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What to Do When Your Water Heater Is Leaking

Uh-oh. There’s a pool of water under your water heater, or running down the sides or top. You don’t see water dripping onto the unit from another source. You’ve got a illustration of leaking water heaterwater heater leak. Here’s what to do.

Safety note: Avoid direct or indirect contact with the heated water! On factory settings, the water produced is hot enough to inflict burns on contact. When a water heater is turned all the way up, the water can cause serious injuries from even indirect contact. The water heater itself may also be hot, so take caution when near the unit.

Step 1: Turn off the power supply to the water heater.

Electricity and water don’t mix. Put safety first by turning off the water heater before taking any further action. If your water heater has a sticker with shutdown instructions, follow those. If not, here are the basis:

  • Turn off an electric water heater by locating your breaker box and flipping the water heater’s circuit breaker to “off.”
  • Gas water heaters have an on/off switch or dial on the unit.

If the leak is significant and you can see where it’s coming from, go ahead and turn off the cold water supply to the unit as per Step 3. If not, you can leave the water supply on to help you spot the leak.

Step 2: Try to determine the source of the leak.

Having an idea of the problem before calling a plumber will make resolving it quicker and easier.

If the water heater is leaking from the bottom...

This is the most common area to find a water heater leak. Check these two leak sites:

  • The drain valve. This is a spigot near the bottom of the tank, used when draining the tank to remove sediment. The drain valve can become clogged, in which case it needs a flush. If the valve is faulty, it will need to be replaced. Both are relatively simple and inexpensive fixes.
  • The tank. If the tank itself is leaking, you’re looking at a new water heater. When an internal component springs a leak, the water escapes from the bottom of the tank. The most common cause of internal leaks is sediment buildup, which rusts, cracks and corrodes the tank interior. This nearly always requires replacement.

If the leak is from the temperature and pressure relief (T/P) valve...

This valve is located on the side of the tank, with a pipe running down to the floor. It’s an important safety device that relieves tank pressure by letting some of the water out of the tank.

  • Inspect the T/P valve and the point where it enters the water heater. It’s located on the side of the water heater near the top. If the valve is leaking, there will be water going down the attached pipe when the valve is in the closed position. This means either the valve is faulty, or it’s working but there is excess pressure inside the tank that’s forcing it open. These issues can usually be fixed but do need quick attention.

Safety note: NEVER plug the T/P valve in an attempt to stop a leak. Not only will it void any warranty you may have, it could cause the water heater to explode!

If the water heater is leaking from the top...

Leaks from the top of a water heater are nearly always repairable, but they still need to be addressed promptly. Water can enter the electrical component compartment as it runs down the unit and cause a short.

  • Check the cold water inlet and hot water outlet connections. These pipes connect to the water heater at the top of the unit. Fixing a minor leak here may be as simple as tightening a loose connection with a pipe wrench.

Step 3: Shut off the cold water supply to the water heater.

Shutting off the water supply may slow or stop the leak, depending on where it’s coming from. This can help prevent further water damage until the problem is resolved.

  • Most water heaters have a valve located above the unit to shut off the water supply. It will have either a handle that you pull down, or a dial that you turn clockwise to close.

Safety note: Before attempting to close the valve, make sure you can get to it without coming into direct or indirect contact with any water. It may be hot and cause burns! If you have a serious leak and can’t safely reach the water heater shutoff valve, use the main water shutoff valve for your house instead.

Step 4: Call a plumber to repair or replace the water heater.

Because of the dangers of working with gas lines or a combination of electricity and water, water heater repairs are best left to professionals. Improper removal or repair of a water heater can make the problem worse or even cause flooding.

It may be tempting to ignore water heater leaks, thinking they’ll get better with time. They won’t—they can only get worse. A small leak can lead to bigger problems, or may be a symptom of an issue you can’t see. In extreme cases, a complete water heater failure could send gallons of water flooding into your home. It also doesn’t take much water to damage your walls and floors, or to develop mold and mildew.

You’re far better off dealing with water heater leaks when you discover them. An experienced plumber can resolve the leak issue and restore your hot water supply quickly and reliably. Regular maintenance of your unit can also help prevent many leaks before they start.

In the Tulsa area, call Raby Plumbing now at (918) 200-9906 for all your water heater needs.

Resources found on our website are provided as general guidelines, and Raby Plumbing does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information.

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