Water Heater Is Leaking

Del Hake

Water heater drip pan, installed at the same time as the water heater, catches drips. This should be piped to a drain. Buy a water heater drip pan on Amazon.

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Is your hot water heater leaking? If water pools at the base of your water heater or drips from the hot water tank, follow these steps for easy diagnosis and repair.

A leaking water heater can indicate any of several problems, ranging from loose valves to a corroded water tank. In fact, water pooling around your heater does not always indicate a leak—it can be the result of condensation. Here we will walk you through the appropriate steps to take if you see drips or pooling around your water heater.

The first and most obvious step is to determine whether water is dripping, spraying, or flooding. We’ll begin with the worst of these: spraying or flooding. If your water heater is dripping or flooding, skip down the page.

If your water heater has flooded and damaged flooring or other parts of your home, be sure to investigate the coverage of your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Water Is Spraying or Flooding from Pipes or Water Heater

If water is spraying from pipes near the water heater or flooding from the water heater itself, water pressure in the pipes or from the water tank is probably involved. The supply pipes delivering water to the water heater are leaking at their connections, the pipes themselves are leaking, or there is a leak inside the water heater tank.

©HomeTips

Lever valve controls supply to water heater. Note the red main supply valve in the background.

If water is spraying from the pipes that supply the water heater,  immediately turn off the valve that controls the flow of water to the entire house, normally located near where the cold water pipe enters (the valve is typically outside in warm climates, inside in cold climates). See How to Shut Off the Water Supply.

In some cases, the shut-off valve is located on a pipe right before the water heater and may have a red handle. To turn it off, rotate the handle clockwise or, if it is a lever like the one shown in the photo at right, pull the lever 90 degrees. If water is spraying from the water heater, turn off the supply valve above the water heater. If there is no supply valve for the water heater, shut off the house’s water supply valve.

If the leak is coming from the fittings or pipes, please see How to Fix Water Pipe Leaks & Problems.

Leaks from the hot water tank. Water heaters have limited life spans; it’s possible that your tank has become corroded. If that’s the case, the water heater should be replaced by a water heater repair person.

Attach a hose to the water heater's drain valve and empty the tank.©HomeTips

Attach a hose to the water heater’s drain valve and empty the tank.

But the first thing to do is to empty the hot water from it! Drain the water heater as explained in the article How to Flush a Water Heater, but skip step number 2 because you won’t be able to wait for the water to cool. Water should flow through the hose until the tank is empty.

Caution: Be careful when emptying a hot water heater—the water may be hot enough to scald you.

Leaks from water heater’s heating element gasket. On electric water heaters, leaks can spring from heating element gaskets. Turn off the electrical power, shut down your water supply, and drain all the water out of the heater before replacing the gasket as described above. Also, before turning the power back on, be sure to turn on the water supply to the heater and run hot water into a sink in your house to release air from the water heater tank. Failure to do so could destroy your heating element. 

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Electric and Gas Storage Water Heater Diagrams

Water Is Dripping from the Water Heater

If water is dripping from the water heater, determine where the drip is coming from. A couple of the most obvious sources of a drip are the pressure-relief valve and the drain valve. Less obvious leaks may be coming from condensation or from leaky fittings (see above for dealing with leaky fittings).

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Replace defective pressure-relief valve.

Leaking temperature-pressure relief valve. It’s quite common for water to be dripping from the temperature-pressure (TP) relief valve, which is designed to release water when it senses excess pressure. Excess pressure can be caused by the temperature being set too high, by the main water supply pressure to your house being too strong, or by special valves that reduce water pressure in your water supply system not allowing for hot water expansion in the tank.

In some cases, the TP relief valve itself may be faulty—if it is, it will need to be replaced right away. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions on what to do and see How to Replace a Water Heater Pressure-Relief Valve, or contact a plumber who works with water heaters.  A working TP valve is absolutely necessary to prevent excessive build-up of steam that could cause a water heater tank to explode.

Drips from water heater drain valve. You can take care of some water leaks simply by tightening the drain valve. If the valve itself is defective, you will need to replace it.

Condensation drips. In many cases, condensation forms when cold water fills the tank and then the condensation drips down. If the problem appears when the tank is first filled or during chilly seasons (when incoming water is particularly cold) but then disappears when the water has had a chance to warm up, this usually indicates condensation.

On gas water heaters, condensation can also come from the vent. Check for obstructions in the vent. If you find any, shut off the water heater and clean out the flue. If the problem persists, call a plumber or water heater repair pro.

Here is a helpful video that guides you through the process of troubleshooting and dealing with a leaking water heater:


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Join the Conversation

  • Steven

    I had a new water tank fitted 2 weeks ago. I now have a leak from the mains pipe.
    Plumber told me that he noticed corrosion when putting in tank but didn’t replace the pipe!!
    Now trying to charge me for taking rank out, draining it, fixing pipe then putting tank back in!!
    Is this right?
    Any help appreciated

    • abinc

      No, that is not right. Call a couple of other plumbing contractors and say something like, “My water heater is leaking and I think it needs to be replaced. I see corrosion on the cold water pipe. What do you recommend and how much will it cost?” See what they say and take notes. Chances are they will say that the first thing to do is to check the pipe, NOT replace the tank. Then call your plumber back and tell him that a good contractor would check for the reason for the leak before taking your money. If it is possible that your leak was due to the pipe, not the tank, then the plumber might be liable for fraud or at least bad business practice. If the tank DID need replacing, and he did not tell you about the pipe, then that is definitely unethical. You can tell him you will pay for the cost of materials, but that if he does not finish the job properly — without added labor charge, you’ll contact the contractor’s license board, the Better Business Bureau and — if the cost is significant — file a claim against him in small claims court.

      • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

        ABInc, Thanks for your excellent reply!

  • jitterbugsandy

    I have a slow drip in a pipe above my water heater that needs to be fixed. The water heater turned off for two days to dry out when we discovered it. The township I live in just had a company come in and replace my water meter and he turned the pressure all the way up and I feel that did it. Anyways we just replaced some plumbing and remembered that cutting off the water still gives you a small amount you cannot stop. We just take a slice of white bread with no crust and shove it up the pipe and it buys enough time to flux and seal. After the bread flushes out when I turn water back on. I don’t think I should have bread in my water heater. Any ideas?

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      That is a classic plumber’s trick for soldering pipes. I wouldn’t worry about a little bread in the water. Makes for a complete meal. :)

  • lesley

    I have an ELBA electric water heater, it is leaking badly

    can anyone tell me, if

    1. does my heater have an inner tank that we can repair or anything
    2. I cannot see any usual holes where the water is actually leaking from, it just runs down from a few places.

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      You’re probably due for a new water heater. Leaks that are not coming from fittings or pipes usually indicate a corroding tank.

  • asoldiercanoff

    Have a 20 gal electric and owner wants me to take inner tank out for repair since newer ones are too big to fit under the floor of his houseboat. Can’t find anything on removing it tho. Got the lid off and looking at a field of foam on the top now. Looks like this is about to get messy. Is what I want to do even possible? Thanks.

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Wow, that sounds like a real pain. I would keep looking for one that is the right size. How about tankless? Seems to me that tankless might work pretty well on a houseboat where you’re unlikely to have several showers going at the same time.

      • asoldiercanoff

        Thanks for the reply and yes, real pain but fortunately avoided. I found there is nothing that will soften/remove spray foam so the inner tank isn’t going anywhere, so I removed the bottom lid and huh…the inner tank looks intact anyway. I came to the conclusion to redo the outlet pipes with new pipe dope, especially the drain since the leak appeared to be coming from the threads there, and then figure out how to do a pressure check without reinstalling under the houseboat. Not sure if I mentioned a tankless to him, but will regardless. Seems logical in this day and age where a boat only has x amount of potable water after it leaves the dock anyway, so it makes perfect sense to save it where possible.

  • JONATHAN

    Hello i have a question the water heater i have
    is a gas 40 + gallon heater and it has a large water leak coming out from behind the box with the dials i was wondering if it can get fixed or does the water heater have to be replaced

  • mehta4813

    the last two days has been very cold and it seems like my water heater is leaking water. I have an a o smith GPS 75 200 200 water heater. First I thought it could be the condensation since i saw the water coming out of the vent pipe. I cleaned it up but it appeared that the inside insulation got wet and the water heater was not firing up. I turned it off, turn the cold water off, drained the water and let if off over night. Then I turned it on the next morning and it came on. I left it on and the next day I see a puddle of water at the bottom of the tank. It appears that the water was coming from the cold water inlet. Q: I do not know what is going on with my water heater, but would like to know do i need to replace the water heater? thanks for your help.

  • Melinda

    My water heater is making a hissing sound no leaks anywhere on the water heater. The was
    Water heater is inside the house and the drain pipe is outside. It is leaking hot water. Any suggestions?

  • Diane Day

    I have a 40 gal electric heater. I noticed the floor in the cellar was damp around the heater but surprisingly it dried up when my family descended at my house and there were showers, laundry and dishes being washed. Now that they are gone and there’s just myself the water is back. Is this an issue of pressure or was water being used so quickly that drips just didn’t happen

  • Michele

    Water is leaking from the big silver pipes attached to the top of my water heater, it isn’t heating the water as of two days ago. Could the leak have extinguished the pilot light?

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Michele, I’m guessing you’ve fixed this by now. If water is leaking above the water heater (and the leak is not condensation), you should have a plumber check it out.

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