It seems a common reaction for homeowners to assume their water heater is bad and needs to be replaced when they see water leaking or spraying around the water heater unit. OneStop Plumbers often receives calls from homeowners stating they need a new water heater but sometimes after our plumber checks out the situation, the problem turns out not to be the water heater unit but rather a related issue that can be fixed for much less than replacing the entire water heater unit.
This article has been written for homeowners who would like to better understand the causes of water heater leaks so that they can perform some self diagnosis or DYI repair before calling out a plumbing company or purchasing a new water heater unit.
Water on top of, underneath, or around your water heater unit could be the result of three different problems that require very different solutions. The first step in diagnosing what repair is needed is to determine where the water is leaking from. To find the origin of the leak, inspect the following:
Overtime, water heaters corrode producing weak spots and small holes in the tank’s metal. These holes may be extremely small at first but will surely manifest into a problem that eventually will have to be resolved. To determine if your water heater tank has a leak, visually inspect the top, bottom and entire outer surface of the water heater tank for any signs of water. If a leak is discovered then the water heater unit will need to be replaced since there currently is no solution to repair water heater tanks.
Water heater tank leaks are a covered item under most manufacturer warranties as long as warranty terms and conditions have been met. Most manufacturers provide an option on their website to lookup warranty status information. Just write down the serial number and model number from the manufacturer’s sticker located on the water heater and then enter it into the online lookup screen.
Please be aware that over the last few years California established new water heater emission laws requiring water heater manufacturers to upgrade their product lines. If you have an older water heater model, you may be responsible for the cost to upgrade to a new compliant model. The cost difference to homeowners is approximately $100-$175; depending on water heater size and manufacturer. While OneStop Plumbers doesn’t charge customers a mark-up price on warranty upgrade orders, some plumbing companies may, so it is advisable to ask.
If the tank shows no signs of a water leak, then continue troubleshooting the source of water by next checking the water heater’s supply lines.
Water heater supply lines are typically located on top of the water heater unit and connect the water heater to the home’s water supply. The entire supply line may be faulty or if water is leaking at the fitting connection, there is a good chance that the fitting may simply need to be tightened. Most supply lines these days are stainless steel with threaded fittings. This makes it easy for homeowners to tighten with a wrench. Supply lines that are copper tubing with sweat connections however will require soldering. A faulty supply line will need to be replaced in its entirety. While this may require a plumber, it is less expensive than replacing the water heater unit.
**Word of Caution: Before adjusting a supply line or any other water heater connection, it is advisable to shut-off water supply to the unit.
Another place you may notice a leak if you have a storage water heater, is from the external device that is designed to safely release pressure from the tank. This device is called the temperature and pressure relief valve (aka T&P valve). T&P valves are usually connected to the side of the water tank. A functioning T&P valve that is leaking or releasing water is a sign that the water heater’s temperature or pressure is too high and needs to be reduced. You can turn down the temperature by adjusting the controller.
How fast water is entering into the water heater can easily be tested by connecting a hose bib pressure gauge to an outside hose bib. Once connected, just simply turn on the water and review psi results. Ideally, pressure should be between 55psi to 65psi and should not exceed 80psi. A reading of 80psi or greater means you need to call a licensed plumber to see if your water regulator is functioning properly.
We hope these DIY water heater troubleshooting tips have been helpful to you. If you have determined a new water heater is necessary, or your need water heater repair or diagnostic help from a licensed plumber, we would love to hear from you. You can also visit our water heater page for information on water heater pricing and our 10-Step Water Heater replacement service: https://www.onestopplumbers.com/water-heaters.html
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