Leaky Water Heater – Repair or Replace?

leaky water heater repairIf you own your house long enough, the odds are you’ll have a leaky water heater. It may happen sooner rather than later, in fact. Forty percent of all new water heaters will be leaking within 9 years and 75% will have failed by the 12-year mark.

While the standard storage tank water heater is not particularly long-lived, not all water heater leaks are an omen that total tank failure—and expensive water damage that accompanies it—are imminent. Here’s how to tell the difference between a needed routine repair and an urgent replacement.

Dribbling T & P Valve

The temperature and pressure relief valve (T & P) is screwed into the upper side or top of the water heater tank. It’s recognizable by its spring-loaded lever for manually testing valve operation. As a safety function in case the water heater overheats, the valve opens to release water and pressure, then closes again. If the unit is not overheating, intermittent dribbling from the T & P usually indicates that mineral deposits are interfering with proper sealing of the valve. In other cases, water may seep out around the threads of the valve. A qualified plumber can diagnose and repair a leaky T & P by installing a new valve. Replacement of the entire water heater is usually not required.

Leaky Drain Valve

The drain valve at the bottom of the unit facilitates draining and flushing the tank. On occasion the valve may also begin dripping even though it is securely closed. The valve resembles a standard faucet and it’s a simple replacement for any plumber.

Leaking Tank

Water dripping from the lower portion or bottom of the tank, often noticed as pooling on the floor around the water heater, is a red flag that warns of impending tank failure. Internal corrosion triggered by layers of mineral deposits in the bottom of the tank causes leakage and, eventually, total rupture of the tank. This is a non-repairable condition and requires replacement of the water heater, ASAP. Costs to remediate home water damage from a major water heater tank rupture average over $3,500.

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