Diagnose a Leaky Hot Water Heater
LESLIE: Chris in Pennsylvania is dealing with a leaky water heater. Let’s hear about what’s going on. Welcome, Chris.
CHRIS: Thank you very much. I’m calling in regards to the hot water heater. It just recently – probably about a week or so ago I noticed that there’s some water underneath where my hot water heater is located at. And I was just trying to figure out what, basically, I can do to maybe diagnose the issue before calling somebody professional in to maybe take a look at it and hopefully fix it without having to get a new one.
TOM: OK, well let’s start with the basics. Chris, how old is the water heater?
CHRIS: It’s probably got to be about six years old or more.
TOM: Alright, well that’s not terribly old. I mean most water heaters last 10 to 15 years. Has the water heater been in constant use? I mean was it ever off and it just got turned on recently or has it always been in constant use?
CHRIS: It’s always been in constant use.
CHRIS: We’ve lived in the house for probably about a little over two years now.
TOM: OK. Because if the tank was really cold and you turned it on, you would have a lot of condensation. I just wanted to rule that out.
Alright, now the next thing to do is to look at the temperature and pressure relief valve. There’s going to be a pipe that comes off the side of the water heater and it goes down towards the floor. And can you tell if that pipe is leaking?
CHRIS: No, it’s definitely not that pipe. It actually looks like – it’s not coming from any of the pipes where the water lines are coming in or coming out from the top and it’s not coming out from the pipe that goes down to the floor. It seems actually to be originating from underneath the bottom of the hot water heater.
TOM: OK. It doesn’t sound good. I think we’ve eliminated the basics. It sounds like you do have a slow leak and it’s been a week now; it’s probably not going to get any better and, in fact, it could get a lot worse. So it sounds to me like the water heater may be leaking.
The two common places that people get leaks that really aren’t leaks is you get condensation when you have cold water in the water heater then you have the hot gas flame. This is a gas water heater, by the way, or is it electric?
CHRIS: It is electric.
TOM: Ah, it’s electric. OK, well forget that one. If it’s not – condensation is only an issue when it’s a gas water heater. If that overflow pipe is not leaking, it sounds like the tank itself is leaking.
Now if it’s six years old, it’s possible the tank could be under warranty, so you might want to take the serial number off of the data plate; go to the manufacturer website; determine if it is in fact under warranty or not. But then if it’s not, heck, now is a good time to do it.
I would say that you might want to look into the new heat pump water heaters that are available if you’re going to be in the house for a while. The heat pump water heaters will qualify for the federal tax credit available between now and the end of the year and they will actually cost about half as much to heat the water as a standard electric resistance heater would.