Causes and Prevention of Water Heater Leaks and Overflows
There is no doubt that hot water heater leaks or overflows will cause extensive damage to your home, but even a water heater pipe dripping or leaking slowly will cause major water damage over time. As the water becomes absorbed into the particle board and swells, it causes the floor to rot and decay. Moreover, the seemingly small water heater overflow leak could lead to water heater flooding and will eventually cause mold in carpeting as well as permanently stained walls.
Causes of Leaks
The life span of most water heaters is about 8 - 15 years. So, water heater leaks and overflows are just a matter of time for most people. There are different causes for water heater damage and resulting flooding, so the best and simplest solution is to try and avert extensive water damage in the first place. Proper maintenance of your water heater pipes, water heater overflow pan, and water heater overflow valves is extremely important, given the capacity of water heater tank overflows to cause so much water damage. Regular preventative maintenance may ward off water heater leaks and the resulting extensive, expensive repairs.
All water heater pipes and valves must be checked for leaks and drips regularly. Also, make sure to check under the water heater, in case corrosion and rust have eaten away at the bottom of the tank. Continuous water heater leaking into the water heater overflow pan can be caused by corrosion and sediment build up inside the tank. Periodically pouring out some water from the spout at the bottom of the water heater should take care of the sediment and minimize corrosion. Prior to performing this procedure, you should turn off your gas or electric power and wait for your water to cool a little. Also, turn off the valve for incoming water and drain water into a bucket or toward the outside of the house.
The temperature/pressure valve on your water heater is a safety feature to release water if the temperature and pressure in the water tank get to be too high. If the valve is not working properly, the water heater tank may explode. Since water heater valves may be defective or old and may leak, a regular check could expose any such problem before it gets out of hand and causes water heater overflow valve leaking. As you check the valve, keep in mind that the water in the tank is hot and can cause serious burns. When you pull up or push down on the valve and hot water comes out from the overflow pipe, the valve works as intended.
Once you establish a good maintenance schedule for your water heater and regularly check for water heater overflow pipe leaks, you should be able to prevent most water heater leaks and floods. Still, you may want to be proactive and go a step further.
Make sure you have a water heater overflow pan under your tank. They are inexpensive and are a good investment in case of water heater overflows and leaking pipes. The water heater pan should capture water and prevent moisture problems by draining water away.
Another step you may choose to take if you have particleboard under and around your water heater, would be to remove it and install plywood instead. Particleboard can be easily damaged with water, but plywood is more resistant. You may also want to use a water sealant on the floor under the water heater tank to protect the area from any possible water damage in case of a water heater pipe bursting, dripping or leaking. If you choose to take this step, please make sure to turn off your gas or electric power to prevent a fire hazard.
What to do when you spot a water heater overflow
Sometimes, you’ll be able to spot a water heater overflow at its early stages. If this happens, you can take immediate action and contain the damage before calling for help. These are the basic steps:
- Put on protective clothing – Make sure to wear rubber boots, gloves and goggles. If water is gushing out from the heater, wear a vest or a raincoat for an extra layer of safety.
- Survey the area carefully – Make sure that the water on your floor isn’t hot enough to scaldyou. A room full of steam is a red flag. Make sure there’s good visibility and check carefully for power outlets or electrical wires that may have been submerged to avoid the possibility of getting shocked.
- Shut off the water supply – Look for the cold water pipe that feeds water to the heater. It should be the pipe that comes from the main water line and goes to the top of the heating chamber. Look for the valve that controls water flow and turn it clockwise until it won’t twist anymore. Normally, the water supply shuts itself off when the tank is full, but since a leak results in a tank that never fills up, the water will keep on running until it’s manually shut off.
- Turn off the heating ASAP – If the water overflow is caused by a malfunctioning thermostat, the water isn’t the only thing you should be concerned about. The heating element will not shut itself down, making it waste energy or even possibly start a fire. As the homeowner, you should know what powers your heater: electricity or natural gas. If your heater runs on electricity, go to your breaker box and flip the switch that feeds power to the heater. If you use gas, shut off the gas line that supplies the heater. If you smell the scent of gas, make sure to get everyone out of the house until the air is cleared.
- Document the incident – Take photos of parts of your home and its furnishings that may have been damaged by water. Take notes on what happened as you recall the events. This will be instrumental in filing a successful insurance claim.
- Call for professional water damage cleanup services - Water damage can be a nightmare to contend with after a water heater overflow. If done incorrectly, it leaves behind a musty smell and it can permanently damage your home’s structure and the items in it. Bacteria and fungi can also fester and pose a hazard to your home’s inhabitants.