Before we start looking at potential causes as well as solutions to your hot water heater leaking problems, it’s important for us to point out that prevention is always better than cure. So, make sure that you have your unit serviced at least once annually and remember that the average life expectancy of most water heaters is eight to 12 years.
It’s also important to note that if you do have a leak or general problem, then your best bet is to call a professional licensed plumber. Not only will this typically provide a quicker and less stressful resolution, but it is also significantly safer and cost-effective.
The purpose of this article is to provide a better understanding of what problems you’re most likely to encounter when faced with water heater leaking issues as well as how to deal with them. We have also provided some tips on general water heater maintenance to help prevent any future issues with your unit.
It’s important to know what make and model you have installed in your home because not only will this make the repair process significantly easier, but it will also help you understand how your system works.
Conventional Storage Tank
This is by far, the most common type of water heater that you’re likely to find in your house. These heaters consist of insulated tanks where the water is heated as well as stored and are either electric or gas powered.
While gas-powered units generally benefit from lower running costs as opposed to electric water heaters, they do have a higher initial cost and are more difficult to have installed.
Tankless water heaters use instant flashes of heat along water-filled coils in order to produce hot water when it is needed. These units are significantly more energy efficient than conventional units since rather than heating and storing water, they will only heat it when required.
This level of efficiency does come at a price though not only because the unit itself is more expensive, but you’ll also need to either upgrade your home’s electrical capacity or retrofit your gas piping system.
Heat Pump (Hybrid)
Heat pumps work in a somewhat similar way to how our refrigerators and air-conditioning units cool air. The heat is transferred, and a refrigerant is put through an evaporation and condensation cycle before it is compressed at low pressure and high pressure, respectively.
This method of heat generation uses approximately 60% less energy than your standard unit, saving you money in the long-run but again, it does have a higher initial setup cost.
Solar-powered models work in almost exactly the same manner as conventional storage tank heating systems, but instead of running off of gas or electricity, they utilize UV rays projected by the sun. These are ideal for people living in sunny climates as they can massively reduce their annual energy bill.
To help keep the hot water flowing through the winter months, these units are often paired with some form of electrical or gas backup system for some added peace of mind.
Condensing water heaters operate similarly to your conventional storage tank heater but run entirely from gas for the particular reason of trapping the exhaust gases produced by gas units and reintroducing them to the heating cycle. This provides a considerable amount of hot water making it ideal for those with large families who shower at similar times.
Checking Water Heater Leaking Locations and Fixing Leaks
As most water heaters utilize similar designs, we’ve compiled a list of the most common areas of your unit that are likely to leak. When performing any form of fix, make sure you turn off the water at the main water supply off in your household. Finding where the leak is might be a bit of a challenge.
Water Supply Lines
Being the most prominent input or output of water into the heater, this should be the first place to check if you suspect your water heating system is leaking. It’s also the highest point, so the water can only run down from there.
If it’s dry, then you need to continue inspecting the machine from the top to the bottom of the tank. Also, remove any insulation around the flexible tubes for better inspection, and check for any cracks in the lines.
Water Heating Nipples
These are the connecting points where the water supply lines meet your tank; hence, they should be your second inspection point. The most common cause of a leak here will be worn down threads. Although these can be rather difficult to remove, you should be able to get the job done with a sizeable pipe wrench.
Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve
If you’re still unable to find where the leak, then your next port of call is the ‘T + P” valve. A problem here is a more pressing issue, and there are three potential reasons that this pressure valve may be leaking:
- Failing to seal: If the valve has been removed at any point during the leak, it is possible that the valve is failing to seal. This can be resolved by removing the valve and wrapping the thread with Teflon tape to create a better seal.
- Overheating: if the water is being heated more than what is necessary, then this excess temperature could cause the valve to leak. Try lowering the temperature of the water, or you could install an expansion tank.
- Faulty valve: If all else seems fine, but you are continuing to experience the water heater leaking from this area, then the valve may be faulty and would simply need to be replaced.
Testing the Temperate and Pressure Relief Valve
- First Step: Shut off both the power and the cold-water supply.
- Second Step: Place a bucket or container under the pipe that is connected to the valve.
- Third Step: Release a small amount of water from the tab.
If the water keeps flowing, then let it continue until that part of the tank is drained and install a new valve.
The Drain Valve
Towards the bottom of the water tank, you’ll have a large outlet known as the heater drain. After draining the unit, it is common that this fails to completely close, so after resealing the valve, it is a good idea to cap it in order to prevent further leaks.
If you have fully inspected the machine, but you’re still experiencing a leak, then there is a strong chance that there is a crack in the tank. The only fix for this is to replace your water heater.
Here are some of the things that you need to do regularly in order to keep your tank in good condition so your water heater will last as long as possible.:
Check the Anode Rod
Firstly, you’ll need to empty a good few buckets of water before you’re able to unscrew the rod. Once the rod is removed, if it is covered in calcium or less than half an inch thick, you’ll need to replace it with a new one.
Drain the Tank
Simply use the drain valve to empty the tank. Once the unit is empty, give the inside a few good blasts of water by turning the cold-water supply on and off.
This will help stir up and remove any sediment that is still left inside the tank. Continue cleaning this way until only clean water is coming through the hose, and then start refilling the tank.
Adjust the Temp
Covered on the side of the tank, you’ll find that you’re able to adjust the temperature with a flathead screwdriver. Set that to 120ºF. Remember that for every 10ºF you lower the temperature, you’ll save around 5% in your energy costs.
Insulate Pipes and the Heater
Wrapping both the pipes and heater will help keep the water stored at the correct temperature as well as prevent the cold-water pipes from producing condensation during the summer months. More often than not, most suspected leaking water tanks are simply large areas of condensation.
Lower the Thermostat
When heading on vacation or simply leaving the house for a few days, it’s a good idea to lower the thermostat setting. This will prevent unnecessary heating while you’re away and slightly lower your annual energy bill. Most modern water units have a “vacation” setting but if they don’t, simply turn the dial all the way to zero.
When concerned about water heater leaking issues, be sure that the suspected leak isn’t just condensation running down the heater from the plumbing. If you are certain that it is your tank that is leaking and you’re not 100% confident with fixing the issue yourself, then call a certified plumber. This can save you a lot of time, money, and stress in the long run.
Prevention is key, so make sure to have your unit checked annually, if not bi-annually, as this will give you a better indication of your water heater’s overall performance.
If you conclude that you are due for a new water heater, don’t rush to find a similar model. Now would be the time to check out all your options that may fulfill your requirements better than the model you were previously using.
Just remember that it is cheaper to repair or replace than it is to repair the damage caused by a leak.