I received a potential customer call the other day. The person on the other end of the line said that their hot water tank is leaking. She was in her 20s and a new homeowner. She had never encountered problem before, so we began to simply talk through it. At first, she seemed to be a bit nervous, and I could detect a touch of panic in their voice. I automatically assumed due to that anxious tone, that the leak was not a little one. After talking a bit with the homeowner and she had calmed down, we began to get at the source of the problem.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the tank was leaking from the bottom and, according to the homeowner, the water was coming out pretty fast. One of my techs headed to the homeowner’s home as quickly as he could. He found that the tank was leaking from the bottom, and therefore had to be replaced.
Once a hot water tank starts to leak from the bottom, and its apparent there are no other causes for the leakage, it’s time to replace the tank. The inside of the tank eventually corrodes from mineral deposits and from the constant strain of heating and cooling (expansion/contraction – think of these Pittsburgh potholes popping up with the erratic weather lately!). There really is no way to repair a leaking tank. So luckily, this solution is a simple one; replace the tank.
A hot water (HW) tank can leak for many reasons, other than corrosion of the inside of the tank:
Condensation: Finding a puddle on the floor adjacent to the tank, rather than leaking/running water, may be the result of condensation that formed on the outside of the tank. Condensation can occur when most of the water inside the tank is cold. This can happen during periods when hot water usage in the home is especially high. The colder tank reacting with the warmer air inside the home could cause condensation on the outside of the tank if the tank insulation is old or damaged. The water can then drip down off the tank and onto the floor, which gives the appearance of a leaking tank. Figuring out how to even out hot water distribution, so that less than half the tank contains cold water at any given time can take care of this problem.
Leaking Pipes: A typical hot water heater has two pipe connections, a cold water supply line and a hot water line, which ultimately supplies different areas of the home. These pipes often have elbow joints, or fittings, so they can bend toward the water heater. Both of these water lines can leak at any time, usually at these joints. If water is spraying from a fitting or pipe, the problem is pretty clear. But, a dripping pipe or joint would be less noticeable. Tightening the loose fittings at the joints may stop the leak. But if this does not solve the problem, you probably should call a professional.
Gaskets: Depending on your local utility costs, gas water heaters are typically cheaper to operate than electric. However they typically cost more upfront than an electric for purchase and installation. While most people in the Pittsburgh area have natural gas hot water tanks, some have electric hot water tanks that rely on one or two heating elements to warm the water, which is another area in which a hot water tank can leak. Because these elements project into the tank, they are sealed with gaskets to prevent leakage. Water may collect under the tank if the gaskets wear down or become damaged.
Pressure Relief Valve: Should the pressure inside your HW tank rise too high, the relief valve should open. A leak from the temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P valvet) may be caused by excessive pressure inside the tank or overheating. This pressure on the T&P valve will keep it open almost continuously, ultimately leading to the water heater leaking. Once the steam escapes, the pressure should return to normal. And once outside of the tank, the steam quickly condenses and can produce a puddle on the floor at the bottom of the tank. Too high of an operating temperature is usually to blame for excessive tank pressure. You should maintain the hot water at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit to keep pressure in check. This will help you save on energy costs at the same time. Sometimes, if pressure inside the tank has built up too often in the past, especially after turning down the water heater’s thermostat, the pressure relief valve can become unreliable. You should have a plumbing professional replace the valve as soon as possible, as a faulty pressure relief valve can create a potentially dangerous situation.
Water Heater Expansion Tank: It could be that you have a flooded or broken bladder inside of your water heater expansion tank that may be responsible for the leak. Any hot water tank, yours included, requires an expansion tank. A safety device known as a water heater expansion tank (sometimes called a thermal expansion tank) helps to minimize the risk of pressure damage to your plumbing system. This is typically required now by all local plumbing codes. Note that your older tank may not have this; and if it doesn’t, it should be added.
HW tank drain valve: Every water heater has a drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Your drain valve could be the source of a leak. It should only release water when you open the faucet intentionally to drain the tank. The drain valve is to be used when draining the tank to remove sediment that builds up on the bottom and eventually causes damage to the inside of your tank. A leaking water heater drain valve is not always a complicated problem though. Sometimes the valve gets bumped and becomes loose. And if left alone, a leaking water heater drain valve typically becomes worse.
We Want to Help!
It could just be this time of year, as winter tends to cause HW tanks to leak. The water coming into the tank for heating is usually colder than normal in the winter, and it takes longer for the tank to heat the water. This causes more expansion and contraction within the tank. And it could lead to higher internal tank pressures than during the other three seasons of the year.
If your hot water tank is leaking, don’t panic! Whatever the cause, there are many ways for your hot water tank to develop a leak. Proudfoot Services can track down the source of your water tank leak problem and solve it for you. Contact us here or give us a call at 1-412-461-2198, especially if you have running water in your basement! We’re always glad to help out and/or make recommendations.