If your hot water heater is leaking water, there might be cause for concern, or it could be an easy fix.
Here are some guidelines for taking a careful look at your hot water heater and diagnosing the problem.
This article will cover both gas and electric water heaters, providing special notes if different diagnoses are needed for each particular type.
Diagnosing and Fixing Water Heater Leaks
Begin by inspecting the water pipes leading into the heater, the flexible connectors and the shut-off valve. Of course, with an electric heater, you want to turn off all power supply to the heater if water is leaking around it, eliminating the possibility of electric shock.
Now, check the TP valve, which can be found about ¾ of the way up the heater on the side. Lift it gently and then lower it to a closed position. Do not snap this lever closed. In many cases, this will solve a leak. If not, you probably need a new TP valve. Be sure to check the pressure and temperature markings on the valve when you go to purchase a new one.
With an electric heater, the thermostat might not be flat against the tank, causing the tank to overheat and release steam/water through the TP valve. You can open the covers of your heater and check to see if the thermostat is flat on the tank. The thermostat could also be beyond repair, which will also lead to an overheating heater that will produce condensation and water leakage.
You should also check the drain valve, which will have threads on it and can be attached to a hose. If it leaks a bit, attach a short hose to it and have it drain into a bucket. Most drain valves are not leaky; it is very rare to have faulty drain valve, unless it is very old and needs replacing.
Is water leaking at the bottom?
Check the flue at the bottom of the heater. An improper vent alignment can cause water to drip down the flue.
Now, if you see other leaks from the side or the top of the heater, you could have a serious problem. Your tank might be rusted out and need a complete replacement.
One smart step to take would be to check the age of the heater by taking a photo of the serial number and other information and going online to discover its age. Some heaters can rust in as little as 7 years, although most last 10-15 years. If you have not performed regular maintenance on the heater (flushing the water, possible replacement of anode rods) then your heater might not make it to double digits in age.
If you do suspect excessive rust, you should get a professional opinion before you: a) buy a new hot water heater or b) the tank ruptures, creating a huge problem in your basement or hall closet. Water that seeps out of the top of the tank is particularly ominous.
If you fear a leak as soon as you begin to use your new gas heater, don’t panic. The first time a gas heater starts up, it will produce condensation. That is the reason for the dripping sound, and perhaps a tiny puddle. As the heater warms up, this problem vanishes. Condensation can also result from a heavy water draw and/or an extremely cold inlet water temperature. This condensation will take care of itself as well, as the water gets warmer. If, however, the heater has some age, if there is a leak and the vent pipe is dry, then the tank is rusted out.