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Water heater woes and DIY diagnosis

Filed Under: fix-it, plumbing

There's a damp patch in my garage. I've been in denial for a long time, telling myself it's probably caused by rainwater seeping through the garage's concrete foundation. However, the patch has gotten bigger...and bigger. Meanwhile, there's been no rain for at least a week now. Time to face facts: I may have a leaking water heater. Bah!

Looking on the bright side, I might be able to fix this problem myself and avoid shelling out precious dollars for a plumber. (Please, oh, please!) Off I go to look for advice on the Web. Here' s what I found most useful:

Sites to check out:
  • Home Tips is an ideal starting point, with a for-beginners-style intro to tank repair, and a ton of other problem-solving articles.

Here's how to diagnose a water heater leak:
  • First, know that routine maintenance is strongly suggested. Water heaters should be checked regularly for leaks. (Okaaay...)
  • Second, get up close and personal with your tank to identify the source of the leak. Use a ladder to obtain a good closeup view up top. Crawl around on the floor and feel the underneath of the tank.
  • Third, consider condensation. Don't crack our your toolkit or call a plumber before you've ruled out condensation as a cause of the dampness. During winter, cold water enters the tank, which causes condensation to form on the tank's exterior. That moisture can eventually seep downward onto the floor, prompting many a homeowner to freak out and call a plumber unnecessarily. Here's how you'll know it's only condensation: quit using hot water for a while (ideally, a few hours) then come back and take another look. If the drips have dwindled, relax: you've probably found your culprit.
  • Fourth, if water is coming from your temperature/pressure relief valve, call a plumber. This could be serious.
  • Fifth, carefully examine all the seams of the tank, especially around valves and pipes. You may be able to fix a leak yourself if it involves only the gentle tightening of a nut. If the tank itself is leaking, however, the tank has probably corroded. This is bad, very bad. You will probably have to have the tank replaced.
As for my own water heater? Here's an update: the diagnosis was leaking caused by corrosion where both the hot and cold water pipes connect to the tank. (See photo above.) I don't mind admitting I'm too scaredy-cat to try and fix it myself. I just called the plumber. Goodbye, lovely money!


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