Hot Water Heater Leaking? Here's What to Do
Inspecting Your Water Tank for Leaks
If you've noticed water on the floor under your water tank, start preparing to have it replaced. I know this may not be what you're hoping to hear but I don't suppose you've searched on this topic to hear lies. The fact of the matter is, if your tank itself is leaking, repairing it is not an option. A hot water tank is a sealed unit that even if repairing a leak to the tank itself was an option, it would likely cost you more than a replacement tank that would at least have a new warranty.
Just because there is water on the floor doesn't mean your tank is shot so before we call for the estimates, let's make sure of where the leak is coming from. There are many sources of leaks when it comes to your hot water system and you surely want to know if it's something more simple than replacing the unit.
Here are a few things you'll want to check before condemning the unit to the scrapyard.
- Check all the plumbing connections coming to and from the unit.
- Check to see that your T&P valve isn't the culprit.
- Is there sweat all over the outer shell that could be dripping to the floor?
- Is your unit new? This could be normal.
A New Water Heater May Drip Water for a Couple Days Even
In my years of working on water tanks I've learned to always warn the homeowner that if they notice water or dampness on the floor in the first day or two of installation, it is more than likely normal. When a water heater sits in storage waiting to find it's new home, it collects humidity in the insulated lining. Once the tank is installed, filled and heated up, this humidity is often released. Of course gravity pulls it all to the floor and leads the new owner to believe they've been sold a bad tank. Now if there is still water or dampness after a couple of days, you may be right and the tank may very well be bad. As inconvenient as it is, it does happen and may very well be no fault of the installer.
I Love Push Fittings.
Repairing Plumbing Connections
If you locate the source of your leak and it seems to be a connection rather than the tank, you may be able to fix this yourself. Some of your connections may be threaded fittings that perhaps need a new seal. A simple new application of Teflon tape may be all that is needed.
Of course there are those pesky soldered fittings that leak and many people aren't capable of re-soldering these parts. Well rest easy my friend. For those of us who hate soldering or are not capable of doing so, I introduce to you the push fitting. These fittings may just be the best thing since the Bite Sized Mini-Wheat. These fittings simply push on and in my experience, they are worth every penny more than the solder fittings. Did I mention they can be removed too? How about spun once they are installed? Yes, these are one of my favorite inventions in the realm of home improvement in a long, long time. Sure, there are some who don't like them but I've never had a problem with mine and believe that those who have either didn't install them properly or are losing money to the homeowner who is no longer running away from reworking their own plumbing.
Either way, if you found the leak to be a connection, you are lucky and should be able to repair it without any major expense.
Water Coming From the T&P Valve
Though it is possible to see your water tank sweat, it's not nearly as common as a malfunctioning T&P valve. This valve is to release pressure from the inside of the tank should it reach a dangerous level due to overheating.
Checking and replacing this valve is not all that difficult. Finding the correct valve and draining off the tank is more time consuming than actually replacing the valve.
To Do or Not To Do...Yourself
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Water Heater Warranties
Most water heaters these days carry with them a 6 year warranty. You may be able to purchase an extended warranty from your installation company and if it's reasonable, I would consider it a sound purchase.
Replacing a Hot Water Tank
So you feel that it's the tank itself that is leaking now that you've done your inspection. For starters, consider directing the path of the leaking water toward a drain as to contain the mess it's likely making. Also, turn down the temperature on the tank. In some cases where there is a smaller leak, the temperature being too high can increase the amount of water you're losing through the leak in a given time.
In all reality, replacing a water tank is rather simple and many homeowners do choose to do this improvement themselves. Though I won't be explaining how to do this here, it is something you may want to consider if you are mechanically inclined. The concern here is the gas or electricity that is involved in heating your tank. Do not try to replace your own water tank if you are not familiar working with these energy sources as either one can spell disaster if not done properly and safely.
For those who won't be trying to tackle this on your own, the cost of having it done is bearable in most cases but not nearly as cheap as it once was. Since going the way of sealed combustion as opposed to the old open chamber burner assemblies, the $150, 40 gallon water tank no longer exists. These days, if you find a standard size water heater for $350, you're doing pretty good. As for installation costs, they're not usually to extensive. The plumbing industry has kept their cost to do a water tank replacement fairly reasonable to keep too many homeowners from doing their own tanks. If you are being charged any more than $700 - $900 for a standard water heater replacement, I'd say you need to keep shopping around.
How to Extend the Life of Your Hot Water Heater
Considering the following items can help you to extend the life of your water tank as well as keep it operating at it's maximum efficiency.
- Drain the tank yearly.
- Replace the anode rod.
The anode rod is a sacrificial lamb so to speak. This aluminum or magnesium rod is inserted into the tank to attract corrosive types of chemicals that are in the water. These chemicals and minerals are attracted to the rod where they can feast on it as much as they like instead of the walls of your water tank. If this rod has been eaten in your tank, the next smorgasbord will be your tank itself.
© 2012 Daniel Robbins
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