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Why is My Water Heater Leaking?

Water in basement

If you’ve noticed water on the floor around your water, you don’t necessarily have to jump to the worst conclusion--not every leaky water heater requires replacement. It’s important to first identify the source of the leak, then decide whether the leak can be repaired or requires either professional attention or a complete replacement. Some fixes are relatively quick and inexpensive, and can even extend the life of your water heater by several years.

Before you begin diagnosing your water heater leak, you must turn off the power source. If you have an electric water heater, turn off power at the circuit breaker. If you have a gas water heater, look on the water heater itself for an on/off dial or switch, and turn it to off. If the leak is substantial and obvious, you can turn off the water supply at the cold water shut-off valve. This should be located above the water heater. Shutting the water off should slow, and may even stop the leak, depending on where it is coming from.


The hot water heater tank can be extremely hot. Be careful that you don’t touch it while examining it. Always allow the hot water heater to cool before working on it. Hot water inside your hot water heater can cause first degree burns. Use extreme care when emptying hot water.

Possible Culprits

1. Cold and hot water connections

A hot water heater usually has two major connections--a cold water inlet connection and a hot water outlet connection. Examine both of these connections for leaks. The elbow joints where these pipes turn towards the hot water heater are also possible locations for leaks. Tightening and reconnecting these joints, including replacing parts, may solve the problem.

2. Temperature and pressure relief valve

Every hot water heater has a temperature and pressure relief valve. Ongoing high temperatures cause steam, increasing pressure on the T&P valve, causing it to open repeatedly to prevent the tank from exploding. Identifying this problem takes a little bit more time. First, lower the hot water heater thermostat. Next, turn the water and power/gas to your heater back on and observe. The T&P valve connects to a vertical pipe running down the side of your water tank, usually stopping a couple inches above the floor. If the floor near the pipe is wet or has water stains, chances are good that your T&P valve has been discharging recently.

If the T&P valve continues to leak, you may have a faulty valve. Place a bucket under the discharge tube and open the T&P valve. This will flush water through the valve and may remove debris that may be causing the issue. If it still leaks after flushing, the valve will need to be replaced. You should contact a licensed plumber to repair this part of your hot water heater.

3. Heater drain valve

The drain valve near the bottom of the tank can leak if the valve is faulty or if sediment buildup has affected the seal. Similar to the T&P valve, you can place a bucket under the valve and flush water out to clear out debris. If the valve still leaks after flushing, the valve is faulty and must be replaced. As with the T&P valve, this repair should be completed by a licensed plumber.

4. Gaskets

Electric water heaters function by heating water using electric elements inside the tank. The base of these elements is protected from water by rubber gaskets. Over time, if these gaskets erode, they can allow water to seep through connections. There are small hatch covers on the outside of the tank where the base of these elements can be reached. To investigate this, double check that you’ve turned off electricity to the water heater. Then, remove the hatches and cut through any tank insulation and examine each electrical connection for signs of water damage. If you discover leakage around gaskets, you can fully drain the tank and then remove the electrical elements, allowing you to replace the gaskets.

5. The Tank

If the water heater tank itself is leaking, you will have to replace the entire unit. Over time, sediment builds up in the water heater tank. If you do not regularly flush your water heater, this sediment can cause the tank to erode from the inside out. The only solution for this problem is to fully replace the hot water heater.

Roto-Rooter provides 24-hour emergency water heater service, so you will have hot water again as quickly as possible. When you rely on Roto-Rooter, you can expect professional service from a skilled, licensed and fully insured plumber.

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