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Electric and Gas Water Heater Leaking from the Top

Leaks are among the most common household problems any owner will eventually face. You might have even encountered this issue already at your own home. For many, this problem feels more like an annoyance than a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. This is why so many homeowners put off having these leaks repaired for a long time, not realizing that it can lead to serious problems. Are you one of them?

You might think that only piping systems and faucets can leak. But did you know that your water heater can also face this issue, and roofs can leak too? Water leaks on heaters can happen either at the top of it or at the bottom and if the leak happens at the top, you’re in luck. It’s much easier to repair them.

If you are facing this issue, or just want to prepare yourself when this happens to you, you should continue reading.

plumber at work

What Causes a Hot Water Heater to Leak?

There are a number of reasons why water heaters get leaks, or just look like they are leaking. Even if you have no idea what to do and how to make the necessary repairs, you should still be aware of the possible causes.

If you have a water heater that is powered by gas, there is a chance that the water is coming not from a leak but from rainwater that has settled on top of your water tank. This is actually quite common and happens most often after storms. The rain may follow the path of your water heater’s flue vent pipe and settle on top of it.

Condensation, which is quite common on hot water heaters, may also be another possible cause. This occurs when the air surrounding the water heater is hotter than the cold water that enters the tank at the same time. Too much condensation might make you think that there are leaks on your water heater.

There is always pressure present inside the tank of your water heater. When the pressure builds up and the tank can no longer contain it, water would have to be forced out of the tank. This is what you might think of as the leak on your water heater. When this happens, the usual suspect is that you have set the temperature of your water heater too high.

Another possible cause is that your hot water heater is already too old and about to reach its end-of-life. The older it is, the more likely it is to leak.

But what you should always consider when facing this issue is there may be a part or two in your hot water heater that needs to be repaired. This is actually the most common reason for leaks, no matter where it is coming from.

Why is Water Leaking from the Top of My Water Heater?

Leaks often indicate that there is something wrong in your water heating system, especially when this starts happening sometime after your water heater has been installed. Appliances will loosen up or even break down over time and water heaters are no exception.

If the leaks are coming from the top of your water heater, the problem generally lies among these three: the connecting outlet for the hot water, the inlet for cold water, and the connection for water pressure. To be precise, the common culprits are:

  • Temperature and pressure relief valve, known as the T&P valve
  • Water heater nipples
  • Loose pipes
  • Inlet valve for cold water
  • Outlet valve for hot water
  • Anode rod corrosion
  • Expansion tank or the water tank itself
  • Drain lines

In some instances, you might think that the leak is coming from your water heater but it actually does not. They might actually be coming from your ceiling or walls, not the water heater. You must always consider this possibility, especially when water leaks look like they are coming from the top.

It is always not easy to find the source of water leaks on heaters, due to its complicated system. While you may find the area where water is coming from, the exact location or part that needs to be fixed might leave you clueless. This is why it is important to get the services of a qualified contractor. After all, they are the experts who know what to do.

What Should I Do When My Water Heater Leaks?

Now that you have an idea of the possible causes of leaks on your water heater, you also need to know what must done when this happens. Think of it as the first aid for your water heater before the problem gets a lot worse.

Whether you have a gas or electricity-based water heater, the initial steps that need to be done are generally the same. It is always important that you hire a contractor for this task, most importantly because of the many hazards involved. Aside from the risk of electrocution, since electricity and water cannot mix after all, you may also get burns from the hot water stored in the tank if you attempt to do the repairs by yourself.

Once you get the services of a contractor, here are the basic steps he or she will usually take before repairing your water heater:

  1. Dry off the area. This allows the contractor to confirm if there is actually a leak on your water heater and see where it is coming from. If there is still water coming out somewhere even after wiping the area completely dry, a leak is present.
  1. Identify where the leak is coming from. The contractor may place bowls, tissue paper, or other indicators to narrow down and identify where exactly the leak is.
  1. Your water heater will have to be turned off. The HVAC contractor will turn off either the gas supply or the breaker switch of your water heater, depending on the type. This should ideally be turned off only when the contractor has confirmed the presence of the leak and where it comes from.

Once the contractor has confirmed the cause of the leak, he or she can finally start on the necessary repairs, if it is still possible.

The Consequences and Dangers of a Leaking Hot Water Heater

You should never underestimate a leak, not just on water heaters. Leave a leak alone without doing any kind of repair on it, since only a few drops of water are coming out from that leak so far anyway, and you will eventually have bigger problems because of it. Even more so when your hot water heater is involved.

Some of the major effects of water leaks on your hot water heater are the following:

  • Damage to your home – Water can cause a lot of damage to your home, and leaks are not an exception to it. Water, especially when left alone for some time, can even affect the integrity of your entire home.
  • It will get worse – you might think that just a few drops of water can’t really hurt anybody, that’s why you keep putting off having the leak repaired and eventually forgetting about it in the end. The leak won’t go away by itself; it will get worse and you run the risk of it flooding your basement where your water heater is installed.
  • The water quality will be affected – because your water heater is not working at its full potential, this can result in water contamination, especially when the culprit for the leak is corrosion or rust. Instead of having clean water, you can get water that is full of bacteria or harsh chemicals.
  • It can result in various health hazards – a damp environment is a perfect breeding ground for harmful fungi and bacteria, and any room that has a leak or two fits that bill, especially if it is in your basement. If you have asthma or allergies, this can trigger a reaction. And if black mold develops, the possible health hazards are a lot worse.
  • Injuries and accidents are waiting to happen – have you ever experienced slipping on the ground because of a puddle of water? If you have, you know how painful it can get. Water leaks are a major cause of such accidents because you can’t easily see water build-up on the floor.
  • You can get electrocuted – water mixing with electricity is always dangerous. With any water leak, the chances of electrocution happening to anyone who comes into contact with the water increases. Even more so with water heaters that run on electricity.
  • Repairs can get costly if left unattended – if you are not doing anything yet to address the leak on your water heater because you are thinking about how costly it may be, you need to realize that the longer you delay it, the more expensive it will get. Unrepaired leaks can further exacerbate the problem with your water heater.
  • There is a risk of explosion – if you recall, we mentioned how pressure can build up inside the tank of a hot water heater and a sign of this is water leaking. It is a disaster waiting to happen and the consequences can be fatal. Your water heater can explode because of this excessive pressure. The risk is even greater if you use a water heater that is gas-based. This is the most dangerous possible effect of having a hot water heater that leaks.

All these dangers can be easily avoided, as long as you immediately have repairs done on your water heater at the first sign of a leak.

Can I Get My Leaking Hot Water Heater’s Tank Repaired?

If the contractor has determined that the leak is coming from the tank of your water heater, this is bad news for you. It is likely that the problem is more serious than you all thought and the only solution is to have your entire hot water heater system replaced.

The tank of a water heater is usually lined with glass, and this is not indestructible. Cracks may appear on this glass lining as a consequence of the formation of mineral deposits from the water. These cracks will further expand as a reaction to hot water. Unfortunately, there is no way to repair them just yet.

As we previously mentioned, a leak coming from the tank often means that there is a large amount of pressure inside it. This is a bad sign if confirmed by a contractor, because it is the main cause of water heaters exploding. You already know how dangerous this is, right?

You should never take the risk of using a water heater with this problem. The possible consequences are fatal and will do you more harm than good. Stop using your hot water heater and replace it as soon as you can.

However, all hope is not lost if your contractor determines that the tank is still in great condition. Your contractor may not even do anything else but set the temperature of your heater to a lower level. If this works, you can still safely use your water heater.

How to Fix a Leaking Water Heater

A qualified contractor will know what kind of repairs your water heater will require, as soon as he or she finds the source of the leak. There is no ‘one sizes fits all’ kind of repair that can be done on water heaters; it will always depend on the cause of the leak. Even the best contractor in the world will tell you that.

If you recall, we have highlighted the most common sources of water leaks that occur from the top of your water heater. The repairs a contractor can make on your water heater will depend on the parts involved in those leaks.

Earlier, we already listed down the most common parts causing leaks on water heaters, particularly at the top. In this section, we will detail how a contractor usually does repairs on these parts.

  • Water inlet or outlet valves – if the leak comes from the inlet for cold water or outlet for hot water, the contractor may just have to tighten their connections, particularly the valves or nuts.

If this does not resolve the issue and it continues to leak, the contractor will have to replace the entire valve. This means the issue is much more serious and it is possible that the leak happens due to rust or corrosion in these connections.

  • Temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P valve) – if the contractor has determined that the leak comes from the T&P valve, he or she will check whether the leak is originating from the base that connects this valve to the water heater or on the drain pipe connected to it.

If the leak is from the valve itself, the contractor will check the possibility of it containing debris by opening the valve. If debris is present, this will be removed through flushing. A complete replacement of the T&P valve will be done by the contractor if the leak continues, even after flushing all the debris out of it. If this happens, it is likely that the sources of the leak are the threads of the currently installed valve.

To replace this valve, the contractor must first lower the level of the water inside the tank by draining it, so that its surface is below the T&P valve. The nearest tap for hot water will then be opened to let air enter the tank at the same time. When the water has receded enough, the contractor will remove the entire valve by unscrewing it with channel locks.

Once the T&P valve has been removed, the tank’s opening will be checked by the contractor for any corrosion or rust. If any of these are present, it is a sign that you need to have your water heater replaced. But if none of these are found, the contractor will install a new T&P valve, wrap its threads with Teflon tape, and screw it in place.

But if the leak originates from the drain pipe, this means the issue does not involve your T&P valve. The leak may have been the result of the valve opening up as a safety precaution and the contractor will assess if it is caused by too much pressure inside the tank.

  • Loose connections and pipe fittings – like in the case of the water inlet or outlet valves, leaks on the pipe fittings may be as simple as the connections getting loose after some time. The contractor will just have to readjust these connections to make them tighter.

But if the leak persists, corrosion and rust are again the culprits. If this is the case, your contractor will also have to replace the affected fittings or connections.

  • Joints and nipples – over time, the various joints and nipples installed in your water heater will also loosen up, which can result in the leaks you see. They will also corrode or succumb to rust. As a result, the contractor can either just tighten these loose joints or nipples, or completely replace them.

If both of these remedies fail but the leak is confirmed to originate from them, it is likely just condensation. In this case, the contractor will wrap up the pipes where condensation occurs to stop its formation.

  • Anode rod– a leak here can be a serious problem, especially if the corrosion has been left unattended for so long. It is actually a sign that the tank of your water heater might soon explode if you do not address the issue with its anode rod. Fortunately, this part is replaceable and it would be the immediate solution of the contractor.

However, if the contractor sees that the corrosion problem of the anode rod is already severe, chances are its replacement won’t be enough. You will have to replace your entire water heater.

  • Expansion Tank – if a leak on the tank itself already requires you to replace your water heater, this is not the case when the leak occurs on the expansion tank. The expansion tank is easily replaceable, since it is also an optional part and not all water heaters have it.

Leaks on the expansion tank can come from either the tank itself or the connected pipe fittings. For the latter, the contractor will have to replace just the expansion tank. But if the leak only comes from the pipe fittings, the contractor will have to tighten it.

These are just the common issues and remedies that a contractor will make. Of course, there are other possible causes of leaking on your water heater that we may have left out.

You might think that these repairs seem simple enough even for you to do, but we still advice you to get the services of a contractor for your peace of mind. Not only will they do the required repairs, but they can also check if other parts of your water heater are damaged or are affected by the leak.

This is not something anyone can do, even you. Hot water heaters are very complicated appliances, and the repair they require is even more so. This is why it is always best to let the professionals handle it.

That is, unless you are a contractor yourself.

inspection of a water heater

Should I Replace my Water Heater?

By now, you should realize that there are times that having a contractor to do the necessary repairs on your hot water heater will already solve your problem. There are also times that the only solution for it is to replace everything.

Before you rush to get yourself a new water heater at the first sign of a problem with your current one, you must check if it is really about time for you to do so, or you just need to have it repaired. Some other signs to look out for, aside from the appearance of leaks, are the following:

  • Strange sounds – it is important that you watch out for any noise your water heater makes that sounds new or unfamiliar to you. This might mean your water heater is starting to encounter some issues with it, even before it starts to show signs of leaking somewhere. A contractor can tell if these sounds mean you need to replace your heater asap or not.
  • Its age – you can expect your heavy-duty water heater to last for more than a decade if you properly operate it. However, it will still not last forever and it will eventually break down. If your water heater is just too old and a contractor has already checked it out and can no longer do any kind of repair on it, you need to get a new one.
  • Presence of rust and corrosion – even if this issue can be addressed by replacing the affected components of your water heater, there are times that it would be much more economical for you to replace your entire systems. This is the most ideal solution if the rust or corrosion has gotten out of hand and asking your contractor to repair everything will already cost a lot.
  • It is no longer as energy-efficient as before – a telltale sign of this is a higher electricity bill, especially when your water heater is already quite old. More energy will be required by your water heater over time, which translates to an increase in your electricity bill. As much as 25% of your bill is consumed by the water heater and if you replace it with a newer and more efficient one, you will cut down on costs.
  • The water temperature is already affected – if the water from the hot water tap is just lukewarm, despite you switching the faucet to the highest temperature possible, its components that affect the temperature of the water may already be broken and need to be repaired or replaced. If this is no longer possible, you have to replace your water heater. Another cause of this is your water heater may not be powerful enough for your needs, especially if there was a dramatic increase in its use.

Whenever you start having issues with your water heater, only a contractor can accurately judge whether you already need to have it replaced, or he or she can still work his or her magic on it and do some repairs instead.

How Much Does It Cost to Have the Leaks of my Water Heater Repaired?

If you were able to do regular maintenance work on your hot water heater, the less you will have to spend on repairs in the future, especially on leaks. After all, this problem is generally preventable if you were able to get a contractor to regularly check on its condition.

You might think that the cost of repairs on your leaking water heater may be outrageous. You are partly correct, since this will depend on the amount and type of repairs that need to be done. The worse the problem, the more astronomical the cost of repairs.

Reports show that the costs of doing leak repairs on different kinds of water heaters range from $100 to $900 on average. For very minor repairs, you may only have to shell out as low as $52. But for the more complicated ones, you can be charged as high as $1500.

Given the average cost, you should make sure to get the services of a qualified contractor to do the repairs for you. This prevents you from having to pay repeatedly for repairs that never seem to end, which is a common issue homeowners face when they just get the services of someone who claims to be knowledgeable, but really is not. The easiest way to have this fixed is by using our website to get connected with the most relevant HVAC contractors in your local area.

professional adjusting the settings on a water heater