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Why Do Water Heaters Leak? Expert Insights and Fixes

Water heaters are among the essential appliances in our households, tasked with providing us with one of the major conveniences of modern life – hot water, whenever we need it. While their tasks are relatively straightforward, that does not mean a water heater can maintain peak operation indefinitely. Unfortunately, malfunctions can appear, causing frustration and worry in homeowners. 

Discovering a puddle of water around your water heater is not something anyone is looking forward to, which raises the question: why do water heaters leak? A leaking water heater creates a mess, but more importantly, it creates the potential for long-term damage to the household, along with costly repairs or replacements. While leaks are more or less unavoidable, we are here to explore why leaks appear and how to deal with them and prevent them. Let’s get right into the topic!

Water Heaters 101: How Do They Work? 

It’s relatively easy to understand what may cause a water heater to leak. You just need to understand how the heater operates to be able to identify the possible reasons and components responsible for leaks. 

A water heater typically gathers water in a tank, heating it and keeping it at a specific temperature for an extended period. Here’s a simplified process breakdown:

  1. Water enters the tank through several inlet pipes.
  2. Through a specific tube, the water goes to the bottom of the tank, where it is heated.
  3. The water heater usually has heaters on the top and bottom. A bottom-placed burner assembly creates and keeps a flame burning throughout the heating process in a gas water heater.
  4. Water rises to the top of the tank as it is heated, ready for distribution through outlet pipes.

Why Do Water Heaters Leak: Common Causes

Now that the basics of the water heating process are explained, let’s look at the potential issues that can disrupt the regular heating process and result in leaks. Keep in mind, however, that any leak should be taken care of by a professional repair service, given the potential for serious damage. However, knowing the potential sources of leaks will help you minimize damage to the water heater and its vicinity. 

  • Loose Pipe Connections: One of the most common causes of water heater leaks is loosened pipe connections. The fittings or connections between the water heater and the pipes tend to become loose over time, resulting in a seepage rather than a leak. This issue can easily be fixed by tightening the connections with a wrench. In heavier leaks, though, you need to ask for professional help. 
  • Faulty Valves: The valves that regulate temperature relief pressure in a water heater are essential safety features that prevent the tank from exploding. If any of the valves are faulty or loose, they might be causing the leak.
  • Cracks in the Tank: The interior lining of a water heater tank may deteriorate over time, causing cracks to appear. These cracks can cause water leaks, originating directly from the tank and resulting in puddles around the unit. If you’re facing a leak of this origin, you most likely need a new unit.
  • Corrosion and Rust: The water that goes into heaters is treated, meaning it contains minerals that tend to accumulate over time. The minerals come in contact with the tank’s metal surface, which can lead to corrosion and rust formation. Over time, rust weakens the tank, causing leaks to appear. 
  • Drain Valve Damage: The drain valve on a water heater is responsible for emptying the tank, usually for scheduled maintenance or repairs. A loose drain valve can lead to water leakage. Simply tightening the drain valve with a pipe wrench can resolve the issue sometimes, but if the problem persists, you’ll need to turn to a plumber. 
  • Excessive Pressure: Water heating happens in a pressurized environment, so water heaters can handle pressure up to a certain point. Once the pressure surpasses this point, problems can occur, usually in the form of leaks. However, if the water pressure inside the tank becomes too high, it can lead to leaks. 
  • Sediment Buildup: Over time, sediment and the previously mentioned mineral deposits can build up at the bottom of the tank, clogging up the unit and leading to cracks and leaks. Regular maintenance is a great way to deal with buildups, which may warrant a complete water heater replacement if left unattended. 
  • Water Heater Age: Water heaters have a finite lifespan, and as their expiry date nears, they become more prone to leaks. Most water heaters last around 8 to 12 years. The lifespan depends on factors such as usage, maintenance, and water quality more than anything else.

Dealing With a Leaking Water Heater

Calling professional plumbing services is the only way to ensure your leaking water heater has been fixed. But you should not sit around and wait for the plumbers to come. If you discover your water heater is leaking, it’s crucial to take immediate action to prevent further damage.

  • Identify the source: Try to determine the exact location of the leak. By now, you know that the usual culprits include the fittings, valves, or the tank itself. 
  • Turn the power off: Before attempting any repairs or inspecting the heater yourself, you must stop the water heater’s power supply. For electric water heaters, this means switching the dedicated circuit breaker off. If you have a leaking gas water heater, use the gas shutoff valve near the tank’s base.
  • Shut off the water supply: An empty tank cannot leak, so you should cut off the inbound cold water supply via the inlet pipe after turning the power/gas off. A dedicated shutoff valve will stop the flow of water into the tank.
  • Address minor leaks: If you identify minor leaks, usually restricted to fittings or connections, you can try to fix them yourself by using a pipe wrench. However, be cautious not to overtighten, as you can cause significant damage to the fittings, worsening the leaks.
  • Call a professional plumbing service: If the leak persists or if you are unsure about the cause or appropriate solution, it’s best to consult a professional plumber with the necessary expertise and knowledge to diagnose and remove the issue quickly and efficiently.

How to Prevent Water Heater Leaks

The bottom line is that leaks in water heaters are unavoidable due to factors like age, water quality, or manufacturing defects. Still, there are preventive measures you can take to minimize the risks and keep your water heater in perfect operation condition:

  • Regular maintenance: Schedule annual maintenance visits with a professional plumber, who can inspect and maintain your water heater. This usually involves flushing the tank, checking for leaks or signs of deterioration, and removing any potential issues early.
  • Monitor pressure and temperature: Be mindful of your water heater’s temperature and pressure settings. Keeping them within the recommended range specified by the manufacturer will extend the lifespan of your water heater.
  • Install a water softener: If you live in an area with hard water, installing a water softener can help you minimize mineral buildup, thus reducing the risk of corrosion. 
  • Inspect common leak points: Frequently checking the fittings and connections on your water heater for signs of leaks is a great way of staying on top of any potential water heater issues.
  • Installing a leak detection system: Leak detection systems exist for water heaters, usually requiring installation next to the unit. These can provide early warning signs of leaks, allowing you to take immediate precautions.

Eliminate Water Heater Leaks with Tucson Plumbing and Drain!

So, why do water heaters leak in the first place? The sources for most leaks are located at a few crucial locations in a water heater, ranging from pipe connections and valves to the water tank itself. Plenty of factors influence the occurrence of leaks, and taking preventative measures can greatly extend the lifespan of your water heater. 

If you need to ensure your water heater is leak-free, contact Tucson Plumbing and Drain. We have professionals that can assess and remove any potential water heater issues before they turn into a full-blown flood disaster. Contact us today and tell us more about you maintenance needs!

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