Why Your Water Heater is Leaking from the Top and How to Fix It

Tom Hartelby Tom Hartel
Leaking water heater from the top plumbing repair

If your water heater is going to leak, you certainly don’t want water coming from the bottom of your unit. That’s not to say that a water heater leaking from the top is a good thing, but it is preferable to a bottom leak. But, what’s causing that leak and how can you fix it?

One thing is certain – if you don’t fix the leak, you’re going to see other problems as a result, including possible electrical shorts in your heater and water damage to anything in the immediate vicinity. And don’t think that just because your water heater is leaking that you’re not going to have to replace the entire unit – it could be a simple fix.

The good news is that when you catch your leak quickly, it’s almost always a repairable scenario. Water takes the easiest path of resistance, which means any water coming from the top will travel down the side of the tank, which is what causes the electrical shorts and other water damage problems, which is why you want to call a professional as soon as you see a problem. So, let’s look at some of the most common reasons your water heater is leaking at the top.

Common trouble areas

1) Loose fittings

Look closely at the water inlet and the outlet fittings. This is a common area where water leaks, and you’ll generally see the leak at the point where the fittings meet the water heater. You can take a wrench and try to tighten the fittings. This might completely stop the leak, solving your problem.

Also, corrosion in this area is not uncommon. Corrosion will be best dealt with by replacing the fittings. This is also an easy task unless your fittings are copper, which means they have to be joined with solder, which is almost always a task for a professional plumber.

2) Faulty inlet/outlet valve

If you see water pooling on top of your unit, it’s a good sign that your inlet or outlet pipe are leaking. If you’re lucky, it’s just going to be a loose fitting around the pipe, which means you only have to tighten the nuts that connect to the handle.

If you tighten the nut and you find that the valve is still leaking, it’s probable that the valve itself is now malfunctioning completely and needs replaced.

3) T&P valve

The temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P) is sometimes located on the top of the water heater tank. This is a safety feature that is triggered when there is too much pressure in the tank. Once triggered, steam will escape, allowing the pressure to return to normal.

If you see water leaking from the threads of the valve, you’ll have to remove it and replace it with a new one.

If you’re confident in your abilities to tackle this problem, start by turning off the water supply to the unit and drain the tank until the water is below the level of the valve. You need to get air into the tank, so open up a hot water valve nearby. Take your channel lock tool and unscrew the valve. Give your valve and tank a thorough inspection where you’re looking for corrosion. If you find rust in your unit, it’s time to replace the entire thing.

If your tank is newer, there probably won’t be any corrosion or need to replace the tank, but you will have to wrap the threads of your T&P valve in Teflon tape and put it back on your unit.

Other issues

If your hot water heater is electric, it relies on up to two heating elements to get your water hot. The heating elements extend into the tank and make contact with the water. At the point of entry, gaskets are installed to prevent leaks. However, these gaskets can go bad, which means leaks will occur. To gain access to the gasket, you must remove a cover plate and probably some insulation. But first, turn off the electricity to the heater and turn off the water supply. You must also drain the tank before you can replace the element gasket.

Regardless if your hot water heater is leaking from the top or anywhere else on the unit, Old World Plumbing can get to the root of the problem and get you back up and running in very little time. As the experts in residential plumbing in the Chicago area since 2004, we’re the go-to plumbing professionals for tackling your needs. Call us at (630) 315-0888 and schedule an appointment for one of our highly experienced plumbers to inspect your plumbing system and make the necessary repairs or replacements.

Tom Hartel
President/Author
Tom Hartel

I acquired my expertise by directing day-to-day operations of the business for over 20 years. Continuous hard work helped me become a nationally recognized speaker and expert on plumbing and fire protection systems. In this blog, I share my knowledge that will hopefully help you make better decisions for your homes.

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