If you have a leaking water heater in your home, it is perfectly reasonable to be concerned and stressed. Water heater leaks are not only frustrating, after all, but damaging to your home and potentially expensive to fix. Sometimes the causes of leaks are very obvious (for example, a loose faucet), but there are times when it is hard to find the leak, let alone identify the underlying cause. In these cases, homeowners can become incredibly stressed out.
This is where we come in. Ohio Basement Authority has been one of the leading experts in basement waterproofing and repair in Cincinnati and Columbus, OH, since 2009. Our team knows what it takes to repair, restore and maintain the health of a property. Addressing a leaking water heater is just part of the equation. Dealing with the underlying causes, as well as any secondary damage this has caused, is a huge part of the solution.
What Causes a Leaking Hot Water Heater?
A hot water heater is one of the most complex and hardworking pieces of machinery in any property. Used on a daily basis, throughout the day, hot water heaters are subject to wear and tear more than most parts of your home. Like your sump pump, it can fail for a number of reasons, both internal and external. The most common causes of a leaking hot water heater in Cincinnati and Columbus, OH, are:
Loose or Damaged Drain Valves
Water heater drain valves are incredibly important, despite being quite small. They are used to drain water from the tank so maintenance work and repairs can be completed and sediment can be removed. When this valve becomes loose, cracked, or otherwise damaged, water will leak slowly from the hot water heater.
If the cause is a loose valve, it can be simply tightened with a wrench. If you notice that your water heater is leaking, you should try to tighten the drain valve (only if you are certain you can correctly identify it). If it is already as tight as it can be, or it continues to leak after you have tightened it, it is far more likely that the valve is damaged and needs to be replaced.
Pressure is a natural part of any plumbing system or appliance, but it must be regulated carefully to ensure that it does not get out of control. A hot water heater is incredibly vulnerable to pressure because of the steam that it produces. If the water temperature is set too high, an excess of steam will be created and the pressure will build to dangerous levels.
If this happens, it is very likely that the tank itself will start to crack or that parts of the water heater will become loose. This will allow steam to escape and relieve the pressure, of course, but it will also allow leaks to form.
Faulty or Damaged Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve
With pressure presenting such a risk to your hot water heater, it should come as no surprise that they have their own, built-in pressure relief valves. These valves are designed to let steam and pressure escape from your hot water heater while preventing water from escaping as well. If this valve becomes damaged, it can fail to let pressure and steam out, causing the hot water heater to crack.
Alternatively, a damaged pressure valve can fail to prevent water from escaping along with steam. This will lead to a leaking hot water heater and an increase in humidity around your basement within a surprisingly short time.
Damage to the Internal Tank
A water heater is made up of two tanks, one internal and one external. The internal tank contains the water, while the outer tank is the one that is visible. Between the two tanks, there is generally some form of insulation to make the water heater more efficient and prevent the outer tank from becoming dangerously hot.
If the internal tank becomes damaged as a result of age, deterioration, or excessive pressure, it will leak into the space between it and the external tank. This will lead to the leak going on unnoticed for a fair amount of time, which can cause a lot of secondary damage.
While most homeowners don’t think of sediment buildup as an issue that is likely to affect hot water heaters, it can actually have a huge impact. For the most part, sediment buildup will affect the quality of the water in a property and potentially cause clogs. This can lead to issues in a home but is not overly likely to cause leaks.
Leaking hot water heaters that have been damaged by sediment buildup tend to have these issues because the sediment has been allowed to lie for a very long time and has caused the bottom of the tank to deteriorate.
Cracked Storage Tank
Some water heaters have glass storage tanks as a matter of course, while others can have storage tanks as an addition. Storage tanks hold heated water and store it until it is needed. This means that the storage capacity is greatly increased, but there are some weaknesses. One of the biggest issues is that glass-lined storage tanks tend to collect calcified mineral deposits.
This means that the glass lining, which is already under pressure from the expansion of heated water, will also be stressed by the formation of these minerals. This can cause cracks to spread and allow water to leak out.
Corroded Anode Rod
The anode rod is a specialized component that is designed to attract corrosive material in your water heater and any additional storage tanks. Over time, this rod will corrode entirely, and when this does happen, water will leak through the place it used to be.
Replacing the anode rod will deal with this problem, however, and could even improve your property’s water quality.
Faulty or Damaged Inlet/Outlet Connections
The inlet and outlet connections for your water heater represent the most vulnerable spots of all when it comes to leaks. These fixtures can become loose or damaged for a number of reasons, ranging from mineral buildup to excessive pressure and even commonplace wear and tear.
When the inlet or outlets become damaged, your hot water heater will start to leak. The leaks can range from being very small to immediately visible.
Like every appliance, hot water heaters have an average lifespan. Over time, they will deteriorate in efficiency and be subject to wear-and-tear. This can cause damage to the interior components of the heater, as well as the connecting points between the heater and your plumbing system.
Eventually, even the most well-loved water heater will break down altogether.
These are the most common causes of a leaking hot water heater, but they are not the only potential causes. In fact, water heaters are often subject to more than one cause of damage and this can make the repair process complex.
Of course, learning to spot the signs of damage early on will help you to nip problems in the bud before they start to cause secondary and tertiary damage.
Leaking Hot Water Heater
A leak around your hot water heater, especially a very small one, can seem like no big deal to some homeowners, but there are a number of reasons why you should be concerned by even a small leak.
Reduced Efficiency, Increased Costs
Having even a small leak in your water heater or the pipes that are directly attached to it will seriously reduce the efficiency of your water heater (and your plumbing system as a whole). This will cause the temperature of your water to fluctuate more often and will make your water heater work harder than it would usually have to (even if the leak is tiny).
This will lead to increased wear and tear on your hot water heater, increased energy usage, and an increase in your bills as a result. There is also a chance that you may experience small breakdowns more often as a result of these leaks. This means the cost of small repairs will stack up over time and render your small leak very costly.
Water Damage and Dampness
As well as reducing the efficiency of your water heater and potentially increasing your energy bills in the long run, a leaking hot water heater poses a risk to your basement and any furnishings within it. Even a very small leak can cause serious dampness and humidity in your basement. In fact, small, persistent leaks are more likely to cause serious issues with dampness because of the ways in which they can go unnoticed.
When dampness and humidity take root in your basement, they can cause a number of problems very quickly. First, there is an increased risk of mold and mildew formation, as well as the potential for wood rot in exposed support joists and beams. Damp basements are also more likely to form a musty odor, attract pests, and impact the temperature control and climate of your property as a whole. Damp air is harder to heat and cool, so this will only compound the energy efficiency issues created by a leaky hot water heater.
If you take care of your hot water heater, it should last 10 to 15 years before you start to notice serious deterioration in its performance. You can prolong the lifespan of your water heater with a number of simple steps, however.
Manage Water Pressure
The water pressure in your home is incredibly important to the health of your property’s plumbing system and any attached appliances. If your water pressure is too low, you will find that your shower and faucets do not function properly. If your water pressure is too high, however, this is a different matter entirely. The ideal water pressure is between 40 and 60 PSI, with 50 being considered the sweet spot for most people.
While low water pressure will result in inefficient appliances and a thoroughly unsatisfying shower, water pressure that is too high will actively damage your property and cause issues throughout your plumbing system. As such, taking the time to test and adjust your water pressure where necessary can make a huge difference to the health and lifespan of your water heater.
Schedule Proper Maintenance
Taking care of your property and maintaining a healthy water pressure is only half the battle when it comes to protecting your hot water heater from leaks and damage. It is also imperative that you take the time to schedule and stick to regular maintenance and inspection for all of your appliances. This will not only ensure that they are working efficiently but help you to catch small issues before they snowball.
Maintenance appointments can prevent avoidable breakdowns very easily. When your maintenance technician is working on your hot water heater, they will clean, tighten, and check all components. This will make sure everything is in good health. When they see small amounts of damage or a broken component, however, they will be able to alert you and schedule repair work. This can have a huge impact over the life of your heater.
It will be possible to repair damage to a water heater in most cases, and we urge you to do so rather than simply replacing it. However, there are some situations in which replacement is the only option. A professional will be the best person to tell you when this is the case.
Leaks, Rust, and Minor Damage
If you notice cosmetic damage to your water heater or signs of minor corrosion to the pipes that connect to it, it is very likely that repair work will be viable. While they are complex pieces of machinery, hot water heaters are also very durable. A professional will be able to repair small leaks and mechanical issues with relative ease.
They can even replace small components or sections of pipe to ensure your water heater continues to function as it is supposed to. However, this has its limits. For example, finding replacement parts for older water heaters can be far more difficult than finding parts for new models. Likewise, there are some repairs that are incredibly complicated and expensive to undertake. In these cases, replacing the hot water heater as a whole may be more effective.
Repeated Total Failure
If your leaking hot water heater is suffering from repeated and total breakdowns or failures, it may be time to replace it with a newer, more efficient model. Unless your water heater is very new, it is likely that the repeated breakdowns are being caused by the age of the heater and deterioration in its internal components.
If your water heater is new, however, repeated breakdowns with no obvious or singular cause are likely being caused by defects in the appliance. In this case, you should call the manufacturer or the supplier that you bought it from to see if you can get a replacement water heater. It is best to do this before you have a repair expert replace any parts, as this may nullify the warranty.
Signs of Water Heater Leaks
You should make a point of regularly checking your water heater (at least twice a year) for signs of damage and deterioration. You should check the inlet and outlet valves (which are generally on the top of the heater), the drain valve (on the bottom), and the body of the tank for cosmetic damage, deterioration, and corrosion.
There are other signs that your water heater may be suffering from damage or small leaks. They are:
If the temperature of the water that your heater provides fluctuates randomly, or the water pressure in your faucets and shower has started to decrease, it could mean that you have a leak somewhere. This leak may not necessarily be in the water heater itself (it could be in one of the pipes), but there is a high chance that it will be.
Look for signs of staining on the walls or flooring directly under or around your water heater. Even bare concrete will stain over time if it is subject to a consistent leak. Wallpaper or drywall, by contrast, may start to bubble and peel if regularly affected by a leak.
If you see patches of dampness or small puddles of water under your hot water heater, this is a strong sign that there is a leak of some kind, even if it isn’t immediately visible. As such, you should contact a professional quickly to investigate.
If you can see water dripping from any part of your hot water heater, you definitely have a leak and should call in a repair specialist as soon as you are able to.
Condensation is a general warning sign that can mean many things. It is also not always a problem sign. If the condensation is limited to the surface of your water heater, it could be that the difference in temperature between the room and heater is simply drastic enough to cause condensation. However, it is also likely to be a sign of high humidity and dampness. This can be caused by a number of issues, including a leaking hot water heater.
If you notice a generally musty smell in your basement, this is a strong sign that your home has a lot of dampness and humidity. It can also be a sign that there is mold somewhere in the area. So, while it is not a direct sign of a hot water heater leak, it is a sign of dampness and a leaking water heater is one very common cause of dampness in any home.
If you see any of these signs, it is important that you act quickly. Scheduling an inspection may seem drastic, but it could save you a lot of money in the long run if you catch a small problem before it grows. This will also make it less likely that you will need a replacement heater. We do not recommend that you try to investigate or work on your water heater alone, as a sudden leak or flood could cause burns.
Above and beyond all else, however, do not ignore the warning signs that you see. This is the worst thing you can do. It is better to be safe than sorry, as they say. Booking an inspection with a professional does not obligate you to book services or buy a new heater, but it could unearth issues you didn’t know were at work and save you a world of trouble in the long term.
Call Ohio Basement Authority Today
If you have noticed signs of dampness and damage in your basement, it is time to call in an Ohio Basement Authority inspector. Our team is skilled, experienced, and highly educated. No matter what is causing the dampness in your home, we will be able to help. Whether you have plumbing damage, foundation problems, or a leaking hot water heater, we guarantee a professional finish at a reasonable cost.
It all starts by contacting us to schedule a free inspection and repair quote. Since opening our business in 2009, we have helped thousands of homeowners in and around Cincinnati and Columbus, OH, restore their property’s health and appearance. Every inspection appointment comes with a written estimate for all costs and is provided completely without obligation to book repairs through us.