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6 Causes of a Leaking Water Heater: Prevention and Repair Tips

water heater

Hot water heaters are a vital part of your home, and as long as they’re in good working order, they can keep an entire household well-supplied and high functioning. With that said, if they begin to deteriorate and leak, this can result in heavy damage to your home, your property’s structure, the health of your basement, and even your everyday life. 

That makes it important to understand what exactly causes hot water heaters to leak in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC. By spotting the warning signs, understanding what factors contribute to this, and learning how to stop the leaks, you can protect your home and your ability to even wash dishes. 

6 Causes of a Leaking Hot Water Heater

A leaking water heater is not something to be taken lightly. If neglected, it can cause water damage to your floors, warp your basement walls, and allow mold to fester. In extreme cases, leaking water heaters can be dangerous to keep in the home. What led to your hot water heater becoming dysfunctional to begin with?   

1. Rusted Connections and Valves  

Basements, especially in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC, tend to accumulate moisture due to the high humidity levels and heavy rain during the winter months. This moisture can cause rust to form on your water heater’s connections and valves, which can result in loose or faulty parts. 

The pipes that supply cold water and hot water to and from your water heater can become loose or worn down due to rust formation, resulting in a leak. The type of water supply tubing also determines if your water heater is prone to leakage. Some water heaters have rigid water pipes, whereas others have flexible water tubes. Flexible water supply tubes tend to develop rust and wear out faster than rigid water pipes do. This can result in loose connections in your water heater, causing leakage. 

On a similar note, the drain valve may also be loose or faulty due to rusting. The drain valve is responsible for draining the water supply from inside the water heater tank. This is typically done manually, so a normally functioning drain valve should not have any water leaking from it. Water leaking from your water heater’s drain valve is indicative of either a loose drain valve or a faulty one that must be replaced.  

2. Collection of Sediment  

Sediment is a mineral that is formed naturally from heated water. Over long periods of time and repeated water heating, this sediment can build up at the bottom of your water heater. This sediment buildup contributes to the “hardness” of your water over time. Although this is not necessarily dangerous, it can ruin your water heater’s integrity and its ability to warm your water effectively. 

A surplus of sediment inside your water heater can deteriorate and corrode your tank. This corrosion can damage your water heater from within, causing it to leak and possibly flood your basement. It can also discolor your home’s water supply.  

3. Anode Rod is Corroded 

The anode rod is a thin, steel-colored rod that is usually located at the top of your water heater. It is responsible for absorbing any corrosive materials or particles in your water. This helps prevent these materials from corroding your water heater, protecting it from leaks. 

However, the anode rod can become corroded with time. Corrosion of the anode rod can indicate one (or more) of several issues: 

  • A heating element in the water heater is deteriorating. 
  • Other parts of the water heater are broken. 
  • There’s excess sediment collecting at the bottom of your tank. 
  • Rust, a common problem in basements, may also hasten the anode rod wearing down. 

A corroded anode rod is unable to function properly. As a result, this can allow corrosive materials into your water supply. The accumulation of these materials, alongside the possible collection of sediment, brings damage to your water heater. With time, the corrosion can cause the machine to leak.    

4. Excess Water Pressure or Temperature 

Steam and water that become too hot may cause pressure buildup in water tanks. Pressure buildup can cause water to leak out through any crack, holes, or loose connections. While it is normal for a water heater to retain a certain amount of pressure and temperature to function properly, an excess can be dangerous. 

The role of the temperature and pressure relief valve, also known as the T&P valve, is to control the temperature and pressure within the water heater. When the water heater is experiencing high water pressure or temperatures, the T&P valve relieves this pressure and heat by allowing some water to drain. The T&P valve will continue to leak if your water heater is constantly under excess water pressure and temperature, or it may even be faulty. 

It may be tempting to increase the hot water during extremely cold months, especially since you can just set it and forget. However, this will just induce your water heater to leak and even result in basement floods if you are not careful. 

5. Internal Leaks  

Leaks from the internal water heater tanks can eventually cause external leaks. A water heater is made up of two layers. The part you are able to see is the external metal shell that contains both of these inner two layers. The innermost shell contains the water. It is surrounded by an insulating material to retain the water’s warmth. 

Internal leaks can be difficult to see from the outside, but they can do great damage to your water heater. They can ruin the insulating layer, preventing your water heater from functioning as it should. Homeowners may be able to identify an internal water heater leak if they notice their water is not being heated enough. If left unfixed, internal leaks can cause water to pool at the bottom of your water heater. You may then be facing larger issues, such as basement flooding.    

6. Old Tank  

Old tanks are prone to leakage. Regular wear and tear can cause your water heater to leak or even cause your basement to flood. Most homeowners are not aware that they need to replace their water heater until, unfortunately, their basement is flooded. 

3 Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is Leaking (Or About to)

You do not want to get caught in the winter without a properly functioning water heater. Even in the summer, it’s crucial for washing clothes, doing the dishes, and taking a shower without getting the chills. The problem is, if your hot water heater begins to leak, you may not notice right away. Instead, you need to rely on problem signs cropping up around your home. These can clue you in to the fact that your hot water heater needs help—and fast: 

1. Floor and Wall Cracks 

Many homeowners in North Carolina tend to neglect their basements because these spaces aren’t used often. Because of that, a leaking hot water heater may get ignored until the water damage begins to affect the basement floors and walls. Over time, this can result in cracks and warping, even if you don’t notice the water itself. 

2. Damp Basement Walls and Floors  

The middle of the year and the latter half of summer tends to be the wettest months in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC. Both of these cities also tend to have high humidity levels year-round. This can make it difficult to pinpoint the source of damp walls and floors in your basement, especially since basements are vulnerable to leakage from heavy rain. High humidity levels can further exacerbate this problem, as it delays water from drying.   

If the dampness seems to be the most prominent near your water heater, there is a high likelihood that your water heater is leaking. You may also find standing water near the machine or condensation on the walls. 

3. Mold  

Mold is the most common sign of a leaking water heater. Even before this affects the rest of your basement, the water can let fungi and mold flourish in a damp, wet environment. You can look for signs around the water heater itself, but also in any corners, underneath the flooring, or alongside support beams. 

5 Ways to Prevent and Repair a Leaking Hot Water Heater  

Replacing a water heater and fixing basement floods can be quite costly, but this can be avoided with proper maintenance. Routine care of your water heater is essential to preventing leakage, stretching the longevity of your water heater and saving you money in the long run. Do not wait until it is too late to save your water heater. Here are some ways you can prevent leaking in the future: 

1. Flushing Out Your Water Heater  

water heater in damp basement

Many homeowners are not aware that their water heaters must be routinely maintained. It is recommended to flush out your water heater once every year, at minimum, to prevent sediment collection. You may have to flush your water heater out more often, depending on how fast sediment collects in your tank. The hardness of the water in your home is an indicator of sediment buildup in your water heater tank. 

Flushing out your water heater may seem simple enough, but many homeowners make the common mistake of letting the water supply drain too close to their home’s foundation. They may also accidentally drain water back into their basement. These can make way for many other hazardous and costly problems. 

It is best to leave this to the experts. They will also be able to inspect any other potential damage in your foundation, basement, or crawl space as well. 

2. Maintaining Water Connections and Valves

You also want to check the water supply connections and valves on your water heater. The most important spots to check are the: 

  • Cold-water inlet 
  • Hot-water outlet 
  • Water supply tubing 
  • Drain valve 
  • The temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P valve) 

Much like the water heater itself, T&P valves also experience wear and tear over time. They last, on average, about five years before needing to be changed. Ensuring that these connections and valves are in good shape every now and then will help prevent water heater leaks in the long term. The best approach is to schedule a routine inspection with a professional, so they can ensure your tank is properly maintained and that any red flags are caught early. 

You may have to repair your basement if your leaking water heater has already caused damage. Fortunately, there are plenty of solutions that can restore your basement and prevent further problems from occurring.  

3. Basement Crack Repairs and Interior Waterproofing 

Floor and wall cracks caused by your leaking water heater are extremely unsightly. They can also be dangerous if left alone long enough because they can harbor bacteria, mold, and pests. They can even result in floods inside your home. You want to get these cracks repaired right away. 

A professional will be able to repair the damage to your basement, while also directing excess water out from your floors and walls. With the installation of an interior drainage system and sump pump, future flooding will not only be cleared out before it can lead to damage. It can even be prevented.  

4. Basement Wall Systems  

Basement care tends to be on the bottom of your priority list because it seems unimportant. While that isn’t usually the case, by sealing up this area of your home with encapsulation and waterproofing measures, you can have more faith in your basement’s ability to care for itself. 

The WallSeal™ Wall Vapor Barrier is one such solution. These waterproof, antimicrobial layers have a clean look that resists water vapor and mold buildup, protects against flooding, reduces musty basement smells, and makes it more difficult for pests to get inside. 

Waterproofing your basement walls has more than one benefit—and these benefits are not limited to your basement. By preventing water damage, waterproofed areas help level your home’s floors and retain your home’s temperature. That can even lower your energy bills. 

5. Seek Help from the Experts 

Knowing the causes of a leaking hot water heater is a good starting point toward a solution, but more action needs to be taken if you want to protect your home from the negative consequences. The damages can add up and cost a homeowner thousands of dollars. By getting in contact with local experts, you can reduce this by a considerable amount. 

You may be tempted to fix the wet basement conditions left behind by a leaking water heater yourself, but this can be very dangerous. The experts at Tar Heel Basement Systems are well equipped with quality tools and the appropriate knowledge to examine and fix the problem safely and efficiently. No homeowner deserves to suffer from the damage a leaking hot water heater can bring. Contact us to schedule a free basement inspection. We provide written quotes and no obligation to book repairs through us. This gives you the peace of mind you need to safeguard your home without breaking your bank.

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Leaking Hot Water Heater FAQs

As unfortunate as it is, your water heater is not built to last forever, even when maintained and cared for properly. That said, it is important to note that the lifespan of your water heater depends on what kind of water heater it is. There are two main types: electric water heaters and gas water heaters. 

Electric vs. Gas Water Heaters 

The most common method you can employ to help you determine what type of water heater you have is by looking for a small blue flame inside your water heater. This is called the pilot light. You can find this pilot light by opening the access panel found on the side of your water heater. If you peer inside and find a pilot light, you have a gas water heater. If you do not find a pilot light, you have an electric heater. 

You can also look for electric or gas pipes. An electric water heater will have an electric supply cord that extends from the top or the side. It is usually thick, and black or gray in color. A gas water heater will have a gas pipe that extends from the bottom of the tank. It is thinner than an electric supply cord and typically black. 

Longevity of Electric and Gas Water Heaters 

The average gas water heater lasts between eight to 12 years before needing to be replaced. In contrast, the average electric water heater lasts for about 10 to 15 years. This lifespan can be shortened if the water heater is not well cared for or if it has experienced any other external damages. 

It is natural for your appliances to experience wear and tear over time. This is not something homeowners can avoid. As expensive as it can be, replacement of worn-down appliances is safer and more cost-effective in the long term, because it can protect against future damages down the road. 

Many homeowners are unaware of the dangers that a leaking water heater can bring. The most dangerous results from a leaking water heater are water damage, mold, and potential fires or explosions. 

Water Damage and Mold 

Water damage can affect both your home and the inhabitants who live inside. Prolonged water damage can stain walls and floors, weaken your home’s structure and foundation, corrode your pipes, and damage electrical systems. Moisture can also bring about unpleasant odors and allow mold, pests, and harmful fungi or bacteria to fester. The consequences of water damage can be very dangerous, as it can pave the way for floods, further breakage, and potential illness or injury.   

Mold thrives in moisture. You want to act fast if you find mold in your home. Mold can be detrimental to your health, particularly to those who are already sensitive to allergens in the environment or have pre-existing health conditions. By getting your leaking hot water heater fixed, and repairing the damage it left behind, you can avoid symptoms like: 

  • Itchy or watery eyes 
  • Itchy or red skin 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Wheezing 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Upper respiratory infections 
  • Development or exacerbation of asthma 
  • Allergic reactions 
  • Fever  

Potential Fires or Explosions 

Leaking is particularly more dangerous if you have an electric water heater. This is because water can spark an electrical fire. If any leaking water reaches the water heater’s electrical units, it can cause them to short circuit. In the most extreme cases, water heaters can explode. 

The average water heater packs the same amount of energy as 50 grams of TNT or a military MKII hand grenade. Making sure that your temperature and pressure relief valve is working properly and not leaking is extremely important. Not only does it control the temperature and pressure of the water inside your water heater, but it also protects you and your home. If the pressure inside a water heater builds up enough, there is a small chance that it can cause fire damage (as well as water damage) to your home.

There are many measures homeowners can take to prevent extreme water heater leaks. However, the typical homeowner does not possess the appropriate tools or have the experience to correct leaking water heaters safely and properly. Working with a water heater when one does not know what to do can be very dangerous.   

Dangers of DIY Water Heater Fixes 

If the leak has not already damaged your home, tampering with your water heater without the proper knowledge will certainly seal that deal. DIY fixing your water heater can damage it even more, which may have even worse consequences than if you left it alone. You may cause the leak to worsen or a hose to burst, resulting in water damage and flooding. 

Fires can easily happen if you don’t take serious precautions around your water heater. This goes for both electric and gas kinds. If any water reaches the wrong electric unit in an electric water heater, you can spark an electrical fire. On the other hand, fiddling with gas heaters may cause gas leaks. You can inhale an unhealthy amount of gas or trigger a fire if you let any of the water heater’s flames reach the gas leak. That makes it better to leave this to the professionals. 

Try a Dehumidifier 

Dehumidifiers are great tools in your home arsenal to have if you are experiencing a leaking water heater. Even if your leak gets fixed, it can help prevent odors and mold from forming, and therefore, pests and harmful bacteria. You do not want to fall victim to the rainy season and humidity in Raleigh and Winston-Salem, NC. 

The dehumidifier Tar Heel Basement Systems installs is powerful and energy-efficient and can be installed right in your basement. It is more powerful than dehumidifiers that you can purchase at the store and effectively mitigates musty odors, mold, and water damages by controlling the moisture and humidity levels effectively. 

Michael Wilcher

Michael Wilcher

Michael Wilcher is the Content Lead at Groundworks, helping us to answer all of our customers biggest questions about foundation repair, basement waterproofing, crawl space encapsulation, and concrete lifting. In his free time, Michael enjoys collecting vinyl records, watching Formula 1 Racing, and reading philosophy. He holds an MPhil from the University of Cambridge.

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