Any water-related system in your home is at risk of leaking, even your water heater. Traditional water heaters, as well as those used in RVs, are always at risk of leaking, especially when they are subjected to neglect. In fact, this is one of the most common issues that a water heater owner will face.
If you don’t properly maintain the water heater you have, leaks will be the least of your worries. Your unit may produce weird noises, not drain, or worse, it may even explode. It’s the same way that you need to ensure proper maintenance is undertaken to avoid roof leaks.
But if your only concern is leaking on your unit, whether it is from the top or bottom, it may go both ways. This may either be easily fixed by a professional, or it is a sign that your water heater is about to fail.
Water heaters have intricate systems, but all these are not failproof and that’s why they leak in various places. If you are familiar with your plumbing system, you know that the leaks on it are often found on the piping and fixtures only. But in the case of water heaters, they can be found in various parts, such as the overflow pipe, hot water outlet, drain valve, cold water inlet, and temperature and pressure relief valves, commonly known as T&P relief valves, among others.
Since there are many parts that are at risk of leaking, identifying the source becomes much more complicated. But for this article, we will just concentrate on leaks coming from the pressure relief valve.
What Causes a Hot Water Heater to Leak?
If you already have a professional to check the leak on your water heater and it is determined that the leak is coming from the relief valve, this can also mean one of two things: either it is doing its job or it is actually leaking.
T&P valves have an important job – that is, they are responsible for keeping a water heater safe for use. They are designed to release water when the pressure or temperature inside the tank is already too high and has reached dangerous levels. This water deliberately removed from the unit is what many people mistake as leaks.
Despite this feature, pressure relief valves are not immune to malfunction, including leaking. Oftentimes, only professionals can make the distinction between a leak on the pressure relief valve or water released as a result of this standard safety measure. A malfunctioning valve is usually the culprit if the professional confirms that it is indeed a leak. Luckily, this is a replaceable part.
If you have had your pressure relief valve replaced, yet it is still leaking, this may still be either a safety precaution and you need to have some settings of your water heater adjusted, or there is a problem with one of the components related to it.
What to Do when a Water Heater Leaks
Any kind of leak on a water heater must be resolved immediately, including those that come from pressure relief valves. That is, if it is a confirmed leak.
Confirmatory tests are important if the pressure relief valve is suspected to be leaking; a plumber needs to know whether the water heater is just doing its job or it really has an issue that needs to be remedied. You don’t want to have your pressure relief valve already tampered with or replaced prematurely just because it is doing its job.
Once it is confirmed to be a leak and not a product of your water heater’s safety feature, that’s the time troubleshooting and repairs may be done.
Testing the Pressure Relief Valve
Unlike in other leaking components, there are plenty of tests to confirm whether a leak is due to the pressure relief valve working properly or not. If you are curious about these tests, fret not. We have a guide on how contractors usually do this:
- Open the faucet that is nearest the water heater and allow it to continuously run until the temperature of the water is at its highest; this will take a minute on average. The contractor will then get the water temperature and if it is below 200 ˚F, it is functioning well. Otherwise, this is a sign that the valve might open soon because the standard set temperature for them to open is 210 ˚F.
- Observe the physical appearance of the pressure relief valve. Signs that a contractor will look out for include the formation of limescale or other sediments on the valve, the presence of rust within close proximity of the valve, or the valve letting off steam intermittently. If these are present, the leak is likely a result of a failing pressure relief valve.
- Using a water pressure meter, the contractor will gauge the amount of pressure available in the water system. He or she will attach the device to a hot water faucet in the same room or location where the unit is located, such as the basement, and turn it the maximum level.
The meter will show the pressure as water flows, and it should be around 60 to 80 psi (pounds per square each). If the meter shows a higher reading, reaching around 150 psi, this is a warning sign that the T&P valve of your unit may open soon.
- A contractor will also test the actual valve through its rocker arm; he or she will test if water is released when it is raised up. This part should also snap back to its original position once he or she lets it go and water should also stop flowing from it. If all these conditions are not met, the culprit for the leak is a malfunctioning valve.
- Another test is to measure the pressure while hot water is being used. To do this, the hot water in the tank must be used up and only half should remain afterwards. The contractor will measure the pressure on the valve while it reheats the water remaining inside the tank. If the pressure is 80 psi or above, thermal expansion is taking place and this may be the likely source of the leak.
- The contractor will also check the connections that are directly connected to the pressure relief valve. Leaks that may seem to originate from the pressure relief valve may actually come from loose connections and nearby parts. If all connections seem to be in order, the fault lies on the pressure relief valve.
Other methods may be done by your contractor to determine if the leak is indeed a result of a failing pressure relief valve. Once the leak is confirmed to be coming from this valve, the water heater must be completely shut off as a safety precaution.
Dangers of a Water Heater Leaking
Have you ever heard of horror stories of basements being flooded, which can also cause water damage to hardwood floors among other things? Would you believe that a common culprit for this is a small leak that has been underestimated and left unattended or unrepaired?
Unfortunately, this is not the only thing that can happen when you overlook having leaks on your water heater repaired. Aside from being an inconvenience, as you may have to frequently mop up puddles of water, they do possess some real dangers and may also result in you having to shell out large amounts to repair not only your water heater but also the damages it brings to your home.
Here are some of the other important reasons why you should always get leaks coming from your water heater fixed as soon as you discover them:
- It can promote the growth of fungi and harmful bacteria – most homeowners know that damp environments can be a breeding ground of mildew, mold, and bacteria, especially the dreaded black mold. Once they start growing, they will rapidly reproduce and they will eventually be difficult to remove. All these are irritants that can result to various respiratory illnesses, and they can affect your health.
- Fires may start when water from these leaks come into contact with electricity – we all know that mixing water and electricity is always a bad idea. Your electrical appliances and wirings may experience a short circuit when they come into contact with water, and this may cause fires. You should periodically have your wiring checked by a licensed electrician since mice and other animals could be eating away at them.
- Puddles of water may cause accidents – leaks are the most common culprit why you see puddles of water all over your floors. If you leave it there, anyone who fails to notice it may step on it and slip up. And if you didn’t know, this is actually the most common accident that occurs at home.
- Leaks may be a sign that your water heater is at risk of exploding – if you remember, we mentioned that water heaters may explode and not a lot of homeowners know about it. What they also don’t realize is that leaks may also act as a warning signal that this will happen if you do not get it fixed the soonest.
- It will also cause a lot of damage… to your budget – let’s face it. Doing maintenance and repair works on any water heater can be expensive, that’s why a lot of people hold off doing so. They believe leaks are not a serious issue and they can postpone doing repairs on them without affecting their everyday lives. What they don’t know is that the longer they put it off, the more expensive it will be to repair them. Leaks will worsen if left untreated. It’s not unheard of for people to be charged thousands of dollars for it if serious water damage happens.
These are just some of the major risks involving leaks on water heaters, in general. Most leaks will not have that much of an effect in the beginning, but this is not the case for leaks originating from the pressure relief valve.
For this type of leak, you need to address it as soon as you discover its presence. This valve is responsible for the safe use of water heaters, and leaks coming from it may be a sign that it can no longer do its job properly.
Leaks coming from the pressure relief valve are actually the primary indicator that it may not be functioning as well as it used to, compromising its ability to properly regulate pressure and temperature. Most importantly, it serves as the signal if a water heater is at risk of exploding.
Can You Repair a Leaking Water Heater Tank?
In general, leaking parts of water heaters are repairable by a professional; this includes pressure relief valves. These repairs may be as simple as tightening the parts where the leaks are coming from, or replacing them altogether.
This is not the case for leaks that are confirmed to be coming from the tank of a water heater. If leaks of pressure relief valves are connected to the safety of water heaters when being used, leaks that are confirmed to be coming from the tanks of a water heater are involved not only in the safety but also its function.
A water heater tank is sturdy, yet it can also be considered as the most fragile part. It can last a long time and withstand constant use but when it gets damaged, you would already have to replace your entire water heater. That’s how vital this component is.
Fortunately, this is an easily preventable problem. All you need to do is have your water heater undergo periodic maintenance to remove the sediments that may settle inside and cause irreversible damage. Minerals and sediments found in the water are not something that you can take likely, as they are the biggest factors why a water heater breaks down.
Leaks from a water heater tank may also be mistaken as such, even if the water coming out is actually the result of the safety precautions of the unit. Just like the pressure relief valves, tanks leaking may just be an indicator that it is doing its job of safeguarding your unit properly. And if this is the case, a contractor will just have to set the thermostat to the right value to stop the leak.
How to Fix a Leaking Water Heater
For a leaking pressure relief valve, some basic troubleshooting may first be done by a contractor before doing the actual repair on a water heater unit. Among these are:
- Gently raising the valve’s easing lever upwards for a number of seconds to possibly loosen up any sediments that may have gotten stuck. This is often done on leaks that are continuous and can be best described as dribbles. Leaks of this type are usually caused by sediments in the valve.
- If the leak has a strong flow but only occurs when hot water is being used up, the water heater may just need to undergo a reset. For gas-powered ones, this is done by turning off the gas control via a knob found above the thermostat, while the switchboard will be used to turn off electric water heaters.
- For leaks that seem to happen only at night and continuously flows, this may be attributed to pressure that is present that exceeds the amount the pressure relief valve can currently handle. To remedy this, a pressure relief valve may be installed, but never relief valves that have pressure ratings higher than the one used in your unit.
If these do not solve the leaking, a contractor will have to change the pressure relief valve, install an expansion tank to the water heater, or make use of both methods.
To replace a pressure relief valve, a contractor will do the following:
- Power off the water heater and cut off the cold water supply and connect a hose to the drain valve.
- Drain it halfway, particularly up to the point where the water level is lower than the location of the pressure relief valve, by turning on a hot water faucet and letting it run continuously until the water flowing out of it is lukewarm.
- Separate the drain valve and the T&P valve from each other using tools, such as a pipe wrench. Afterwards, you need to detach the actual T&P valve and separate the pressure relief valve.
Using different tools to do so is important because these parts are tightly connected and it is not possible for any contractor to remove them by hand.
- Clean out any debris or residue that has settled inside the valve and a contractor will usually do this by soaking the temperature relief valve in a mixture of hot water and CLR cleaner. The pressure relief valve will not be soaked, since this will be replaced anyway.
- Get the replacement pressure relief valve and wrap its threads with Teflon tape. Again, it is important that the new pressure relief valve has the same pressure rating as the one that will be replaced.
The contractor may also choose to wrap the threads of the drain valve in Teflon tape to prevent leaking in the future.
- The T&P valve will be installed back to the water heater together with the drain valve, making sure that they are screwed into position as tightly as possible. Power and water may now be supplied back to the water heater.
What to Do if the Pressure Relief Valve is Still Leaking after Replacement
If the issue persists despite replacing the pressure relief valve with a new one, the contractor will install an expansion tank to your water heater, especially if you use a closed loop system.
Do note that this may be done first or replacing the pressure relief valve may be completed initially; the order doesn’t really matter. Professionals are able to gauge which one will be more appropriate, but they will likely replace the pressure relief valve first.
This is how expansion tanks are normally installed by a professional:
- Identify the ideal size of the expansion tank that will be connected to the water heater. They come in different sizes and will depend on the amount of water a water heater can hold. This means the more gallons a water heater can handle, the bigger the expansion tank that should be used.
- Determine the ideal location where the expansion tank will be installed, taking into consideration the cold water line. Expansion tanks ideally should be placed in a wall or any sturdy location that is above and in close proximity to the cold water line, because this will allow water to be supplied to it much quicker.
- Completely cut off the supply for power and water of the water heater. It is vital that only those who know how to will turn off the gas supply to avoid the buildup of fumes that can cause fires.
- Mount the expansion tank to the chosen location, ensuring that the tank has been affixed properly to support its own weight. This is important because a poorly mounted expansion tank is likely to loosen up and drop, damaging the water heater itself and not just the expansion tank.
- Connect the tee fitting to the water heater’s cold water line.
- Identify which of the ends of the expansion tank’s threaded connector will correctly fit its tee fitting and wrap this particular end’s threads with Teflon tape.
- Connect the wrapped end of the threaded connector to the tee fitting and screw it tightly with the help of tools, such as a pipe wrench.
An expansion tank will be able to help relieve the pressure on your water heater that causes water to leak out. More often than not, contractors will replace the pressure relief valve and, at the same time, install an expansion tank as an additional safety measure. In fact, some municipalities even require these tanks to be installed on residential water heaters.
Expansion tanks would normally be able to solve the issue at this point. But if there is still a leak, you may have to look into getting a pressure regulator installed.
Leaks that are still present, despite having a new pressure relief valve and expansion tank installed, is not considered a leak but an effect of the safety measures of the T&P valves. Water is still being discharged because of too much pressure on your water heater, and a pressure regulator is your best bet to already stop this.
Pressure regulators are capable of reducing the water pressure that gets inside the unit and maintain an ideal level of pressure to be used in the entire household. Pressure within safe levels will prevent water from being discharged as a safety measure of your unit.
Should You Replace Your Water Heater?
If the leaking pressure relief valve has been resolved and is the only issue that your water heater is facing, there is no need for you to replace your unit just yet. Doing the different repairs and remedies we mentioned above will resolve leaks of this type.
However, there are some factors that you should consider to decide if doing these repairs are enough for your water heater or you need to look into just replacing it entirely. Among these are:
- An aging water heater – if you’ve been using your unit for the longest time, maybe it would be best for you to replace it. Leaks may be the first sign of trouble for your unit and it will not be the only one as time passes, especially if you do not take steps to address it.
- The leaking pressure relief valve is not the only issue – sure, you may have had all the issues on your water heater repaired. But, how long will you get headaches from it and keep having it repaired? If you think about it, having your unit checked out and repaired every now and then may already cost you nearly the same amount if you just get a new one.
- Rust and corrosion are evident – these two are may seem like just an eyesore for you but if your unit has too much of it already, expect to have a broken-down unit after some time.
- It is no longer considered energy efficient – water heaters take up a huge chunk of your overall household bills and older units are generally not as energy-efficient and budget friendly as the new ones. If you believe that your water heater is consuming more resources than usual and forcing you to pay more than the usual amount for your bills, you should look into upgrading your unit to a more modern one that is much more efficient and budget-friendly.
If you noticed, a malfunctioning unit is not the only reason why you should think about getting a new water heater. Sometimes, it is actually a more economical option as well. You may believe that you get to save a lot if you use the same unit for the longest time, but the reality may be far from it.
Average Cost to Get a Water Heater Leak Repaired
In general, repairs on water heaters can be as low as $95 or reach as high as nearly $1500, averaging almost $550. They also typically range from $216 to $895, with the rate already including the cost of materials.
Professionals may charge from $45 to $150 for every hour of work for basic repairs, and their rates will also depend on whether the water runs on gas or electricity. Gas-powered units are a bit more expensive to repair than electric water heaters.
For leaks, the cost will depend on the complexity of the repair and a contractor may even charge as much as $1000. Leaks coming from the pressure relief valve are much cheaper, since a replacement valve costs around $20 only and the maximum rate a contractor may charge for the entire work, including checking the condition of the water heater and doing some maintenance work on it, is $200.
Getting Free Quotes When Your Hot Water Heater is Leaking
From the previous section, you can see that the main reason why repairs cost that high has something to do with the professional fees or rates being charged by a contractor. This might even be the most important deciding factor for you to go and have your water heater checked out or not.
Fortunately, it is something that can be quite fixed. All you need to know is the art of negotiation with contractors, particularly if you have numerous options available.
Contractors will normally give you quotations of how much they would charge for their services. What you should know is that this is not fixed and you can still bargain to get lower rates.
The secret to this is to talk to more than one contractor and let them know that they are not your only option. Contractors will usually get crazy competitive with each other and the first thing they would do is give you lower quotations for free, just to attract you and bag the contract with you.
Despite this, you need to make sure that the contractor you will be hiring for the job is someone who is really skilled, and not just someone who gave you the lowest price. Always go for the mix of value and skills, not the cheapest ones but seem to be unqualified.
By taking the time to fill out the form on this page, we’re going to connect you with the most relevant contractors in your area, that will then be able to provide you with free estimates or quotes for your water heater repair or replacement job, at absolutely no obligation to you — and it only takes 2 minutes to fill out the form.