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Why Is My Water Heater Leaking? A Michigan Plumber Explains

Do you notice water leaking from your water heater? Don’t wait for the leak to get worse. Even a small amount of water can eventually cause bigger problems.

The source of the leak can be coming from a few places, such as:

  • The cold and hot water inlet/outlet connections
  • The temperature and pressure relief valve
  • The drain valve
  • The tank itself

We’ll take a closer look at each of these components (including where they’re located) and how you can go about addressing the leak.

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Source #1: The cold water inlet & hot water outlet connections

If your water heater is leaking from the top, the cold water inlet and the hot water outlet connections could be the source.

During normal operation, your cold water inlet allows incoming cold water from your home’s main water line to enter your water heater. Once the cold water is heated, your hot water outlet feeds the hot water into your home.

The inlet/outlet connections can eventually go bad or become loose and cause a leak.

The cold water inlet and hot water outlet on water heater

The cold water inlet & hot water outlet on your tank

The fix: If you think the inlet/outlet connections are the source of the leak, you can simply use a wrench to tighten them up. If the leak continues, you may need to contact a professional to repair the leak for you.

Source #2: The temperature & pressure relief valve

Your temperature & pressure relief (TPR) valve can be found on either the top or the side of your tank. The TPR valve serves as a safety device that prevents your tank from bursting.

If the water becomes too hot and an excessive amount of pressure has built-up, the TPR valve will automatically drain some hot water out of the tank. Releasing hot water decreases the pressure and temperature inside the tank.

An example of TPR valve and discharge line

An example of your T&P valve and discharge line

The TPR valve connects to a vertical pipe (the discharge pipe) that runs down the side of your tank. So, If you see water leaking from the top of the tank, the valve connection at the top may be the source. But, if it’s leaking from the discharge pipe, it could be either discharging water due to pressure build-up, or the valve itself is faulty.

If the leak is coming from the top, you can try tightening the valve yourself. If that doesn’t stop the leak you’ll need to call a professional. If the leak is coming from the discharge pipe, refer to the fix below.

The fix: The best thing to do in this case is call a professional right away. A TPR valve that’s discharging hot water is a sign that your pressure levels are dangerously high. If ignored, your water heater could burst and lead to significant damage and repair costs.

Source #3: The drain valve

Your drain valve is at the bottom of the tank. During normal operation, the drain valve is used to drain water out of the tank when the time comes to maintain or replace your water heater.

Note: Your tank water heater should be drained on a regular basis to remove any sediment that’s been collected over time. This process is known as “flushing”.

Your water heater drain valve

If you notice water leaking from the drain valve, first check the connection between the valve and the tank. The connection should be watertight.

If you do notice water leaking from your drain valve, it means your valve is faulty, or sediment build-up has affected the seal.

The fix: Try tightening the valve by hand. If the valve feels a little stubborn, use a wrench. If the nozzle continues to drip, the drain valve is faulty and you’ll need a plumber to replace it for you.

Source #4: The tank

Typically, a leak coming from the tank itself is due to the collection of sediment that we mentioned earlier. By not regularly flushing your tank, you’re allowing sediment to build up inside the tank.

Over time, the sediment buildup can cause other internal issues, which eventually leads to corrosion.

If you have regularly flushed your tank, the leak may be due to age and deterioration. Generally, most water heaters last anywhere from 8 - 12 years.

The fix: Typically, if the tank is leaking, it means the water heater needs to be replaced. You can either contact a professional to try and diagnose/repair the leak or have them replace the tank.

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