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Why Is Your Water Heater Leaking?

When a home’s water heater leaks, the repercussions are often quite serious. If the leak lets out water for a long period of time, water damage ruins floors, walls, and precious possessions. Homeowners want to fix leaks fast but don’t always know where they come from or why they happen. However, this knowledge saves homeowners money and time. Luckily, leaks are easy to identify when you know where to look.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, Thomas & Galbraith’s plumbers inform homeowners about this important issue. Water heaters are dangerous when they leak in certain areas, so it’s important to take all leaks seriously. We cover the reasons why leaks occur in the water heater. We also speak about why those causes happen in the first place. This information helps homeowners differentiate between minor leaks and replacement-worthy ones. 

What Are the Causes of Water Heater Leaks?

The causes of water heater leaks depend on a few factors. Sometimes, problems are small, which makes them easy for homeowners to fix on their own. However, there are other problems large enough to warrant an entirely new water heater. In general, it’s good practice to call a plumber to help you diagnose issues so you know the correct course of action is pursued. 

Here are the most common reasons why water heaters leak.

  • Old tank. Tank-style water heaters older than about 15 years leak more often than newer heaters. As the unit ages, the parts wear out, the water doesn’t keep its warmth as well, and leaks occur more frequently. Water heater leaks due to old age sometimes happen because rust forms in the tank. This leads to corrosion, which allows water to exit through cracks. When the water heater reaches the end of its life, the only thing to do is replace it.

  • Drain valve. For maintenance visits and replacements, plumbers and homeowners use the drain valve to empty the tank. Homeowners also use the drain valve when they need to clean the tank. This valve loosens over time, which allows water to leak through. However, leaks from the base of the valve indicate that the component isn’t watertight. In this case, a new drain valve is necessary. Luckily, homeowners are able to complete this replacement, but it does help to hear what a plumber has to say before you take action.

  • Too much pressure. Like any plumbing fixture, water heaters deal with naturally occurring water pressure. Pressure occurs in water heaters because the hot water creates steam and fills the empty space. When this steam has nowhere to go, the pressure becomes too much. Water leaks through any crack in the heater to relieve some of the pressure. When the water temperature is set too high, or if water enters the system at high pressures, the heater pressure increases.

  • Faulty temperature and pressure relief valve. Water heater leaks also occur because of the temperature and pressure relief valve, known as the T&P valve. This valve helps relieve pressure inside the tank. When this valve doesn’t work, the pressure in the tank increases. Sometimes, the valve is simply loose and requires tightening. However, if the part is faulty, the piece needs a replacement. Lower the pressure in the tank before you deal with T&P valve issues.

  • Inlet and outlet connections. Cold water enters through the inlet connection, and hot water leaves through the outlet connection in a water heater. These connections allow hot water to enter your water fixtures. Over time, these loosen and cause leaks. It’s rare for any other issue to occur with the inlet and outlet connection.

  • Internal tank. Tank water heaters use two shells to complete its processes. The external shell provides insulation for the internal shell which holds the water. A final layer of metal covers both shells. Water heater leaks in the internal shell are difficult to spot but occur because of age and deterioration in most cases. You don’t see this type of leak from the outside of the tank.

  • Sediment collection. As water heaters age, they collect sediment at the bottom of the tank. Homeowners who regularly clean the water out of the tank rarely experience this issue. However, for those who forgo draining the tank to clean it, sediment builds until cracks form. These cracks allow water to leak through. Tank leaks require an entirely new water heater which are expensive, so make sure to clean the tank semi-regularly.

  • Cracked storage tank. Some water heaters have an additional tank to expand the amount of water they hold. These tanks sometimes use glass to line the tank. Over time, minerals collect and calcify on the glass. This causes the glass to crack and leak water. Additionally, when the water becomes hot it expands, which puts stress on the glass and causes small cracks. Replacements are necessary in both cases.

  • Anode rod. An anode rod acts as a sacrificial component of the water heater. It attracts corrosive substances so the water heater itself stays safe. However, water heater leaks occur when the anode rod becomes nearly nonexistent because of all the corrosion. Water leaks through the space where the anode rod used to be. Quick replacement takes care of any potential leaks.

Water Heater Leaks: Where Does the Water Come From?

When the water heater leaks, the location of the leak tells the plumber a lot about the cause. The location of the leak allows the plumber to rule out some problems because they are physically impossible. In addition, it’s good for homeowners to have a vague understanding of what leak locations mean. This makes the repair process much easier because homeowners are better able to let the plumbers know where to look when they arrive. 

  • Condensation. First of all, determine if the water you’re seeing is condensation or an actual leak. Homeowners sometimes worry over nothing, so it’s good to double-check before you call a plumber. Condensation occurs when the temperature in the room varies wildly from the tank. For example, if the tank is very hot, but the room is cold, condensation occurs. Condensation doesn’t indicate any problems with the water heater.

  • Undetermined location. Water heater leaks sometimes seem to appear out of nowhere. In these cases, you likely notice pools of water under the unit. Too much pressure is the most likely cause. When pressure leaks occur, the water finds any tiny crack to leak through, then the leak stops when the pressure goes down. This makes it hard to locate the source unless you catch the leak as it happens.

  • Bottom leaks. Leaks from the bottom of the water heater are either minor or require a replacement. Either the drain valve or the tank itself causes these water heater leaks. Drain valves usually need tightening, but if the tank has a leak, the whole thing needs to go. These replacements are expensive but necessary.

  • Top leaks. When water leaks from the top of the tank, the inlet and outlet connections are usually to blame. It’s rare for tank cracks to occur on the top, but it is possible. Other causes include loose T&P valves and anode rod corrosion. Luckily, repairs, replacements, or tightening the components are usually the most homeowners must do to resolve this type of leak. Only a crack results in a new water heater.

  • Leaks in the tank. Finally, water heater leaks inside the tank are impossible to see on the outside. While the water often pools at the bottom of the unit, this doesn’t mean the leak stems from there. The crack on the internal tank could be anywhere. Age and deterioration are the leading causes of this leak.

Prevention of Water Heater Leaks

Homeowners are able to prevent most water heater leaks. These tasks are generally quick, easy and prevent leaks altogether. Of course, some leaks are unpreventable, but for the most part, homeowners have more control over leaks than they think. 

The most important part of leak identification deals with reaction time. The faster homeowners identify a leak, the less likely they are to experience extreme water damage. However, with preventative measures, homeowners don’t experience leaks in the first place. Here’s how to keep your home safe from leaks.

  • Tighten loose parts. Firstly, make sure to check how tight all of the component are on the water heater. Loose parts allow water to leak through, so tighten them as often as necessary. All you need is a wrench.

  • Preventative maintenance. Regular maintenance done by a plumber ensures the water heater doesn’t experience any leaks. Maintenance checks allow plumbers to inspect the entire plumbing system, which means they cover the water heater. They make sure there are no active leaks, and they take a close look at all the components to see if they have the potential to cause leaks in the near future.

  • Drain and clean tank. A clean water heater tank is less likely to crack due to sediment collection. Homeowners are able to clean the tank themselves. Use the drain valve to empty the water, then use a bleach-water solution to clear away any mold and mildew growth. Not only does this improve the water quality, it also ensures sediment collection doesn’t damage the tank.

  • Respond quickly. Quick responses to any water heater leaks ensure homeowners don’t face harsh repercussions. If leaks run for long periods of time, floods are more likely to occur. Plus, when pressure builds in the tank for too long with no relief, the heater has the potential to explode. Quickly attend to leaks to ensure these scenarios don’t happen.

  • Check the water heater frequently. Lastly, along with maintenance checks, homeowners must inspect their water heaters as well. See if any parts are loose, check for cracks, and deal with any sediment collection you find. Homeowners need to keep an eye on the water heater to know when malfunctions or failures occur.

Thomas & Galbraith Solves Water Heater Leaks

Water heater leaks in Cincinnati, OH, are hard for homeowners to handle, but Thomas & Galbraith knows how to help. Call us today to learn more about our services!

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