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Is a leaking water heater dangerous?

A misbehaving water heater is a common household issue that can quickly escalate from a minor annoyance to a major concern. If you’ve noticed your water heater leaking, it’s natural to worry about the potentially dangerous nature of the issue and wonder what to do.

In this guide, we’ll explore the risks associated with a leaking water heater and provide you with the knowledge and tools to address the problem safely and effectively. The goal is to have a clear understanding of when to tackle the issue yourself and when to call in the professionals. So, let’s dive in and ensure that your water heater is whipped back into shape ASAP.

Common Reasons Water Heaters Leak

Water heaters are essential appliances that work tirelessly to ensure a steady supply of hot water for your daily needs. However, like any mechanical device, they are prone to wear and tear over time. Several factors can contribute to a leaking water heater, such as:

    • Age and corrosion – As water heaters age, internal components deteriorate, making them more susceptible to leaks. Constant exposure to water and heat can cause the tank to rust, leading to small holes or cracks.
    • Faulty components – Malfunctioning pressure relief valves or damaged heating element gaskets can trigger leaks. These issues often arise from normal wear and tear or manufacturing defects.
    • High water pressure – When the pressure inside the tank exceeds the recommended level (typically 80 psi). This puts undue stress on the seams and connections, potentially causing them to fail.
    • Improper installation – Incorrect leveling, improper connections, or insufficient support. These can lead to unnecessary strain on the tank and its components, resulting in leaks over time.
    • Lack of maintenance – Neglecting regular maintenance can contribute to overheating, corrosion, and premature tank damage.
Old water heater leaking and showing signs of rust or corrosion.

Risks of a Leaking Water Heater

A leaking water heater may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it can quickly lead to serious consequences. The risks associated with a malfunctioning water heater extend beyond the appliance itself, potentially affecting your home, health, and safety. This can include:

    • Water damage and mold – Even a small leak can cause water to seep into walls, floors, and cabinets. From there, it can lead to extensive damage and costly repairs. Excess moisture also creates an ideal environment for mold and mildew, posing health risks.
    • Electrical hazards – If water comes into contact with electrical components, it can cause short circuits, sparks, or even electrocution.
    • Gas leaks and fire risk – For gas-powered water heaters, a leak can be especially dangerous. A malfunctioning unit may leak gas, increasing the risk of fire and explosion. Gas leaks can be difficult to detect without proper equipment.
    • Structural damage – Constant exposure to water can weaken floor joists, wall studs, and other critical structural components, potentially leading to sagging floors, warped walls, and even foundation issues.

How to Address a Leaking Water Heater

If you’ve discovered a leaking water heater, it’s crucial to act quickly to minimize damage and dangerous components. The first step is to assess the situation and determine the severity of the leak. If you’re unsure about how to proceed or feel uncomfortable handling the issue yourself, it’s always best to call a professional.

In case of a minor leak or while waiting for professional assistance, there are several steps you can take to mitigate the risks.

Best Next Steps

    • Turn off the power – If you have an electric water heater, shut off the power at the circuit breaker to prevent electrical hazards. For gas-powered units, turn off the gas supply to the heater.
    • Shut off the water supply – Locate the cold water shut-off valve, typically located near the top of the water heater. Then, turn it clockwise to stop the flow of water into the tank. This will help prevent further leakage and water damage.
    • Assess the leak – Carefully inspect the water heater to determine the source and severity of the leak. Check for visible cracks, corrosion, or loose connections. If the leak is coming from the pressure relief valve, it may indicate excessive pressure buildup or a faulty valve.
    • Contain the leak – If possible, place a bucket or container under the leak to catch the water. Use towels or a mop to clean up any standing water.
    • Document the damage – Take photos of the leaking water heater and any resulting damage. This is helpful for insurance purposes or to provide to a professional plumber.

Once you’ve taken these initial steps, it’s time to consider how best to address the issue. If the leak is due to a minor problem, such as a loose connection or a faulty pressure relief valve, a professional may be able to repair it. However, if the water heater is old, severely corroded, or has extensive damage, replacement may be the most cost-effective and safe solution.

A leaking water heater can be potentially dangerous if not addressed quickly by a profesional.

When to Call a Professional

While some minor water heater issues can be addressed by homeowners, certain situations call for expertise. Here are some scenarios when it’s essential to call a professional:

    • Severe or persistent leaks – If the leak is substantial or continues despite your efforts to contain it.
    • Electrical or gas hazards – If you suspect that the leak has caused damage to electrical components or you smell gas. Evacuate the area immediately and call a professional.
    • Lack of experience or tools – If you’re unsure about how to diagnose or fix the problem. Water heaters are complex appliances and improper repairs can lead to further damage or safety hazards.
    • Old or heavily damaged water heater – If your water heater is more than a decade old or has extensive corrosion or damage, it may be time to replace it.

Cost Considerations for Repairing or Replacing Water Heaters

When addressing a leaking water heater, it’s crucial to consider the costs involved in repairing or replacing the unit. The financial impact can vary depending on the severity of the issue and the age of your water heater.

For relatively new water heaters with minor issues, such as a faulty pressure relief valve or a loose connection, repair costs may be lower. Fixing a pressure relief valve typically costs between $100 and $300, while tightening a loose connection may only require paying for a professional’s time ($50 to $150 per hour).

However, for older water heaters or those with extensive damage, like a corroded tank or a major leak, repairs may not be the most cost-effective solution. In these cases, replacing the water heater is often more economical in the long run. The average cost of replacing a water heater ranges from $800 to $1,500, depending on the type, size, and efficiency of the new unit. While the upfront cost of replacement may seem high, a new, more energy-efficient water heater can help you save money on utility bills and provide a more reliable supply of hot water.

Other Recommended Maintenance

Proper maintenance is essential for preventing a leaking water heater or other dangerous issues. One crucial task is to flush the tank annually, as sediment can accumulate at the bottom over time, causing corrosion and reducing efficiency. Flushing your water heater once a year will remove this buildup and improve performance.

Another important maintenance task is to test the pressure relief valve every six months. This safety device prevents the tank from building up too much pressure. To test it, simply lift the lever and allow a small amount of water to flow out. If the valve is stuck or doesn’t reseal properly, replace it immediately.

Adjusting your water heater’s temperature to around 120°F (49°C) can also help prevent scalding, reduce energy consumption, and minimize mineral buildup in the tank. Every two to three years, inspect the anode rod, which attracts corrosive elements in the water and protects the tank from rust. If the anode rod is heavily corroded, replace it.

Finally, adding insulation to your water heater and hot water pipes can reduce heat loss, improve efficiency, and minimize the strain on the system.


A leaking water heater is more than just a minor annoyance – it’s a potentially dangerous issue that requires swift action. Now, if a leak does rear its ugly head, you know what to do. Identify the causes, assess the risks, and take the appropriate steps to address the problem head-on.

If you need an expert inspection of your home’s major systems after a water heater issue (or just to ensure everything’s working as it should be), don’t wait. Call Waypoint Property Inspection in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Orlando, Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and surrounding areas.