What to do if Your Water Heater Leaks


UPDATED: NOV 2019 | 3 MIN READ

A tank water heater can contain anywhere between 23 to 56 gallons of water, or more. It is possible that the water heater may fail, and all that water is now in your basement, or closet or attic. In fact, it’s probably the most common source of water damage in a home. But what should you do if your water heater leaks? 

This guide will give you tools to navigate a leaky water heater, including home insurance issues. 

Stop the Source

If you have an electric tank, you will want to shut off the power supply to the water heater. If you have a gas water heater, turn off the gas. 

Next, stop more water from pouring out. The cold water turn off valve is near the top of the tank, but if you can’t find it, or it’s out of reach, you can turn off the main water line to your home. This will stop the tank from refilling and help identify the source of the leak. 

If the leak stops after you turn off the water, you are likely looking at a leak in the supply lines to the water heater. If turning off the water valve doesn’t stop the flow, you may have issues with the tank itself. If water continues to leak after the valve is off, it won’t stop until the tank is empty. It could be a slow drip, or it could be a more rapid loss of water. 

If you have a slow drip:

Buckets should be enough to help prevent further water damage and allow time to call a plumber. The plumber should be able to identify and repair the source of the leak. They can also drain the tank for you if necessary. 

If water is gushing out of the heater, you can drain it manually to prevent more damage.

  1. Grab a garden hose and hook it up to the valve at the bottom.
  2. Put the other end of the hose outside or in a large container.
  3. Turn on the valve. This may be a turn handle like an outdoor spigot, or it could be a small screw that needs to be turned.
  4. Once the valve is on, run any faucet in your home hot water.

This will flush your tank faster in a more controlled manner and prevent further water damage from a leak. 

Dry it Out

After the leak is stopped, and hopefully repaired. You may be left with a lot of water to clean up. This job is more than a couple of towels can handle. This is a job for professionals. Water mitigation companies are in the business of getting water out of your home. Letting the water sit for any length of time can lead to more issues like mold growth. Mold growth can not only cause health issues, but cause problems with any insurance claim. 

A water mitigation company has the equipment necessary to vacuum out gallons of water in a matter of minutes. They also have instruments to measure the wetness of building materials and more equipment to dry out everything that is wet. If the water heater is in a basement, collateral damage to building materials may be minimal. However, water heaters located on the ground floor or higher can present other problems if it leaks. The water will saturate building materials like walls and floors and flow downward. The water mitigation company will make sure that anything damaged by water is dried out. If it cannot be dried out, it will be thrown away. y

Will Insurance Cover the Damages?

The issue of whether the insurance company will cover and pay for the damages depends on the specific provisions of your policy. In general, if the water damage was sudden and unpredictable, the insurance company will likely cover the cost of cleanup, repairs to building materials and replacement of personal property. However, insurance usually does not cover the cost to repair the plumbing system and will not likely cover the water heater itself. 

For the most part, water heaters will last you 10 to 12 years. If there is a leak anytime before that, it is likely unpredictable and considered sudden and accidental. It is important to immediately address the leak and make repairs as insurance companies can deny a claim for failure to take measures to prevent further damage. 

No matter where the water heater is located or the source of the leak, make sure you document with photos the condition of your home as a result of the leak. Hold on to all repair receipts and inventory any damaged personal property. These will all be important for an insurance claim. 

Don’t let a leaking water heater ruin your day. Remain calm, call for help from professionals and take it one step at a time.

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