It's no fun to walk into your basement or utility room and discover a puddle of water around your hot water heater. If you find yourself in this situation, it's important to take the right steps to minimize the damage and ensure your family's safety.
1. Shut Off the Water Supply
You need to address the immediate problem before doing anything else. Locate the water shut-off valve, which is typically on the water line feeding into the heater. Turn the knob clockwise to turn off the water. The leak may not stop immediately, since the tank may be full, but no further water will be entering the tank to make the leak worse.
2. Cut the Power
The next step is to cut the power that is heating the water. There are a couple of reasons to do this. First, hot water can be dangerous, and in some cases, leaks are due to the overheating of the water. Another issue is that water leaks and electricity can pose a shock hazard. For electric heaters, turn off the power at the main breaker. You will need to shut the gas valve to cut power to gas-powered heaters.
3. Inspect the Valves
The most common area for a leak is near one of the many valves. First, check the inlet and outlet valves, which are where cold water comes in and hot water goes out, respectively. Often all that is necessary is the replacement of one of these valves to solve the issue. Next, check to see if the water is coming from the overflow valve. This valve is located at the top of the unit but usually has a pipe that routes any water to the ground. If this valve is leaking, high pressure or overheating is the cause of the leak and a plumber will need to assess the cause more closely.
4. Check the Drain
If the valves seem fine, the issue may be with the drain. The drain is typically only opened when the water heater is being served or flushed out for cleaning. In some cases, the drain becomes partially opened from being bumped, or it's not closed completely after servicing. If the drain is closed but still leaking, it may need to be replaced.
5. Look for Cracks
Finally, if none of the above issues seem to the cause of the leak, try to trace where the water is coming from. You may find a crack or holes somewhere in the tank. Often, these are near or on the bottom of the unit. They may form as a result of hard water or corrosion. A cracked tank typically means you need to replace the hot water heater.
For more information, speak with a professional who works with water heaters.