Whether it's a few drops or a big stream of water, a leaking water heater is not a problem you want to ignore. Over time, leaks from water heaters can perpetuate mold growth, leading to health issues like asthma and allergies. The leak could also grow larger, causing extensive damage to your floors and walls. If you think your water heater is leaking, take care of the issue by following these steps.
Step 1: Turn off the power.
Water and electricity do not mix! Before you start assessing the problem, turn off the power to the hot water heater so you do not accidentally electrocute yourself. Turning the power off at the circuit breaker is usually the easiest option. If you have a gas hot water heater, you're not in so much danger, but you should still turn the "on/off" dial to "off" to prevent burns while you're inspecting the unit.
Step 2: Make sure the water is not coming from elsewhere.
Just because there is a pool of water at the base of your water heater does not necessarily mean the water is coming from the hot water heater itself. If there are windows nearby, make sure they are not letting in water, and that it's not just collecting in the low point under your water heater. If you have pipes running across your ceiling, make sure you don't see any water dripping from them.
Step 3: Dry up the water, and observe the unit.
Take some towels, and mop up any water that has leaked out. Then, watch what happens. Do you see additional water leaking from anywhere? Areas you should check include:
- The inlet pipe: Usually connected at the top of the unit, this pipe allows cold water into the unit and may begin leaking if it cracks or separates from the tank.
- The outlet pipe: Usually connected to the bottom of the unit, this pipe discharges warm water and may also crack.
- The pressure release valve: Located near the floor, this valve is designed to let water out if the tank becomes overfilled. Sometimes, the valve might loosen with age and start trickling water.
- The tank bottom: Years of contact with water can cause the inside of hot water tanks (especially older ones) to deteriorate. If you cannot water leaking from the inlet or outlet pipes or from the pressure release valve, it is probably leaking from the bottom of the tank.
Step 4: Turn off the water supply.
Once you find the source of the leak, turn off the water supply to the hot water tank so you don't keep adding to the problem. If the issue is with the tank bottom, pressure release valve, or outlet pipe, water will keep leaking out until you empty the tank. So, go upstairs and run the hot water out of a faucet until no more comes out. You might still need a towel to soak up a few more drips that emerge from the tank.
Step 5: Try some quick fixes yourself, or call the repair team.
In most cases, a leaking hot water heater will require repair by a water heater repair professional. However, there are two cases in which you might be able to correct the issue yourself.
If the pressure release valve is leaking, you can remove it (using channel locks or a pipe wrench) and take it with you to the hardware store to make sure you buy another valve of the same size and shape. Then, wrap the new valve with Teflon tape to prevent leaks, and screw it into place. Re-attach the overflow pipe, and turn the water back on. With any luck, your leaking problems will be over.
If there is a minor crack in the inlet or outlet pipes, you can patch it up drying the area, applying a glob of plumber's putty, and wrapping it with plumber's tape. However, you will still want to call your hot water heater expert for repairs in the near future, since this repair won't last forever.
If the leak is coming from the bottom of the tank, your best best will be to replace the unit, since repairing a corroded tank is rarely cost-effective.