Leaking Water Heater, What’s the Deal?

Unfortunately for most of our customers, when they need a plumber they need a plumber stat! A toilet might be overflowing, drains clogged and causing a mess, or a leaking water heater. All of these are problems you want to act on quick, and are worth knowing their potential causes. The sooner you recognize the problem, the sooner it can be fixed, the less damage and cost falls to you!

To that end, this time on the Economy Plumbing Services blog, we are looking at what to do in the case of a leaking water heater, how to diagnose the source of the leak and more in this double sized entry!

Handling a Leaking Water Heater

WARNING: Believe it or not, water heaters get water HOT! Most heaters at factory settings heat water to around 125 degrees. That’s hot enough to cause first degree burns, some heaters run hotter and even indirect contact can burn. Be safe here!

Step One – Find the Source

There are a few possible reasons for water to be spotted pooling under a water heater. It could be a leak, yes, or it could just be condensation from pipes, nearby appliances, and the like. If you have a basement or the weather is particularly damp this might be the cause.

It could also be from water softener or furnace drain lines, or other sections of your plumbing could be leaking instead of the water heater. Here’s how to find the source!

  1. Dry the area completely and then inspect the plumbing and water heater fittings. Wherever the pipes and appliances join, look for water beading.
  2. If no water is spotted, look at possible nearby sources. Look above to where it may drip from. If there is still no obvious source, lay down some towels and check every so often for any additional leaks.
  3. If they don’t appear – hey! There’s nothing to be worried about!
  4. If water does reappear, and there isn’t any other obvious source, it very well could be the water heater.

Step Two – Turn Off the Power

Now that you know the water heater is the likely culprit, you need to turn the power OFF!

Electricity and water are a rough mix. If you have an electric water heater go to your circuit breaker box and look for the breaker for your water heater (if these aren’t labelled, make a note and take care of those when this is settled!)

Is your water heater running off natural gas? Look for a dial or switch on the tank itself, often near the bottom. Be sure it is set to OFF.

Step Three – Turn Off the Water

Most water heaters have a valve right at the top that supplies the cold water to the tank. Turn that off. Sometimes it’s necessary to shut off the water to the house but if you are still unsure of the leak location that can make it hard to diagnose.

Step Four – Where’s the Leak?!

Looking over your water heater with a closer eye for detail can help you identify the problem before calling in a professional, ensuring that they know as much as they can going into it.

Common Places for Leaksleaking water heater inlet and outlets

-Cold Water Inlet/Hot Water Outlet

The water inlet/outlet connections take the cold water to the tank to get heated before it is sent out to the feature needing hot water. These should be on the top of the water heater and if the leak is coming from these connections it might be as simple a fix as getting a pipe wrench and tightening a few connections. Not too bad!

-Drain Valve

At the bottom of the tank is something called the drain valve, bet you can guess what this one does! Check to see if the valve is closed completely. Check where the valve connects, there shouldn’t be any moisture. If the drain valve has a leak it can be fixed, it isn’t too serious.

-Temp/Pressure Relief Valve

Also located on the top (or side) of the tank is the temperature and pressure release valve and pipe. This safety device helps ensure that the water in the tank doesn’t get too hot and that the pressure being built up inside is not to the point of bursting. This lets water out of the tank, relieving pressure and bringing the temp down.  If the valve is closed and water is still flowing through the pipe then the valve is defective and in need of replacing. If the valve is open and the water coming then it’s a good bet the leak is fixable. Call a professional!

-Internal Tank

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. The internal tank of a hot water heater is completely enclosed in insulation and the outer shell. A leak inside the internal tank won’t be visible from the outside and the water will leak through the bottom. It is not an uncommon thing for the internal tank to start leaking. With age comes use, with use comes deterioration – when comes to fixing the internal tank the only real fix is to replace the entire unit.

Repair Yourself or Hire a Professional?

Now, with this information you have the know how to figure out where and what the malfunction might be. For some of these the fixes might well be within your own capabilities! Like we said with the inlet and outlets, simply tightening the fittings might be all that’s needed to settle the problem. For others, like the internal tank, replacing the whole unit is the only option or a fix. Be honest with your own abilities and ask “Is this something I can handle or will it just end up costing more?”


Ready to call in the professionals? Give Economy Plumbing Services a call for prompt, dependable plumbing service. Our professionals can have your problem sorted out before you know it, whether it’s repairing or replacing a leaky water heater, repiping a home or anything else you may need.


Remember, if water goes through it or to it – we do it! Call 520 -214-2149!

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