A leaking hot water heater is not always just an inconvenience. Sometimes it can be the cause of major damage in your home. So, how should you prepare for and deal with it when it happens?
Is it Condensation or a Leak?
The amount of damage that a leaking hot water heater can cause could be incredibly expensive, so it’s important to realize that even if you think your hot water heater is in an appropriate place, like the garage, you should still take precautions and keep an eye out for this issue.
If you should notice a small puddle of water at the base of your unit, check first to see if it may just be normal condensation. The water inside a water heater is generally heated between 125 degrees and 170 degrees at its highest setting. So, condensation often occurs when the inlet water is notably cold, like during the winter months. (On a related note, be aware that any water at these heated temperatures can cause severe injuries and burns, so do avoid coming in direct contact with it.)
Soak up the puddle of water and wipe down the outside of the unit with paper towels (from the top, down) and then watch for any visible leaks. If none immediately appear, periodically check back to see if the puddle reappears over the next few days. If not, there is most likely little to be concerned about at this time.
However, if the pool of water returns, or you can visibly see water starting to leak from a specific point on the unit, the problem could be due to something as minor as a slightly open drain valve, to a faulty plumbing connections, to something as severe as as a corroded tank.
It’s A Leak… Now What?
First things, first — Turn off the power source. Water and electricity are not a good combination, and bad things can happen when they mix. Flip the circuit breaker that powers your hot water heater, or if your breakers are not labeled, shut off the main breaker – better safe, than sorry. Water heaters powered by natural gas can be dangerous, as well, so be sure the gas supply valve is turned clockwise until it stops – it will be perpendicular to the gas line.
After turning off the power, you will need to turn off the water source. This is done by turning the knob/wheel next to the cold water inlet valve clockwise until it stops, or by turning the straight ball valve handle 90 degrees until it is perpendicular to the water pipe.
Most Common Sources of Leaks
There are a few areas you should be looking at to identify the leak. Especially true of older water heaters, the problem may be due to debris inside the pressure relief valve or the water heater drain valve. To most people, it will appear as if water is leaking out the bottom of the tank. To address these issues, put a bowl or bucket under the overflow tube or the drain valve open the valve and flush out anything that may be plugging up the pipe.
If there is a leak at a valve connection, such as around the pressure relief valve, cold water inlet or hot water outlet pipes, you may need to tighten or wrap Teflon tape around the connection point into the tank. This is a very common area that will make it appear as if there’s a leak from the top of the tank.
Another issue is the existence of too much pressure being built up inside the tank. If this abundance of pressure is not correctly released, it could literally cause the tank to explode. If you are concerned that this may be the case, shut everything off and call a licensed plumber for assistance.