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Leaking Pressure-Relief Valve: Replace Water Heater

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Ron in Florida is on the line with a leaky water heater. What’s going on? Tell us how old it is.

    RON: Well, the breaker had thrown a couple times and I turned it back on. And it stayed when I turned it on and then I’d gone in, took a nap, came back out. When I did, the entire garage was full of water. I guess the pressure-relief valve that’s up top was just – it was just spewing out water extremely, extremely hot. Hotter than we’ve ever experienced having (inaudible at 0:08:44). What I thought it was – it just continued to heat.

    And so, any rate, I turned the breaker off, I looked in the panel where the thermostats were and the elements and they were just fried; they were burnt. They were burned up. I got a good scare because the insulation was blackened and could have been worse than it was, I guess, it catching fire. But I just wondered what would have made the hot-water heater do that.

    TOM: OK. Well, let’s see. The pressure/temperature relief valve, which is what that’s called on the side of the water heater, is set to go off at about 150 pounds of pressure. And theoretically, the way it works is if the water heater doesn’t shut off, because there’s something wrong with the control circuit, it will continue to heat and heat and heat and build up pressure to the point where to prevent the tank from rupturing, the pressure/temperature valve will open up.

    Now, I will say this: very often, those valves fail and they will open up way before they’re designed to open up. And if that’s the case, you just replace the valve. But it sounds to me like this thing got so wet that the water got on the elements and that’s what caused a short, which caused the breaker to trip.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But is this associated with an age of a water heater or is this just a random, fluke problem?

    TOM: Not really. I’ve seen new pressure/temperature valves that can pop open, as well. And sometimes, you get a little bit of debris that’s stuck under them, too, when you try to close them and that makes it even worse.

    Now, where are we at right now with the water heater? You’re still there with it or have you replaced it? What’s your – where are you at with the project?

    RON: Just the – what I was looking at didn’t look like it was even worth fixing with all the – like I said, with all the burned …

    TOM: Well, it may not. If it’s more than a few years old and you’ve got that much going on with it, I’d probably replace the water heater myself.

    But what I was going to say, the one thing that you can try – and assuming that the coils were still OK. You mentioned they were burned out. Burned out is – with a coil, it’s kind of hard to do. If they just got wet and shorted, that’s a different situation. You can clean out the contacts and it’ll work. But if the coils were OK, otherwise, what you could do is you open and close the pressure-and-temperature valve several times.

    And by the way, there’s supposed to be a discharge pipe on that that stops within 6 inches of the floor. And sometimes, the plumbers don’t put that on. But if you open and close that a bunch of times to try to sort of clean out that valve, sometimes it’ll reseat itself. And this is assuming that it didn’t open because there is something electrically wrong with it. But I would do that.

    There’s things that I would check but there’s – these are things you probably couldn’t check. For example, I’d check the amperage on the coils to see if they were drawing normally and things like that that tells me sort of – the circuit is working correctly. So, I guess what we’re coming to here is if you’ve got this much going on with – you’re probably going to have to replace it and you’re going to need a plumber for that, anyway.

    But that’s probably what happened. It probably started with the pressure/temperature valve leaking, that water getting in there and causing a big mess electrically. Because water and electricity do not mix, as you have learned, my friend.

    RON: Right, right. OK. OK, guys. Well, listen, I really appreciate you taking my call and appreciate the help.

    TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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