How to Troubleshoot a Leaking Water Heater

how to troubleshoot leaking water heater

How to Troubleshoot a Leaky Water Heater

Is your water heater leaking? Don’t assume it needs to be replaced; you may be able to repair the problem, depending on what has caused the leak in the first place.

Before we get started, a word of caution: Your hot water heater tank is extremely hot. Do not touch the tank and be careful if you see steam hissing from a connection or spurting from a part of the water heater or a connection or valve. Turn the water heater off and let the water heater tank cool completely before trying to troubleshoot it.

Troubleshooting Tips

The following are tips for troubleshooting your leaking water heater.

Step 1. Turn off the power to your water heater.

For electric water heaters, the power source is the circuit breaker; turn the power off at the circuit breaker. For gas water heaters, you will find an on/off valve or dial on the unit; turn it off.

how to troubleshoot leaking water heater

Click on the image of water heater parts identification for a bigger image

Step 2. Turn off the water supply at the cold water shut-off valve.

You will find the cold water shut-off valve above the water heater. It will be either a ball valve (which is a handle that you will need to turn 90 degrees so that it is perpendicular to the pipe) or a gate valve (which is wheel or knob that you will close by turning clockwise until you cannot turn it further).

Step 3. Check the cold and hot water connections.

Your water heater will feature two major connections—a cold water inlet connection and a hot water outlet connection. You will find these connections at the top of the water heater. Check the connections to see if you see evidence of leaking, especially at the elbow joints and the connection points. These connections need to be soldered or crimped, so this should be completed by a professional plumber or someone who has extensive experience dealing with water heaters.

Step 4. Check the pressure relief valve (also called a T&P or TPR valve).

Every hot water heater is outfitted with a pressure relief valve. The high temperatures inside your water heater result in steam, and that steam creates pressure on the pressure relief valve. That pressure makes the valve open just enough to relieve pressure so the tank won’t explode. It’s an important-but-dangerous part of your water heater! As you can imagine, a faulty pressure relief valve can result in serious burns in you touch it or come in contact with steam or hot water coming out of the valve.

You will find the pressure relief valve at the top of the water heater where it’s connected to  the pipe that runs down the side of the tank.

To troubleshoot this, you will first need to reduce the temperature in your water heater and let it cool down. Then you will want to turn back on the water and power to your water heater and see what happens. If you see water coming out of that pipe, the pressure valve is discharging and leaking, which means the valve may be faulty. It also may be a sign that your water pressure is too high or that you need an expansion tank.

You do not want to flush or replace the pressure valve by yourself as the risk of burns is too high. Have a plumber flush and/or replace the pressure valve; the plumber will also check the water pressure and advise you if you need an expansion tank.

Step 5. Check the water heater drain valve.

Your water heater has a plastic or brass drain valve near the bottom of the tank that you have probably used to flush and drain your water heater. (If you have not flushed and drained your water heater before, learn how to perform this recommended annual maintenance here.)

The water heater drain valve may start to leak if the valve has worn out or if sediment buildup has compromised the seal. To see if this is the cause of the leak, place a bucket under the drain valve and see if water accumulates. To avoid burns, have a plumber flush and/or replace the drain valve for you.

Step 6. Check the water heater gaskets (if you have an electric water heater).

The base of the electric elements (that heat the water) is protected from water by rubber gaskets. Over time, if the rubber gaskets erode, water may start to seep through the connections.

After double checking to make sure you have turned off the power, carefully remove the hatch covers that protect the protective base that surrounds the gaskets. Next, remove the hatches, cut your way through the insulation, and carefully examine the electrical connection to see if any water damage has occurred. To replace the gaskets, you will need to drain the tank completely, remove the electrical elements, and replace the gaskets. Unless you yourself are a plumber or an electrician, you will want to hire a licensed plumber to do this job.

Step 7. Check the tank itself.

Hopefully you found a gasket or connection or valve to be the problem. Those issues can all be resolved with a small repair. If the leak is coming from the tank itself, you have to replace the tank; there is no other option.

Need a Charlotte Plumber to Troubleshoot a Leaking Water Heater?

Give us a call! We’ve been fixing water heaters in the Charlotte area since 1997. We’ll help you find the most prudent and cost effective solution, and we’ll get it done in a timely manner. We look forward to working with you!

Article Summary

Quick question & answer: Why is my water heater leaking?

There are steps you can take to troubleshoot a leaky water heater depending on the leak’s cause. Hopefully, the following will help you repair the problem:

  • Turn off power to water heater
  • Turn off water supply at cold water shut-off valve
  • Check hot and cold water connections
  • Check pressure relief valve
  • Check water heater drain valve
  • Check water heater tank
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