It’s hard not to panic when we notice our water heater leaking. Many problems that cause a water heater leak can be taken care of without calling an expensive plumber. Tightening a loose connection and replacing a faulty gasket can instantly stop a water heater leak.
To determine the problem with a water heater, you must ask yourself, “is the water heater leaking from the top or the bottom?” We need to investigate the entire length of the water heater to find the source of the leak.
What's In This Guide?
What Should I Do if my Water Heater is Leaking?
When we see our water heater leaking, there are three steps we can take.
Turn off the water supply.
Turn off the electric or gas supply.
Locate the source of the leak
The first thing we should do when we see our water heater leaking is turn off the water source. Every water heater should have a shut-off located at the tank. No more water will be allowed into the tank by closing the valve.
If the shut-off does not work or we notice that water is still trickling into the tank, we may have to resort to using the main shut-off. Turning the water main off will ensure no water gets to the water heater tank. It will also turn off the water to all other plumbing fixtures in the house.
That brings us to the second step. The next thing we need to do after turning off the water supply to the water heater is turn off the power supply to the tank.
Trying to find the leak while the water is on can be tempting, but we must remember that gas and electricity are running to our water heater tank. We have to shut off the power to the water heater before attempting any inspections.
If we have an electric water heater, the best means of disconnecting the power is at the breaker in our house panel. We should have a breaker labeled “water heater” or W/H that we can simply click down to the off position.
We will have to shut off the incoming gas valve if we have a gas-powered water heater. Each water heater should have its disconnecting means at the unit itself.
We might be required to shut off the gas to the entire house if there are any issues with the gas leaking through the valve. We can only start investigating the source of the leak after we are sure that the water and power are turned off to the water heater tank completely.
If the water heater is leaking due to a corroded tank, you cannot fix it. This will require replacement.
Here is a great video showing what we can do if our water heater is leaking.
Is it Dangerous to Have a Leaking Water Heater?
It is dangerous to have a leaking water heater. Our water heater usually gives us popping, whistling, and gurgling noises to let us know there is a problem. These sounds can seem scary, as they should.
A leaking water heater can potentially be deadly. When our water heaters go out, they can fail catastrophically. The pressure inside a water tank can build up so much that it can cause it to explode. In some cases, water heaters have been launched out of homes like missiles.
A water heater tank can hold a lot of water. When a corroded water heater tank finally gives out, it will flood the entire room where the water heater is stored. When electricity and gas are involved, this can be especially dangerous.
Most plumbing leaks are nothing more than a nuisance. A leaking water heater can cost us our homes or even our lives if it explodes. Now, this is rare, and it’s mostly likely that a leak is not behind such scares.
Regardless, it is dangerous to your home’s condition to have a leaking water heater, so don’t ignore it.
Can You Still Use Water if Your Water Heater is Leaking?
A water heater will still work if it is leaking, but this doesn’t mean you should continue operating it. This is why we must find the exact location of the leak, whether the top or bottom, or another component.
Continuing to use a leaking water heater if the water is making its way onto dangerous electrical or gas components can be life-threatening.
We can still use a water heater that leaks from a loose connection or faulty gasket, as long as there are no other threats. In many cases, a leak is nothing more than a leak. If the only issue is a small mess to clean up, there’s no problem using our leaky water heater.
It would be safest not to use the water heater until your inspection is complete if we are unsure where it is leaking from. You may want to confirm this with a licensed plumber.
Most problems with a water heater can be determined by whether the leak is on the top or the bottom. Where the water heater is leaking can help us determine what is causing the water heater to leak.
Why is My Water Heater Leaking From the Top?
Most of the water connections are on the top of the water heater. Often, when the water heater leaks from the top, we can tighten a few loose connections or replace a worn gasket.
If we notice water dripping from the water connections, we can use a pipe wrench to snug it up until the water stop seeping out.
When we see our water heater leaking from the top, at the pressure relief valve, there are a couple of steps we can take.
What Do I Do if My Hot Water Heater is Leaking From the Top?
We need to check the cold water intake and the hot water output. If all the connections on the top of the water heater are tight but still drip, the gaskets inside the water line connector may have gone out.
A large rubber o-ring is inside most factory water lines that can eventually wear out. Replacing these o-rings can provide the watertight seal that the pressurized water line needs. Teflon tape or pipe dope on the threads will ensure no water makes its way out.
Another reason our water heater can leak is from the pressure relief valve doing its job. The temperature and pressure release valve, or T&P Valve, is located on the top portion of the water heater tank and has three responsibilities.
The following list is the three main things the temperature and pressure relief valve does for a water tank.
The Temperature and pressure release valve prevents the tank from exploding and case too much pressure builds up.
The t&p valve will let us know if the incoming water pressure to our home is too high.
If the water inside the water heater tank gets too hot, the T&P valve will discharge the water from the tank.
We can check the incoming pressure to our home by installing a pressure gauge onto an exterior hose bib. We can easily adjust the temperature by turning the thermostat to the preferred setting.
Is Hot Water Heater Leaking from the Top Anode?
The anode rod is accessed through the top of your water heater, often underneath a plastic cap about 1.5 inches wide. It’s not super common for a factory-installed anode to leak unless it’s very old and the fittings have corroded.
However, water is leaking from this area and you recently replaced the anode, confirm you used plumber’s tape or an alternative, and that it was fully tightened enough.
If the water heater leaks from the thermostat or heating element, sometimes replacing these components and their rubber gaskets will stop the leak.
Why is My Water Heater Leaking From the Bottom?
It might be time to replace our water heater completely when we see our water heater leaking from the bottom. The drain valve may be loose or damaged, but most cracked and rusted-out water heaters will leak from the bottom.
It’s crucial to examine the water heater thoroughly. Water will start collecting at the bottom of the tank no matter where the leak is.
First, we can dry the water heater and search for a wet spot to locate the exact problem area. We can try snugging it up with our pipe wrench if the water is escaping around the drain valve. We can try replacing the rubber washer if the water is leaking from the drain valve while in the off position.
Sediment buildup in the bottom of a water tank can start to damage and corrode the metal. Rust is another serious problem with water heaters and often destroys the bottom of the tank.
If our water heater leaks because it is cracked or rusted, we have no choice but to replace it.
Anyone can fix a leaking water heater if the tank isn’t damaged. Any part or component on a water heater can be fixed by any DIYer and homeowner with minimal tools. Tightening a loose connection will sometimes stop the leak.
We can usually get the water to stop seeping by replacing rubber o-rings or gaskets if tightening doesn’t work. A water heater needs replaced if it is cracked, rusted out, or has any holes.
A leaking water heater can start out being nothing more than an inconvenience, but if not handled immediately, will turn into a more serious plumbing problem.
A leaking water heater can explode in some rare instances. It can save us money and our family’s lives knowing if our water heater is leaking from the top or bottom.
FAQs on Water Heater Leaking From Top or Bottom
Can I fix a leaking water heater myself?
A leaking water heater can be repaired if the cause is a gasket or replaceable component. You cannot fix a leaking water heater if the tank is corroded. Sometimes the leak will stop by using a pipe wrench to tighten all the connections. Every part of a water heater can be replaced by any DIYer.
How long will a water heater last after it starts leaking?
How long a water heater will last after it starts leaking depends on the source of the leak. Tightening a loose connection or replacing a part can stop a leaking water heater. The entire water heater will have to be replaced if the tank is cracked, rusted through, or severely damaged.
Is a leaking water heater an emergency?
A leaking water heater should always be treated like an emergency. Once we diagnose the location of the problem we can decide whether or not it needs to be fixed right away. Ignoring a leaking water heater could potentially be deadly if it explodes.
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We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.
About Plumbing Navigator
We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.