What’s one of the most common household issues that homeowners encounter? Ask people that question and one of the most frequent responses you will get from them is about leaks. This is something that almost all homeowners will face; you might even say that it is a rite of passage for all homes.
This issue is something that most people would consider as an annoyance more than a real problem. They get irritated at the constant dripping sounds or the cleaning up of puddles, yet they hardly do anything about it. Sometimes, they’ll just wrap the leaking parts in cloth, adhesive, silicone, or plastic and problem solved… not.
Leaks are not limited to occurring on pipes, plumbing systems, and fixtures. Sometimes, the unlikely culprit is actually a water heater, especially when it is installed in the basement, and one possible effect of this is flooding indoors.
Yes, leaks can actually be a serious affair and have very disastrous consequences. If you think flooding is the worst that can happen, think again. Throughout this article, you’ll get to understand why leaks are misleading. They may seem to be something you can leave alone, but the reality is far from it.
Water heaters are made up of different parts, and a number of them are at risk of leaking. These include the temperature & pressure relief valve, also known as the T&P valve, drain valve, heating element gasket, internal tank, expansion tank, anode rod, water heater nipples, pipes and water lines, overflow pipe, cold water inlet and hot water outlet, among others. But for this article, we will only discuss leaks that come from cold water inlets.
What Causes a Water Heater to Leak?
Due to the nature of water heaters, both the residential and RV types, they are designed to be durable and will not easily encounter problems. That is, if they are well taken care of by the owners.
Proper maintenance is actually the key to preventing leaks on water heaters. A poorly maintained unit will eventually develop leaks. No matter where they originate, the most common culprit is actually the negligence of the owner. Despite being marketed as low maintenance, water heaters still need to undergo different maintenance works, especially flushing.
Flushing will remove sediments that may have settled in your water heater. These sediments, if not promptly cleaned out, will clump together and later cause damage to your water heater. When damaged, it may either be repaired by a professional, if still possible, or you’re left with an unusable water heater that you’ll need to replace prematurely.
Surprisingly, rust and corrosion are also common problems for water heaters. If you’ve ever experienced a leaking roof, you’d know that these two are the major cause of leaking, especially if you use a metal roof. Since water heaters also use metal parts, they are at risk of getting rust and corroding. When these happen, leaks are imminent.
Leaks on a water heater may also be a result of its connected parts loosening up over time, especially with constant use. Due to its nature, it is actually common for its various components to be misaligned and this is something that occurs fairly often. If this is the only reason for leaks on your unit, you’re in luck because this type is the easiest to repair.
Earlier, we talked about the importance of doing regular maintenance on a water heater to prolong its life. But despite doing so, water heaters will still fail in the future; they are not invincible. As they age, they will eventually encounter different problems and among the most common and earliest to appear are leaks.
Sometimes, homeowners may mistake leaks coming from another location as coming from the water heater. The source of the leak may actually be away from their water heater, such as their plumbing systems. The water may have just settled close to the unit, that’s why the leak is mistakenly identified as coming from the unit.
Another instance where you may think your water heater is leaking but it actually isn’t is when condensation occurs. This is quite normal, especially along the water lines of the water heater. There are times that condensation happens continuously and this is what people can mistake for as leaks.
Not all homeowners know that water heaters are also equipped with some safety measures. A standard effect of the safety measures in place is the deliberate spilling out of water when there is too much pressure inside the tank of the water heater. The water that spills out is often thought of by homeowners as leaks. In this scenario, only professionals may accurately gauge if it is a leak or not.
What to Do When a Water Heater Leaks
From the previous section, you can see that not all the water that you see coming from your water heater may be considered as actual leaks. This is why the first step for any professional to take when there is a possibility of a leaking water heater is to do confirmatory tests. It is vital to confirm leaks before repairs can be done on any unit.
This is a rookie mistake that most homeowners do when they try the DIY way. They are guilty of misdiagnosing; any water coming out from their water heater is mistaken as a leak. This is why they repair these “leaks” with the help of internet guides, not knowing that they shouldn’t have done so in the first place. As a result, they waste money and may likely cause their water heater to malfunction.
You can think of it this way: contractors need to confirm the leak and determine the source before they can do the right remedies to address them, the same way doctors need to diagnose a patient first before they can give the right medicine. A wrong move done on your water heater can also have disastrous, or even fatal, consequences.
Confirming a leak is not as easy as it seems for the average person. But for professionals, this is a simple task. They know the different methods to confirm if leaks are indeed present in a water heater – whether they originate from the top, bottom, or somewhere else. This is how they usually do it:
- Completely wipe or mop off all the water where the suspected leaking water heater unit is installed. Contrary to what you may think, it is actually counterproductive to shut off the unit’s water supply while a contractor is confirming the leak.
- The next step is a waiting game; the contractor will observe if water will still appear within the vicinity of the water heater after the area has completely dried up. If after some time water appears, a leaking water heater unit is still possible.
- The contractor will now determine where the water is coming from. To make it easier for him or her, newspapers, tissue papers, basins, and other materials that can immediately indicate leaks will be placed on suspected locations. Through this method, the location of the leak will be narrowed down by the contractor.
- Once the leak has been confirmed, the contractor will shut off the power supply of the water heater. For electricity-based water heaters, this is done by shutting it off via the circuit breaker. Gas water heaters have to be switched off using their dials or knobs.
- The water supply will now be cut off via the water inlet valve, if the leak is not yet that bad. But if the leak is continuous and quite strong, the contractor may need to temporarily switch off the water supply for the entire house.
You might wonder why it is only at the latter part when the water supply will be cut off. Water must continue to be supplied to the unit because this will primarily help determine the location of the leak. If no water is being supplied to the unit, it will be nearly impossible for anyone to find out where the leak is coming from.
The Dangers of a Leaking Water Heater
Many homeowners believe that leaks do not pose real hazards, and that they are more of an annoying problem that they can tolerate. They choose not to immediately get it fixed because they know that it can get quite pricey and they believe that they can just live with this problem.
What they don’t realize is that water heaters are known to be sturdy, yet they can pose real dangers when they start to break down or get damaged. It is not one appliance that anyone can still operate, despite knowing that it is not working at perfect condition. But because they don’t know how dangerous it is to do so, they continue to use their units and will only realize how much of a bad idea this is when it is already too late.
If this sounds familiar to you, then this section is something you need to pay even closer attention to. Here we will discuss why not fixing leaks on your water heater as soon as they appear is not something that you should do:
- Leaks will not stop – some people think that leaks can possibly go away on their own, or it won’t really be an issue if they don’t do anything to fix a leaking water heater. This may have worked for them if they have leaking pipes but it won’t work with water heaters. Leaks on water heaters will get worse and if left unfixed, it will cause your unit to completely stop working.
- You will eventually have to pay more than you expect – if you get to have your unit repaired immediately when you discover a possible leak, you will likely be charged around $100. But if you only get in touch with a contractor when the problem has taken a turn for the worse, which will happen the longer you put off having it repaired, don’t be surprised to get a bill worth over a thousand dollars.
- The risk of fire increases – leaks can end up in the most unexpected of places. If they get into your electrical wirings, or worse, livewires, this can cause short circuits and may start a fire.
- This may cause you to get into accidents – water unnoticed on the floor, plus you not paying attention while walking, is a disaster waiting to happen. This situation is a common occurrence at home and may sometimes even prove fatal, and this is a likely scenario with leaks. Experiencing shocks or electrocution are also possible, especially if you use electric water heaters.
- It will cause various health hazards – have you ever found mold and mildew growing somewhere in your home? If you have, you know how stressful this problem can get. But if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky and continue that streak. Leaks, especially those on basements, are a major trigger for the growth of these fungi and allergens and if not resolved, they can cause various respiratory ailments.
- Your stuff can get damaged – your water heater is not the only one that can get damwaaged if you do not immediately address the leak. If you have equipment or other stuff placed near the leaking parts, they can also be ruined by water. It’s not only those hardwood floors that can suffer from water damage, you have a bunch of other things in your home too that are very vulnerable.
- The quality of water will be questionable – if the leak on your unit is caused by rusted or corroded parts, expect the hot water coming out of the faucets or showers to be compromised. Worse, it may have nasty smells reminiscent of rotten eggs and be discolored. You don’t want to experience those things.
- It will create weird sounds – water heaters generally work quietly. But if you are one of those people who are very sensitive to noise, a leaking water heater will be headache-inducing for you. Not only will you have to deal with constant dripping sounds, you also have to bear with the noises your water heater will make.
- Instead of a water heater, you will have something very dangerous your hands – this is the biggest hazard associated with using faulty water heaters: it is at risk of exploding. Leaking, in particular, is one of the easiest warning signs professionals will use to see whether the unit is experiencing too much pressure that will cause it to blow up. And if this happens, the consequences are definitely fatal.
The ones above are just some of the possible consequences you can face if you don’t immediately address a leaking water heater. There are so many other possible consequences, but these should already be enough to convince you to not overlook the repair of your unit.
Can You Repair a Leaking Water Heater Tank?
You may have noticed how much we emphasized getting repairs done on leaking water heaters as soon as possible throughout this article. This may have led you to believe that leaks are always repairable, no matter which part is affected. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are instances where a leaking part is already impossible to fix. This is the case for leaks that come from the internal tank of a water heater.
The tank is a major component of any water heater and it always needs to be in perfect shape. If it gets damaged in any way, no matter how small it would seem, you will already have to get a replacement for your unit. If your water heater is leaking and the contractor is saying that there’s a possibility that it is coming from the tank, just hope that it is a result of your water heater’s precautionary measures and not an actual leak.
Fortunately for you, this is an avoidable scenario. That is, if you do regular maintenance on your water heater. Any damage on the tank of a water heater is often caused by sediments that have accumulated there over time. Flushing the water heater regularly will not only clean your water heater but it will also remove these sediments.
Leaks that seem to be coming from the tank may not always be leaks; it may also be a result of the safety precautions standard to water heaters. To relieve pressure inside the unit, water will be discharged and there is a chance that this is really what your water heater is experiencing. The track of the water may just be within the vicinity of the tank, that’s why it is mistaken as a leak.
If this is what is actually happening to your unit, it can easily be fixed by a professional. Normally, changing the set temperature via the thermostat will solve this. But if this does not resolve the issue, a part may need replacing or you will have to get an expansion tank installed to your unit.
How to Fix a Leaking Water Heater
Leaks originating from the top of the water heater are generally much easier to fix, and this includes those coming from the cold water inlet. More often than not, leaks coming from the inlet is a result of connections loosening up over time. In this case, no replacement on any part is needed, since all a contractor will have to do is tighten them back up with a wrench.
However, this may not totally solve the issue. If the leak on your water heater persists, the cold water inlet may already be damaged or in poor condition and needs replacing. To do so, a contractor will normally do the following:
- Switch off the power supply of the water heater via the breaker.
- The contractor will often also replace the water line as well, and the first step to do so is to measure the length of the cold water line currently installed on your water heater. It typically ranges from 12 to 24 inches.
- The water supply will next be switched off. This is ideally done later for the contractor to accurately measure the length of the water lines while the water heater is running, as these lines may expand while the water heater is running and contract when idle, which may produce discrepancies in the measurement.
- The nearest hot water faucet will be opened to alleviate the pressure building up inside the water heater, as well as to lessen the amount of hot water inside the tank. He or she may also alternately open the hot and cold water faucets to do so. The contractor will only close it when the water flowing out of the faucet starts flowing inconsistently or sputtering. This signals that there is little to no water remaining in the tank.
- The lever on the water heater’s pressure relief valve will be raised up in order to remove the remaining pressure inside the tank.
- Using a wrench, the contractor will unscrew the nuts holding the water supply line in place and connected to the water heater, as well as the ones that connect it to the plumbing system.
- If the male connectors and valves are still in good condition, the contractor will usually just remove any sediments or debris trapped there and then wrap the threads with Teflon tape. But if they are showing signs of corrosion or in bad shape, they will have to be removed and replaced with new ones.
- The new water line for the cold water supply must first be connected to the pipes that are part of the water supply system, making sure that rubber gaskets are placed inside the nuts. It should be tightened using a wrench, since doing so only by hand will not securely fasten it.
- The other end of the water line will be connected to the water heater and must be fastened using a wrench, as well. This end must also have rubber gaskets inside the nuts.
- The hot water faucet nearest to the water heater will again be opened for cold water to be supplied back to the unit. This will test the new water line for leaks. If leaks are still present, the contractor will have to redo the installation, because this means there is a loose connection.
- If there is no longer any leak present, the tank must be filled up and the hot water faucet must run until the water steadily flows out of the faucet. Once it does, it will be turned off.
- The breaker connected to the water heater will be turned back on, but only after making sure that the hot water faucet is turned off first to prevent damaging the unit. It should also run uninterrupted afterwards.
- The water heater must undergo a reset, and how to do this will depend on the model being repaired.
Changing the cold water inlet is not for the fainthearted and also not for the untrained. It needs the right skills and knowledge for it to be done correctly. Working on a water heater should not be done experimentally, because mistakes on their repairs can be costly and even fatal.
You might think that there’s the internet anyway and you can find plenty of guides and video tutorials online, so why should you bother getting a professional do it for you?
Qualified professionals will not only do the repair for you, but they are also trained to check on the overall condition of your water heater and check other issues your unit may have. This is not something that just anyone can do. If you only see the leak as the issue on your water heater, a professional may also see loose connections, corrosions, parts that need replacing, or even a water heater that is about to blow up.
Should You Replace Your Water Heater?
There are some instances where repairing a water heater will just be a band-aid solution, and the best way to resolve the issue is to just get a new one. We already talked about how a leaking tank will require you to get a new unit, but there are also other situations where this is the most logical answer. Among these are the following:
- It is an aging unit – if your water heater installed at home can already be considered vintage, or worse of all, obsolete, you may have to think about getting a new one. This applies especially when you start getting headaches at the number of repairs you need to do with it.
The older your water heater is, the more vulnerable it is and the more frequent you’ll have to get it checked out by a professional. If you are already at this point, it will just get even worse.
- Your water heater can already be considered as obsolete and is no longer budget-friendly – new models of water heaters come out every now and then, but even the older ones are sturdy enough for you not to upgrade every time a new one comes out.
One advantage of upgrading, however, is that the newest technologies have made them much more resource-friendly. This translates to lower household bills, compared to using the older models. Consider upgrading to a newer model if you are concerned with lowering your bills and if you’ve had your water heater for a decade or so.
- Getting it repaired happens more often than you’d like – sooner or later, water heaters will start having issues, needing you to get in touch with a professional to get it repaired. They can be costly on your part, especially if it keeps happening. If this is the case for you, you should consider just getting a new one. The total cost of doing repairs for your unit may already be of a significant amount that it may be a more economical choice for you to just get it replaced.
- You hear strange sounds coming from it – earlier, we talked about how noise coming from a water heater is actually a dangerous sign that you should watch out for. And when this starts happening to your unit, the more pronounced it would be, especially if the entire household is consuming more hot water.
You should also take this as a warning sign that your water heater is going to break down soon. A noisy unit also acts less efficiently, because the noise produced is caused by the buildup of sediments. It may be remedied by flushing, but the fact that sounds are already being produced means the problem is quite bad already.
- Corrosion and rust have become a major problem – once rust and corrosion start appearing on your unit, it will be nearly impossible to stop them from spreading. While these can generally be repaired, you should just look into getting one if the damage is too severe and the rusted or corroded sections are non-replaceable. If not, it will get worse and the operation of your unit will be compromised.
- Leaking has become a major issue – like we mentioned, leaks are repairable in general. But there are instances that the leaks can no longer be resolved by any kind of repair, and the only way to fix your water heater is to get rid of it and replace it with a new one. This is even more problematic if your unit is not installed in the basement but at the ground level.
- The hot water that is supposed to come out of the faucets and showers is only lukewarm – water heaters are designed to give you hot water whenever you need it, but if it is no longer serving this purpose, it has basically become useless. While you may tinker around with the thermostat to resolve the issue, this happening is usually a sign that there are serious issues in your unit. As such, you should just get a new one.
The rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with water heaters is that if it can still be repaired, do so if it is practical. But if the estimated total cost of repair is too great or the problems with the unit are severe, just get it replaced. Professionals can accurately tell if your unit will still work after it has been repaired, or it would be better to have it replaced.
The Cost to Get a Water Heater Leak Repaired
Has the thought of paying for repairs ever made you nervous, believing that you need to pay large amounts even for the simplest repairs?
This is actually the most important concern of homeowners like you when it comes to dealing with leaks; they think it will cost them thousands of dollars already even just for minor issues. That’s why they keep putting it off or try doing it themselves, only to be faced with worse problems later.
Like we stated earlier, the earlier you catch the leak and get it resolved, the cheaper it would cost you. Leak repairs usually cost around $550, but they can range from a little over $200 to nearly $900 on average. Some repairs can also go for as low as $95 or as high as around $1,450.
Contractors often charge repairs by the hour and their rates will start from $45 and reach as much as $150 per hour. The rate will depend on the type of water heater that needs repairing and the kind of repair that will be done. Also, this normally does not include the cost of materials that will be used. The same way that you don’t always just want to choose a cheap electrician, with your water heater, it’s also just important that it gets done correctly.
Getting Free Quotes when Your Hot Water Heater is Leaking
Professional plumbers know that they key to getting clients is to provide the most value at an affordable price. Their competition with other contractors will largely depend on the price they offer to the clientele. Clients will go for contractors that have reasonable rates, yet will get the job done for them; they won’t always go for the cheapest one they see.
As a prospective client, this is something that you should take advantage of. Once you inquire with a contractor about how much repairs on leaks may cost, they will give you a figure. But don’t immediately go for that; inquire with other contractors and ask them about their rates as well. Once they realize you’re also consulting with other contractors in the area, they would voluntarily change their rates for you, knowing that their rate will be the deciding factor for you.
This is a surefire way for you to lower the cost of repairs on your water heater without too much effort on your part. Simply fill out the form on our website, and we’ll connect you with the most relevant pros – free of charge.