correctly.

A Corroded Anode Rod

All water heaters have an anode rod. This component attracts corrosive elements within the water heater so the water heater doesn’t deteriorate prematurely. However, the anode rod isn’t some magical device that’s resistant to corrosion. Over time, it will corrode and won’t be as structurally sound. The anode rod is on top of the water heater, and it will be surrounded by bubbling water when it starts acquiring rust and going bad. You can prevent further leaks by replacing the anode rod when water gurgles at the top of your water heater.

Some issues with a leaking water heater are easy to repair. If you have a more complex issue on your hands and you’re unsure of how to proceed, you can contact the team at Dahme Mechanical Industries. We specialize in water heater repair and can help replace your unit if it’s old and beyond repair.

Photo Credit: Old and new water heaters by bossco is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0