Your water heater service is a household appliance that can easily be taken for granted—until it needs repairing. One of the most common issues is a leak, and this can either flood your home or lead to the growth of mold and mildew. Therefore, if you've seen water around the tank, you need to know where it's coming from and how it can be fixed or avoided.
First Things First
If you have a major leak, the most important thing to do is turn off the power or gas that runs to the tank. Then turn off the water at the tank by turning the handle clockwise. If this isn't doable, shut off the main water supply to the house and call a professional for repairs.
For diagnosing minor leaks, use the following guidelines.
Leaks from the top of your tank usually come from the cold and hot water pipes that feed into the tank itself. In these cases, simply tightening the connections with a pipe wrench can stop the leak. If not, contact a professional plumber. Leaks from the bottomcan sometimes be repaired at home, depending on what's causing the issue.
Leaky drain valve. A drain valve is located at the bottom of your water heater, and as its name suggests, its purpose is to allow you to periodically drain the tank. If you don't notice any visible dripping from the valve, rub a piece of tissue or cotton swab around the perimeter and note any wetness. If the drain valve is indeed the culprit, tighten it very slowly with a wrench until the leak is gone.
Every now and then, condensation can form on the metal surface of the valve and drip to the floor. To see if this is where the water's coming from, wipe the valve with a soft cloth after performing the above tightening procedure, and restrict hot water usage for several hours. If it's just condensation, you'll know right away, as limiting hot water usage will usually prevent surface water from forming on the valve.
After all that, if you still notice water leaking, you might need to replace the washer inside the valve after draining the tank. You can certainly attempt to do this yourself, but you might feel more comfortable leaving it to the professionals.
Corrosion. Appliances don't last forever, and your water heater is no exception. This is particularly true once rust and corrosion come into play.
If there is leaking around the bottom of the tank, more than likely it's due to corrosion forming on the inside. Unfortunately, a majority of the time you will need to replace the tank altogether.
Generally speaking, looking at your water heater's warranty is a good estimate of how long you can expect it to last. But if you maintain it properly by flushing the sediment regularly and replacing the anode rod when needed, you may double the life of your tank and prevent corrosion from forming as fast.
Excess pressure. On the side of your tank, you'll notice a pipe that comes out and extends to the floor. When the pressure in your tank becomes too high, typically from water getting hot and expanding, it will release a small amount of water through a valve on this pipe. This helps to relieve the pressure.
Most water heaters are designed to do this for anything over 150 psi (pounds per square inch). But if you're running over 80 psi, it's not good for any of the pipes in your home. You can test the pressure in the tank by purchasing a water pressure gauge at most any hardware store. Attach it to the drain valve then open it up to get a reading.
Since the problem can also be due to the temperature being too high, simply check the thermostat and make sure it's set to the recommended 120 degrees. This is hot enough for most people's comfort level, and cool enough that you usually don't have to worry about burns.