Leaks. The bane of existence of many homeowners. This is one problem that almost everyone will encounter at least once in their life. You have probably experienced mopping up your floors and listening to constant dripping sounds due to these leaks. Aren’t they annoying?
If you think leaks only happen on roofs and on your pipes, think again. You might be surprised by the fact that they can also happen to water heaters, both the ones you can find at home and those installed in RVs.
Where Do Leaks Usually Come From?
Water heaters will eventually fail, and it sometimes starts with leaks. For this common household appliance, leaks can happen at the top and at the bottom and this makes it more difficult to trace where they originate.
For leaks that seem to originate from the top, they may possibly come from the following: water heater nipples, cold water inlet, hot water outlet, anode rod, temperature and pressure relief valve (also known as the T&P valve), connected pipes and water lines, water tank, and the installed expansion tank. Bottom leaks on a water heater may also come from the T&P valve and the water tank, as well as the drain valve and the heater element gasket.
But for this article, we will concentrate on the leaks that come from a water heater’s overflow pipe, also known as the discharge pipe, including its causes and how they are usually fixed by a plumber.
Why It’s Crucial That You Address Leaks from an Overflow Pipe
Did you know that water heaters have safety measure in place? You might wonder why there’s a need for it, since this household appliance seems to be harmless anyway.
Well, not quite. Some unfortunately learn it the hard way that water heaters can actually explode and even blow up a house. Do a simple internet search and you will see how devastating it can get.
These safeguards of water heaters aim to prevent this from happening, as they primarily deal with pressure. Water heaters have a limit when pressure is involved and there are instances when the pressure is too much, hence the need to release it.
This is where the T&P valve and the overflow pipe come in. These parts help in regulating water pressure and they will release water once the tank experiences too much pressure. Most homeowners may mistake it as leaks, but this is actually one of two possible scenarios: your water heater is working as it should and releasing water as a safety measure, or water is leaking because the T&P valve, overflow pipe, or even both, are malfunctioning. Only professionals plumbers can correctly distinguish among them and diagnose.
If this part malfunctions, your water heater will not be able to properly manage the pressure inside the tank. As a result, the risk of your water heater exploding is increased tenfold.
What Causes a Water Heater to Leak?
The scenario we presented above is not the only time water heaters may leak. Other components of your water heater also have a fair chance of leaking over time, especially if it is not well taken care of. As soon as it starts happening on your unit, you need to get it immediately checked out to avoid worsening the problem.
However, you should also not discount the idea that other systems near or connected to your water heater are the ones actually leaking. Your nearby plumbing system, such as the pipes connected to your water heater, may be the ones actually leaking and not your water heater. Anything that involves water can produce condensation. When too much of it is happening nearby, you can easily mistake it as a leak coming from your water heater.
If the above do not apply to you, it is likely that the leak is indeed coming from the water heater. In cases like these, they are often caused by sediment buildup, rust, or corroded parts. Also, loose connections can result in leaking, especially if they involve the lines where water passes through. And if you have had your unit for a long time, its age may play a key role for leaks to form.
If an overflow pipe leak is suspected, you may try to check it out before you get in touch with a plumber. To do this, you need to change the thermostat setting so that it would be at the lowest level while your water heater is running and water is being supplied to it. A normal water heater should not leak from the overflow pipe at this point, but if you noticed that water is still coming out, you need to get the services of a professional.
What to Do When Water Heater Leaks?
Once the leak is confirmed, where it is coming from should next be discovered. Unlike leaking pipes, it is much more difficult to trace leaks coming from a water heater. The path of the leak may pass through various components, and this can confuse anyone who tries to discover where the water is coming from. For professionals, however, it is not really a big deal.
Plumbers will typically follow these steps to ascertain where the leaks originate:
- Clean up all traces of water found within the area where the water heater is installed, making sure that it is completely dry.
- The plumber will check if water appears afterwards on the dried-up areas where the water used to be. If water reappears and it is close to your water heater, a possible leak is suspected.
- A closer look is needed to check whether the suspected leak comes from the water heater itself or from other nearby systems, such as the overhead water pipes.
- If the water heater is suspected to be the one leaking, the plumber will place various indicators, such as tissues, paper towels, and basins, to narrow down where the leak is coming from.
- The power supply to your water heater must next be cut off, via the circuit breaker for electricity-powered units and using the on and off dial or switch for gas ones. The shut-off valve for gas must not be closed unless extremely necessary because it is fragile and can easily malfunction due to improper handling.
- Water being supplied to the unit will then be stopped. It is important that this step happens at the latter stage, because prematurely shutting down your water supply will prevent the plumber from finding out where the leaking part is.
Where to stop the water supply will depend on how bad the leak is. If it is still at a manageable level, the plumber will only need to shut off the inlet valve for cold water. But if the leak is quite serious, the water supply for the entire home needs to be cut off via the main shut-off valve.
The type of repair that will be done on a water heater will depend on what part is affected. Resolving these leaks may be as simple as tightening loose connections, changing various settings on the water heater, swapping faulty components for new ones, or flushing your unit.
Do note that even though leaks may seem like a simple problem to you, not all of them can be resolved through repairs or replacement of malfunctioning parts. In some cases, leaks will force you to discard your unit entirely and just get a new one.
The Dangers of a Water Heater Leaking
If you have a habit of not taking leaks on your pipes seriously, and tend to use band-aid solutions, such as wrapping them up with cloth or plastic, this is not something you can do with your water heater. There are some risks associated with water heaters leaking that you need to be aware of. Among these are:
- Explosion – you might be wondering about water heaters exploding, ever since we mentioned it in passing. To recall, this is a possible effect of your water heater experiencing too much pressure. This fatal possibility applies to both gas and electric water heaters alike. Fortunately, this is a very preventable situation.
- Flooding – badly leaking water heaters have a high chance of flooding your entire basement, especially if you do not make it a habit to check on the condition of your unit every now and then. And if you have other stuff stored in the basement, they will also get water damaged.
- It can cause accidents – wet and slippery floor, meet your body. How many times have you accidentally slipped and crashed down hard on the floor due to wet surfaces you failed to notice? It is hard to detect water on the floor, unless you keep looking down as you walk. If you do not get leaks fixed asap, expect to repeat this experience.
- Your budget will be badly affected – you may be quite safe if you get a plumber to fix a leak or two on your water heater as soon as you discover it. But if you keep putting it off, the damage will increase not only on your unit but also on your wallet. Leaks will worsen the longer it is ignored; this is not just a possibility but an absolute truth.
- Various harmful fungi and bacteria can grow and rapidly reproduce – one of the worst things that can happen to any home is for mold and mildew to develop, especially the dreaded black mold. Not only are they unsightly, they are also difficult to resolve and will affect the health of people living inside a mold or mildew-infested home. This is bad news, especially for those with sensitive respiratory systems.
- Electrocution – while the possibility of this happening is very minimal, it is still a risk that you need to be aware of. If you have electrical appliances or exposed wirings that are close to where your water heater is installed, leaks coming from it may cause your water heater to short circuit. You may get the shock of your life, literally, if you did not notice this.
- Poor quality and unsafe water will come out of your faucets and showers – if you are sensitive to the quality of water, you will definitely be put off at the thought of brown and murky hot water coming out of your faucet that also smells like rotten eggs. This is a real possibility with leaking water heaters, especially if the leaks are caused by rust or corrosion.
Of course, these are not the only things that can happen to you and your home. These are especially true if you use a poorly conditioned water heater that is not maintained properly. What you need to know that almost all of these are avoidable scenarios, as long as your unit is in tip-top shape.
Can You Repair a Leaking Water Heater Tank?
Earlier, we briefly mentioned how certain leaks coming from water heaters may be unresolvable. This is the case when the leak involves the internal tank of a water heater. If this is the issue with your unit, we have bad news for you: there is no other way to fix this issue but to get a replacement for it.
Plumbers will not easily make this diagnosis, unless they are absolutely sure. This is because another scenario is still possible and it can be resolved immediately. Changing the settings on your water heater’s thermostat may already bring about a rapid change immediately on your unit. A water heater with a temperature that is set too high can trigger the safeguards of your unit to release water due to too much pressure.
But if it does not resolve the issue, the plumber will likely confirm that it is an issue with the tank itself. It is a vital component to any water heater but unfortunately, it is not a repairable nor replaceable part.
Water heater tanks are very sturdy and can withstand continuous operation. Despite this, they have their weakness, which is the buildup of sediments and minerals. If these are present and are left to settle, they will lump together and cause major damage to the tank. It will start as pinprick-sized holes that will eventually become large enough for water to leak through.
It can be dangerous to continue using a water heater if the tank is damaged, since it may force itself to work harder than it should to compensate for the hot water lost due to the leak. As a result, it may overheat and eventually explode. This is why the entire unit needs to be replaced, no matter if you’ve just had it for less than a year or not.
If your water heater is showing signs of a leak, you should hope that it is not coming from the tank.
How to Fix a Leaking Water Heater
If the plumber has diagnosed that the leak on your water heater is coming from the overflow pipe, you’re in luck; this is an issue that can be remedied by a professional. But before he or she can start doing the repair on your unit, why it happened on the first place needs to be discovered.
Leaks on an overflow pipe are often a result of any of these things, or possibly all: your water heater is operating poorly due to its age, various mineral deposits are present, and the T&P valve on your unit has a buildup of sediments.
The overflow pipe and T&P valve can be considered as a package deal, that’s why they need to both be checked when leaks are present. Leaking may be an effect of damage on your T&P valve and it is affecting your water heater’s overflow pipe. In reality, overflow pipes are nearly impossible to be damaged, that’s why leaks that look like they are coming from it are likely due to a failing T&P valve.
In this situation, your plumber may have to check the condition of the unit’s T&P valve by doing the following basic troubleshooting first:
- Leaks that are more like dribbles may be a sign that sediments and other deposits have gotten stuck on the valve. A plumber may be able to loosen them up through the valve’s easing lever, particularly by raising it up for a few seconds
- Resetting a water heater unit is also a solution for leaks. However, this only works with leaks that only happens when anyone in your household is using up the hot water and the leak is flowing quite strongly and continuously at the same time. Doing a reset requires the plumber to turn off the water heater using the switchboard for electric units and through the knob for gas control for gas-powered ones.
- If you or the plumber noticed that the leak seems to occur only at night, it is highly likely that your water heater is experiencing pressure more than it can currently handle. At this point, the T&P relief valve, especially the pressure relief valve, may be faulty and needs to be replaced.
Installing a new T&P valve is fairly simple – that is, for the experts. But if you will attempt to do it yourself, it can be quite risky. Not only will you be dealing with possible electric shocks or gas leaks, you may also end up getting hurt due to the hot water present inside the tank that may flow out unexpectedly. You also increase the risk of damaging your entire water heater if you fail to handle it properly.
This is how plumbers often change the T&P valve, including the overflow pipe:
- If not yet done, the power and water supply to the water heater needs to be shut off first.
- Attach a hose to the unit’s drain valve. A typical garden hose is usually sufficient.
- The water remaining inside the tank must be removed by opening the drain valve. Plumbers will do this until the water remaining is only around halfway of the tank or lower, as long as it is found below the location of the T&P valve.
- If necessary, the plumber will clean the inside of the tank by flushing out the sediments as preventive maintenance.
- The T&P valve needs to be opened to lessen the pressure inside the water heater, which is important for a plumber to safely work on the unit.
- The overflow pipe connected to the T&P valve needs to be detached from the pressure relief valve. Usually, this is soldered or glued with the valve and a plumber has no choice but to saw it off. But if it can be unscrewed, he or she will check its condition to see if it also needs replacing or not.
- The plumber will now unscrew the pressure relief valve from the water heater using a wrench. Water should not come out at this point but if it does, the plumber will have to put the valve back in and repeat the draining process, as this means there is still too much water inside the tank.
- Before the new valve will be installed, its threads need to be wrapped first in Teflon tape. A plumber will need to do the wrap following the opposite direction of how the valve will be screwed in. It is also vital that the new pressure relief valve that will be used on your unit has the exact same rating as the one that will be replaced.
- Screw in the wrapped side to the water heater, making sure that the opening for the overflow pipe is facing away from the water heater.
- Attach the new overflow pipe to the pressure relief valve, with its threads also wrapped first in Teflon tape. But if the old one is still in good condition but has been cut off, a plumber will use a coupling to attach this overflow pipe to the new pressure relief valve. For PVC overflow pipes, they will be glued in place using PVC glue.
- The plumber will then test if there is no longer any leak on the replaced valve and overflow pipe of your water heater. If this is still the case, tightening connections further may be needed.
Getting the T&P valve replaced will often resolve the leak coming from it, as well as suspected leaks on the overflow pipe. If not, it is likely that the problem is much more serious than your plumber initially thought. This will likely mean that your water heater is already at the verge of breaking down.
Should You Replace Your Water Heater?
There will come a time when your water heater will have to be replaced. It doesn’t matter how top-of-the-line or expensive your water heater is, it will still need to be changed when it reaches its end-of-life. Water heaters are known to last for as long as a decade on average, with greatly maintained units even working for two decades and counting. But, how do you know when is the right time to replace yours?
If your unit no longer works, then of course you should replace it. However, there are times when you think that you can still use your water heater but the signs it is showing proves otherwise. Some believe that even if it seems their unit is encountering minor problems, they can just ignore them and continue using their water heater. Unfortunately, this is not often the case.
Some issues that may seem to not be a big deal for you may actually be the start of something bad for your unit. And in extreme cases, they can no longer be fixed by even the best plumber or technician on the planet. This is why it is always important that you get your water heater regularly checked by a technician.
Check out our list to see whether it’s time for you to replace your water heater or is due for an upgrade:
- It is irreparable – like we said, there are instances where the issues involving your water heater can no longer be fixed. If your plumber diagnoses yours as such, there is no other option for you but to get a new water heater.
- The leaks are quite bad – you have learned from this article that although most leaks can still be repaired, there are times when you may have to deal with not just one or two but multiple leaks on your water heater. If leaks are just too many or they keep happening to your unit, it may be a sign that your water heater is starting to fail. It may be better to just get a new one.
- You hear it making strange sounds – if your water starts making noise, you need to get it checked asap. Most noise made by water heaters often indicate problems, and only a professional can accurately decide what kind of repair can be done. In certain cases, it may be a sign of something really bad and the safest option is to get rid of it.
- It is old – age is not just a number when it comes to water heaters – it is something that you need to take note of. There will come a time when their age will show in their regular operation – think noise and leaks, among others. If your water heater has been working for a very long time, consider upgrading to a new one.
- You end up paying more than what you expect for your household bills – it is a given that water heaters are known to consume a lot of resources, hence they take a big bulk of your household bills. But if you noticed that you seem to be paying more for it than usual, a cheaper alternative would be to change it to a newer and more energy-efficient unit.
- It is affected by rust and corrosion – water heaters have metal components and like most metal objects, they can be victimized by rust and corrosion. If the rust has affected parts of your water heater that are irreplaceable, expect corrosion to follow next and this will make your water heater eventually unusable.
- Only lukewarm water is coming out – water heaters were created for the primary purpose of providing households with hot water. If they no longer do so, they are basically worthless. If your water heater is starting to produce only lukewarm water, despite changing the thermostat, it may signal that it is failing.
- Your water heater is not enough for the consumption of your household – many people think that the size of water heaters doesn’t really matter, that’s why they get the smaller-sized units for their homes. They believe these will help them save money on their bills. This is in fact a false assumption, because too big or too small water heaters can underwork or overwork your unit and cause premature failing and higher bills.
- It keeps requiring the services of a professional – if you keep having your water heater repaired, it may be time for you to replace it with a new one. The accumulated cost of having your unit repaired every now and then may already rival the cost of getting a new one. If this is the case with your unit, expect to require more repairs in the future, since this is a sure sign that it is failing.
As you can see, it is not just a dead water heater that anyone should consider replacing. There are also other factors and instances where getting a new one is a much better and more budget-friendly option for you in the long run. Consult with a professional to know which choice would be best for you.
The Cost to Get Water Heater Leaks Repaired
Let’s admit it, repairing water heaters cannot be considered as ten-dollar fixes; they can get quite pricey. In fact, repairs on water heaters in general can reach as much as more than $500 on average, ranging from a little under $100 to almost $1500. These rates will include the professional fees and replacement parts. Unfortunately, the cost of repairing leaks can reach the higher end of this spectrum, especially when the leaks have affected other components of your unit.
There is not much difference in terms of the cost of repairing water heaters that are gas-based or electricity-based. If the leaks can be resolved by replacing certain parts, which is often the case for leaks, you are in luck because the water heater parts are generally inexpensive. Plumbers can charge from as low as $45 to as high as $150 hourly, depending on the work required and your negotiation skills.
Repairing the T&P valve includes the overflow pipe, and parts and labor together can cost as much as $200. The professional fee takes the bulk of the expense, since the replacement parts normally cost just $20 each on average.
Getting Free Quotes When Your Water Heater is Leaking
Who doesn’t like free stuff? But for water heater leaks, the free stuff will normally be for quotations of plumbers and other professionals for their service only. And this is something that homeowners need to keep in mind when they need to get their leaking units repaired.
It is important that homeowners not settle for the first professional they get in touch with. If possible, they need to “window shop” and check out other plumbers or technicians in their area that can possibly work on their unit. This is not a waste of time because this would actually give homeowners the opportunity to get the best rates possible.
You already know that repairing leaks can get pricey, so it’s always to your advantage to get the professionals to bring down their rates. This is actually very easy, since all you have to do is let them know that you are aware of their competition and are also in talks with them.
Ask them about how much they would possibly charge for the work on your unit, then compare it with the rates other professionals have given you for the same task. Once they realize you are checking out other options, they will often give you more competitive rates, often way lower than their initial quote.
But don’t be tempted to just choose the cheapest offer; you need to go for the one that will give you the best value. Some may offer not just repairs but also other services, such as doing various maintenance works on your unit, and this may end up to be a better value for you than just getting your water heater repaired.
Use the form on our website to easily request quotes from competing contractors. It’s fast, simple and free with zero obligation to you.