How to Fix Water Heater Leaks How to Fix Water Heater Leaks
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Water Heater Is Leaking

Water heater drip pan, installed at the same time as the water heater, catches drips. This can be piped to a drain.

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Is your hot water heater leaking? If water pools at the base of your water heater or drips from the hot water tank, follow these steps for easy diagnosis and repair.

A leaking water heater can indicate any of several problems, ranging from loose valves to a corroded water tank. In fact, water pooling around your heater does not always indicate a leak—it can be the result of condensation. Here we will walk you through the appropriate steps to take if you see drips or pooling around your water heater.

The first and most obvious step is to determine whether water is dripping, spraying, or flooding. We’ll begin with the worst of these: spraying or flooding. If your water heater is dripping or flooding, skip down the page.

If your water heater has flooded and damaged flooring or other parts of your home, be sure to investigate the coverage of your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Water Is Spraying or Flooding from Pipes or Water Heater

If water is spraying from pipes near the water heater or flooding from the water heater itself, water pressure in the pipes or from the water tank is probably involved. The supply pipes delivering water to the water heater are leaking at their connections, the pipes themselves are leaking, or there is a leak inside the water heater tank.

Lever valve controls supply to water heater. Note the red main supply valve in the background.

If water is spraying from the pipes that supply the water heater,  immediately turn off the valve that controls the flow of water to the entire house, normally located near where the cold water pipe enters (the valve is typically outside in warm climates, inside in cold climates). See How to Shut Off the Water Supply.

In some cases, the valve is located on a pipe right before the water heater and may have a red handle. To turn it off, rotate the handle clockwise. If water is spraying from the water heater, turn off the supply valve above the water heater—which may be a lever like the one shown in the photo at right— or, if there is no supply valve for the water heater, the house’s water supply valve.

If the leak is coming from the fittings or pipes, please see How to Fix a Water Pipe Leaks & Problems.

Leaks from the hot water tank. Water heaters have limited life spans; it’s possible that your tank has become corroded. If that’s the case, the water heater should be replaced by a water heater repair person.

Attach a hose to the water heater's drain valve and empty the tank.

Attach a hose to the water heater’s drain valve and empty the tank.

But the first thing to do is to empty the hot water from it! Drain the water heater as explained in the article How to Flush a Water Heater, but skip step number 2 because you won’t be able to wait for the water to cool. Water should flow through the hose until the tank is empty.

Caution: Be careful when emptying a hot water heater—the water may be hot enough to scald you.

Leaks from water heater’s heating element gasket. On electric water heaters, leaks can spring from heating element gaskets. Turn off the electrical power, shut down your water supply, and drain all the water out of the heater before replacing the gasket as described above. Also, before turning the power back on, be sure to turn on the water supply to the heater and run hot water into a sink in your house to release air from the water heater tank. Failure to do so could destroy your heating element.

Electric and Gas Storage Water Heater Diagrams © HomeTips

Water Is Dripping from the Water Heater

If water is dripping from the water heater, determine where the drip is coming from. A couple of the most obvious sources of a drip are the pressure-relief valve and the drain valve. Less obvious leaks may be coming from condensation or from leaky fittings (see above for dealing with leaky fittings).

Replace defective pressure-relief valve.

Leaking temperature-pressure relief valve. It’s quite common for water to be dripping from the temperature-pressure (TP) relief valve, which is designed to release water when it senses excess pressure. Excess pressure can be caused by the temperature being set too high, by the main water supply pressure to your house being too strong, or by special valves that reduce water pressure in your water supply system not allowing for hot water expansion in the tank.

In some cases, the TP relief valve itself may be faulty—if it is, it will need to be replaced right away. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions on what to do and see How to Replace a Water Heater Pressure-Relief Valve, or contact a plumber who works with water heaters.  A working TP valve is absolutely necessary to prevent excessive build-up of steam that could cause a water heater tank to explode.

Drips from water heater drain valve. You can take care of some water leaks simply by tightening the drain valve. If the valve itself is defective, you will need to replace it.

Condensation drips. In many cases, condensation forms when cold water fills the tank and then the condensation drips down. If the problem appears when the tank is first filled or during chilly seasons (when incoming water is particularly cold) but then disappears when the water has had a chance to warm up, this usually indicates condensation.

On gas water heaters, condensation can also come from the vent. Check for obstructions in the vent. If you find any, shut off the water heater and clean out the flue. If the problem persists, call a plumber or water heater repair pro.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.
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