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What You Should Know if You Have a Leaky Water Heater

Bedroom-Flooded-With-Water

A leaky water heater is possibly one of the most problematic things you could have in your home. You may be thinking that a bit of water oozing from your water heater isn't that big of a deal, but the reality is very different. 

Not only can a leaky water heater increase your water bill, but the leak can result in severe water damage and even pose risks to your health. Water can rot wood and propagate mold growth. 

There are two kinds of leaks that should cause you concern. The first leak is the small kind where water seeps into the heater's surroundings. The second water heater leak is more significant and rapidly pours your house. 

Now you know what sort of leaks can cause you problems, but what can you do about either of these leaks? What steps should you take to handle either of these problems? 

Read our handy guide below to help you out in the event you've got a leaky heater. We're going to offer advice on what to do if you've got a leaky hot water heater and the damage that water can cause in your home. 

What To Do If You Have a Leaky Water Heater

The most critical aspect of your damaged heater is fixing water heater leaks. 

Before we get into our list of damage control, though, we would like to clarify that water under your heater doesn't mean there's a leak. Drainage lines and condensation could be the source of the water. 

Water pouring from an open space in the side of the tank could also explain the water on your floor. At the very least, you've found leak. If there isn't an obvious source for the water, dry the floor and lay some paper towels.

Observe the spot for a few days to check for moisture. If there's water again and you don't know where it came from, you've likely got a leak somewhere. 

Turn Off the Water

Now that you know you've got a leak, you need to stop it. To turn off your water supply, cut off the cold water line.

There should be two pipes on the top of your heater. The cold line to the touch (or marked by blue paint) provides cold water to the tank. There will likely be a shut-off valve on the supply line itself. 

If there isn't a shut-off valve on the line, you'll have to cut off the water to the entire house by the main shut-off valve. You will terminate all access to water throughout your home until you turn the main valve back on. 

Switch Off Power to the Water Heater

How you turn off the power to your heater depends on the kind of heater you have. If you have an electrically powered heater, then here's what you do:

  • Find the heater breaker in your house's electrical panel
  • Switch the breaker to off

Your water heater will have an individual circuit breaker, so you won't need to worry about shutting off power to anything else. If you have a gas water heater, though, you'll need to:

  • Find the gas valve on its supply line
  • Twist the valve in a clockwise motion until it stops

The gas supply line won't be more than a few feet from your water heater. You should find the valve close to the bottom of the line.

Water Heater Leak Causes

There are plenty of reasons your heater may have sprung a leak. In many of these cases, you can probably repair the issue independently. Fixing water heater leaks from the top tends to be easy with a weekend DIY session. 

If you've got a leak from the bottom of the heater, you likely need a plumber. We're going to discuss the potential reasons for leaks in your heater and if you can tackle them yourself or not. 

Water Heater Leaks From Above

First up are kinds of leaks from the upper half of your heater. Upper-level leaks usually are easy to repair, provided you catch them before they cause severe damage. 

Temperature and Pressure Release Valves

Temperature and pressure release valves (T&P valves) exist so you can release pressure from the inside of your water heater tank if it builds up to dangerous levels. These valves must function correctly. 

T&P valves are located on the sides or the top of the tank and should be tightly sealed. If you spot water seeping from where the valve connects to the tank, remove it to check if there's something wrong. 

If the threads inside the valve are damaged, purchase a new one and replace it. Replacing a T&P valve is a relatively simple task, and you can do it on your own.

Cold Water Valve

A puddle on top of your water heater likely means the water discharge pipe is leaking, or the inlet pipe isn't tightly connected. To check the water inlet, turn the water to the line off. 

You can cut off the water flow with a ball valve (the kind you twist) or a lever. You'll know the water access is on when it lies parallel against the pipe. If you spot moisture or dripping near the valve, try tightening the valve nut.

When tightening the nut doesn't work, it means your valve is faulty and needs replacing. As far as fixing water heater leaks goes, cold water valves are relatively simple. 

Corroded and Loose Pipe Fittings

Dielectric nipples (or fittings) are what connect your water system and hot water heater pipes. They're smaller pieces of piping with threads on each end to connect everything and ensure water flows where it needs to. 

Give the dielectric fittings a good once over to locate dripping or moisture. If there is a leak coming from one of these areas, try tightening it with a wrench.

However, it may be that your water heater fittings are corroded and might need to be replaced entirely. Keep on the lookout for a rusting tank. Oxidation on the tank means that you need to purchase a new heater.

Water in the Flue Pipe

The leak might be from water getting into the flue pipe. The flue pipe is the part of gas heaters where exhaust and other pollutants are released outside of the home to ensure proper and healthy air quality. 

Sometimes - during windy and rainy weather - water can find its way inside the flue pipe and pool on the top of your tank. Repairing the storm collar around your flue can solve the issue. 

If you replace the storm collar (the piece on top of your roof's flashing) with a new, tightly fitted, well-sealed one, you may be able to avoid leaking. The rain cap may also have to do with your water heater leak. 

Rain caps (the uppermost part of a flue) are a significant part of your flue to help keep water out. Sometimes repairing the rain cap may be as simple as resealing it to the vent.

If there's noticeable corrosion on the cap, you should replace it. Rust will eventually lead to a failure of the rain cap, so it's best to buy a new one before that happens. 

Water Leaks from Below

Water leaking from underneath your hot water heater is usually a sign something serious is going on. Unfortunately, leaks under the water heater are pretty standard, and you should handle them immediately. 

The problems listed below are often big jobs and should be handled by a professional with training. 

People with a genuine understanding of the nuances of plumbing may be able to tackle these kinds of leaks. However, if you aren't skilled with fixing water heater leaks, we advise you to leave these to professionals.

Issues Inside the Tank

Most of what causes leaks from the bottom of your heater come from inside the tank itself. One culprit is sediment accumulating at the bottom of the tank that eventually causes rusting and rupturing. 

If you don't drain your water heater tank regularly, leaks may occur over time. When the tank is damaged, you may want to replace the heater. 

Call a plumber to assess the damage. If the leak is massive, you're better off getting a replacement. Sometimes fixing water heater leaks is cheaper. 

If the heater is still under warranty and fixing it costs 50% less than a new heater, repairs are the way to go. Regardless of your option, get a professional consultation before making a move. 

Drain Valve

All water heaters have drain valves located at the bottom of their tanks. As the name implies, drainage valves release water from tanks whenever repairs or maintenance are needed. 

Remember the sediment we mentioned earlier that can gather in your tank? Drain valves are how you remove that substance. Tanks need regular draining, so damage doesn't occur.  

Sometimes while draining a tank, water may build up at the bottom. There are two reasons this happens: faulty and leaky drainage valves.

A tell-tale sign of a faulty valve is a leaking nozzle. Leaking nozzles likely means that the valve isn't closed all the way, which may be the result of something colliding with the valve handle. 

First, make sure that it's not a matter of the knob being loose. Try tightening the knob with your hand before making assumptions. A still drippy knob will need a replacement. 

Homeowners can spot leaky drainage valves if they notice water coming from the valve base. Once spotted, you can work on replacing the valve. You can make this repair or have a plumber do it. 

Temperature and Pressure Release Valve

Upper T&P valve leaks involve the valves themselves. This time, the damage in question has to do with the water heater discharge pipes leaking. These pipes are connected to the T&P valves.

The purpose of the tubes is to have a controlled water flow coming from the valve instead of violently splashing onto the ground. Puddling at the bottom of your tank may indicate the T&P valves are damaged. 

Check the bottom of the discharge pipes - if you see moisture, the valves are defective, or your tank has too much pressure.  Temperature and pressure valves are safety features, so you must make repairs quickly.

Water Heater Life Expectancy

Water heaters can last about 8 to 12 years. An exceptionally well-maintained heater can last as long as 15 years or more. Manufacturers build heater tanks to stay rust-free for as long as possible thanks to the anode rods inside. 

After ten years or so, anode rods become too rusty to keep the tank from oxidizing, and damage starts to settle into the steel drum. Many of the corrosive particles fall to the bottom of the tank, which causes leaks.

How to Tell Your Water Heater's Age

We know that the age of water heaters isn't something most people often check - if at all, so we've provided how you can determine your heater's age. 

Your heater will have a serial number assigned to it made of both numbers and letters. Let's say your heater's serial number is B159730227. The letter "B" will correspond with the month of February. 

Water heater lettering ranges from A to L - January to December. The number after B, 15, represents the year. So this water heater was manufactured in February of 2015. 

Note that all manufacturers don't follow this rule. Call whoever built your water heater to ensure that this is how to tell your heating unit's age accurately. 

What Determines Water Heater Life Expectancy

8 to 12 years is a general estimate of how long your water heater should last. There are plenty of factors that can lower or increase that estimate, though. 

Hard water can take up to two years off a heating unit's lifespan. The minerals inside hard water can cause the sediment build-up we spoke of earlier and may damage your tank. 

Water softeners can mitigate this issue. The softeners remove the minerals before the liquid reaches your heater. 

You may not have known this, but electrical water heaters tend to last longer than their gas-powered counterparts. The average gas heater has about two years less life expectancy than an electric one. 

Installing water heaters in colder areas of the home, like crawl spaces, can create more work for the unit. The more a machine has to work, the faster it'll break down because it's always working at an increased capacity.

Steel heaters are especially prone to rust and damage. Opting for a  fiberglass tank may mean the difference between getting more mileage from your water heating unit or it quickly breaking down. 

When Should You Replace Your Water Heater?

Once your water heater is ten years old, it becomes more apparent whenever it's suffering some malfunction. Because of this, it's often recommended to get a replacement after a decade. 

Like we said earlier, though, water heaters can last up to 15+ years. Consult with a plumber and have your heater regularly checked if you want to be sure whether you need a replacement unit. 

What Kind of Damage Can Leaky Water Heaters Cause?

Leaking water heaters are not only inconvenient, but they can be an outright hazard to your home and health. We've already talked about what kind of leaks can happen and if you can repair them yourself. 

Now we're going to discuss what problems a leaky hot water heater can cause for you and your home. We're also going to examine when you should call a plumber or a restoration service for help. 

The Dangers of Water Damage: Drywall, Wood, and General Health

When people hear water damage, they mostly think of structural issues. Many of you reading this may have had thoughts of rotting wooden supports and crumbling soggy drywall. 

While it's true that enough water damage can begin collapsing your home around you, there's also the issue of mold. 

Mold can also harm you. You may experience skin rashes and shortness of breath. Headaches, sore throat, sinusitis, and worsening lung conditions are common side effects from breathing in mold spores. 

While on the subject of mold and water, we would like to clarify that the mold fungus itself doesn't damage the wood. The water leaking from the water heater is what does the damage.

Water makes wood fibers swell, shift, and eventually weaken if exposed too long. As for the drywall, the material can absorb water, but it's not built to contain it. The water eventually causes mold to grow. 

Unlike wood, mold can eat away at drywall and eventually weaken it. Discolored spots on the wall or cracks and holes in the flooring may indicate water damage. 

Leaks from rusty pipes are also a considerable concern. Water that comes from a rusty source is often with all kinds of bacteria and harmful substances

Water Heater Explosions and Large Leaks

Leaky water heaters can potentially explode as well. To specify, it's not the leak that will cause the explosion, but rather is a symptom of a potential one. 

Leaking pressure valves may be a sign that there's too much pressure building up in your tank. Once enough pressure has built up - an explosion can occur. 

A water heater explosion can be dangerous. Your entire plumbing system may fail as a result. Furthermore, the force at which your heater flies apart can damage its surroundings and injure anyone caught in the crossfire.

Even if the explosions haven't hurt anyone or damaged the plumbing, they result in significant leaks where gallons of water pour into your home. It takes only a few days for mold to start growing.

Carpet, clothing, floors, walls, anything organic can be damaged by the water settling and soaking into everything. Truthfully, once your heater has exploded, you should call a professional restoration service immediately. 

Will Insurance Cover Damage From A Leaking Water Heater?

Home insurance likely won't pay for fixing water heater leaks or replacing a  heating unit.

As is often the case, you, as the homeowner, will be held responsible for damages to any appliance. In this case, the appliance is the heating unit.

Homeowners' insurance might cover any damage caused by the leak, though. The majority of property coverage does handle repairs needed from situations created by damaged appliances. 

If your leaky water hot heater ruins your floors, you can potentially file a claim and get them repaired. This is if you can prove neglect didn't lead to the leak in the first place, though. 

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Mold?

Mold is a tricky subject in homeowners insurance circles. Many kinds of mold damage aren't covered, but you can file a claim if the mold results from a malfunctioning appliance. 

As stated above, your leaking water heater counts as a damaged appliance. You may be able to file a claim if your drywall has mold due to the leak.

We'll reiterate, you can only file and win your claim if the damage wasn't preventable. The leak or explosion must be from something you couldn't have foreseen or a sudden occurrence.

The claim may not cover all of the mold removal processes either. Some companies place a cap on how much they're willing to cover to eliminate the fungus.

For example, your insurer may only provide $5,000 to cover costs. If you're unsure of your financial cap for mold removal, call your provider to find out. 

Has Your Leaky Water Heater Damaged Your Home?

A leaky water heater is not just a mess you have to clean but also a dangerous hazard. Leaking water heaters can damage your home and endanger your health. 

Various kinds of leaks can occur above or below your heater - some easier than others to fix. If any leak, large or small, has damaged your home, give us a call. 

Our professional Quik Stop Restoration Services team covers water, fire, and mold damages. If you've got questions about the restoration process, contact us here to speak with one of our restoration experts. 

QUIK STOP RESTORATION

3850 E. Baseline Road #115
Mesa, AZ 85206
Ph: 480-270-8000
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