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Understanding When A Leaking Water Heater Can And Cannot Be Repaired

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Water heaters will generally last between about six to ten years with electric models lasting a few years longer than natural gas varieties, and there are some common signs that your water heater is in desperate need of replacement. An appliance that you see surrounded by water on the floor may be one of these signs. It also may be a sign that a repair can be made. Keep reading to figure out when you should and should not fix the appliance.

When Is A Water Heater Replacement Needed?

The need for a water heater replacement will depend on where the appliance is leaking. If the water heater is leaking from the tank itself, then a replacement is needed. If the water has recently started to leak, then you likely have a small pinhole leak. Run your hand around the bottom lip of the water heater to feel for a rough patch on the tank's surface. Rust typically forms from the inside of the tank outward.

As the enamel coating on the tank starts to wear away, pitting forms. This kind of rust will be patchy and rough. Streaks of rust around the perimeter of the tank as well as enamel that appears as though it has been stained brown or red are signs of a deteriorated tank and a hole. Deterioration will continue, the hole will build, and the tank will eventually fail completely. A timely replacement is better than waiting for failure and allowing a water heater to pour water onto the floor until you notice that there is an issue.

When Can A Repair Be Made?

Valve Leaks

A hole in the actual tank is typically the only type of situation where the entire water heater needs to be replaced. There are several situations where a repair will need to be made instead. In some cases, the drain valve will leak water. This is a common issue that occurs with gate valves and diaphragm valves, like the ones inside the drain on the bottom of the water heater. Both types of valves allow you to raise and lower a metal gate or diaphragm that controls the flow of water. Unfortunately, the gate itself can corrode and allow small amounts of water through. You will see water dripping from the drain spigot when this happens. You can replace the spigot and valve or ask your plumber to do this. Invest in a ball valve when you complete the fix. These valves are much more durable. 

Pressure Release Valve Issues

Leaking water will sometimes be the result of water coming out of the pressure release valve. This valve is supposed to allow water to release from the tank if the pressure or water level rises beyond a safe level. While these valves are supposed to open and close on their own, the valve will sometimes remain open. This happens if minerals from your hard water have happened to accumulate around the valve and force it to stay in the open position. If the pressure release valve is malfunctioning, you will typically see water coming out of the valve and dripping down the side of the water tank onto the floor.

Heating Element Problems

Water heaters may also form a leak around the area where the heating element screws into the water heater. This is possible if you have an appliance where the element is placed in the side of the tank instead of the top. If you notice water leaking out of the side of the tank where a cover is screwed into the side, then this is likely the case. The thermostat on the tank and the wiring that attaches the thermostat to the heating element will sit behind the cover. This type of leaking issue can cause a short in the water heater. Flip the breaker for the device immediately and contact a water heater or plumbing professional.