Is Your Water Heater Leaking From The Top?

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A water heater leaking from the top is preferable to one from the bottom. On the other hand water runs downhill, so failure to fix the leak can lead to more serious problems, including electrical shorts, additional damage to the water heater, and the possibility of water damage such as ruined carpeting or drywall.

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Under normal circumstances, with a leak at the top of your water heater, there are only a few causes of the leak, and the solutions may be simpler than you thought.

See also:  Water heater leaking from the BOTTOM

Leaking from the Top of the Tank: Finding the Source

If you suspect that you have a leak from the top, turn off the power to your water heater. Most homes have a dedicated circuit breaker for an electric water heater, and some were built with an easily accessible secondary shut off in the vicinity of the heater itself. For a gas water heater, turn the thermostat control to the off position.

Do not turn off the cold water inlet until the leak has been found, as the leak could stop without sufficient pressure. If you cannot see a leak, slowly run your dry hand over the various pipes and fittings. If you are still unsuccessful in locating the leak, try wrapping the pipes and joints with tissue paper, being careful to watch for damp spots.

Most Common Causes of Water Heater Leaking from the Top

Leaking Valve

ball-valve-water-inletMany water heaters have a ball valve, an in-line valve to turn off the water flow, identifiable as a joint with a handle. When the handle is parallel to the pipe, the valve is open and water is flowing. If the handle juts off at a right angle, the valve if closed.

If the handle or valve is dripping, you can simply tighten the nut which holds the handle in place. If the leak gets worse, you may have to replace the valve. If the leak is not affected, look for another cause.

Leaking Pressure Relief Valve

The temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P valve) is located on top of your water heater, and acts as a safety valve to release excessive pressure or water in case of overpressurization or thermostat failure.

This valve is typically located at top center of the tank. If this valve is leaking, it is usually better to replace it completely. Replacing the valve is relatively simple and can be done in only a few minutes minutes.

Leaking Joint

water-heater-leaking-from-topIf the valve is not the source of the leak, the most likely problem is a loose connection or even a stripped threaded nipple. If the tank uses copper tubing instead of threaded pipe, you may need to enlist the services of a professional plumber unless you are comfortable with making the repairs yourself.

Another option is to re-plumb the tank using threaded pipe or water-rated PVC to simplify any future repairs. Turn off the water and drain the tank before disconnecting any pipes.

PVC Joints

If there isn’t a compression coupling available, you will need to cut the leaking pipe in an area that can be spliced back together. If the leak is at a location where PVC is joined to metal, such as entering the top of the heater, tighten the threaded fitting with a pipe wrench or appropriate tool.

Reconnect the pipe using a female to female coupling. Allow the PVC cement to fully dry before turning on the water, and do not turn on the power until the water has been turned on to prevent possible damage and the need to replace your water heater element.

Threaded Pipe

In order to tighten threaded pipe, you will have to located and disconnect the compression coupling, a special female-female fitting that slides over two pipe ends, joining them together using washers inside special nuts on the coupling. When the compression coupling has been disconnected, tighten the offending joint with the appropriate wrench and then reconnect the compression coupling.

Water Heater Repair Notes

Tightening a loose connection may not stop the water heater leak by itself. For more dependable results, completely disconnect the suspect joint and wrap the threads using Teflon tape or joint compound and then install them as described above.

In some rare situations, the problem may be caused by a faulty nipple, a short piece of threaded pipe used to connect other pipes to the water heater or a valve. Nipples can be purchased in precut lengths from your local hardware store. For better, long lasting results, replace nipples with a dielectric nipple, recognized by the hard plastic lining inside the nipple.

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When tightening joints and connectors, take care to avoid over torquing. A good rule of thumb is to tighten a pipe finger-tight, and then use a wrench to tighten it 1/4 turn at a time until is firmly in place. Over Torquing can cause the threads to strip, turning a minor problem into a serious leak and resulting in additional repairs.

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  1. These are some really good steps on how to scan for the problem when the water heater is leaking. I never thought to look at the pipe fittings and that’s usually where the problems are sometimes. My water heater has been recently leaking lots of water. It turned out that it was a pipe fitting form inside. How much do those new water heaters cost that don’t need the water tank and are a lot smaller?

    • Tankless water heater costs will vary quite a bit. While prices have dropped over the past few years, expect to pay at least $600-$1,000 for a tankless model + extra for installation. The install is where the price can easily double or triple depending on the current setup/piping and total cost for everything can be in the $2-3k range.

      • If you are spending $2-3k on a water tank replacement then you are just helping pay for those new trucks and store fronts that you see. A new tank costs around $400 and an install should be around $200 labor & materials at the most. Anymore than that and you are getting ripped off! It takes about 2 hrs to drain, remove and install a new tank. The installers not only get a fee for their time but they also get a little copper and steel that they absolutely take in for scrap money! I know because I install them, but I don’t drive a brand new truck and I don’t have a lighted store front.

        I charge $200 plus tank cost and I make decent money for that price. I can also sleep good at night. I don’t ever have to scare anyone about some kind of monster that heats their water and sometimes leaks to harm their kids. wow, I think that the monster is really dressed like a sheep. money money money. I don’t advertise because I can’t make anymore days in the week. Just think, how long does it take for an average worker that makes about $17 per hour to pay for $2-$3k showers?

        • Thanks for the comment Don. The $2k-$3k was referring to replacing a tank model with a tankless which could require even more work on some installs. But I agree completely that some businesses/installers completely overcharge and take advantage of others in their situations.

          Sounds like you’re doing well in your business by doing things the right way. We need more installers like you.

        • Don, My hot water tank is slightly dripping from the top of the tank around the seal of the actual tank not the pipes on top of the tank. Can my tank be fix without buying a new one? My finances are tight due to medical bills from all of my chemo treatments. I am trying to google to watch a video and see if I can fix it.

  2. These are some great steps on diagnosing leaks. I’m worried that mine has been leaking but I’m not sure how to find out. I’ll be sure to try your tips on confirming the source to see what’s going on. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. It is always nice to know how to take care of your own leaky water heater! Having hot water is something that’s needed daily and has to get taken care of as soon as the problem comes up. When it gets cold especially you want to make sure that you stay warm. Hiring a professional to tend your water heater problem, I would agree is a great idea to get the problem fixed right away! Thank you for sharing your tips on how to manage a leaking water heater!

  4. Specifying how to turn off either an electric water heater or a gas water heater when it’s leaking is really helpful. The one that I own runs on gas, so I need to figure out the correct way to turn off the water before I can get it fixed. I’m used to having an electric water heater, so this information is good to know. I’ll be sure to turn off the gas supply before I turn the water valve that’s to the side of it. Thanks for the tips!

  5. I am leaking from many of the hot water connections in my home .. first it was from the hot water exit port of the 1 year old tank , took my ages to stop it from leaking , then I noticed a brown ceiling tile and noticed a hot watershut of valve leaking. Fixed that and now my TandP is leaking from a 1 year old tank .. could I need an expansion tank ?? would this fix the issue ?

    • This does suggest leaking due to thermal expansion since multiple areas are leaking on a practically new water heater. If it were me, I would definitely put in an expansion tank which is actually now required in many parts of the US. You could always contact a professional to have a look if you want to be sure.

    • Without know exactly which fittings you replaced, the leak may be from a corroded dielectric nipple or the threaded joint between the tank and cold water piping. Also, depending on how old the unit is, the issue may be with the threaded tapping on the tank itself. If that’s the case, you may need to replace the water heater.

  6. Hi the water from my hot water tank is running and running straight down the throught the over flow pipe, amd on top the shut off value itself is just Turing it won’t get in an off position l.uckily it draining down to the overflow pipe so my attic is still dry

    • Sounds like your pressure relief valve is bad. That’s one of the more common problem areas. The fact that the shut off valve is not shutting off water flow is another problem. That valve should also be replaced. You’re going to have to shut off water further up the line. The next shut off valve may be along the exterior walls of the home or at the street.

      • Hi anthony my water heater gas leak on the top its flowing strong coming in two places in the middle where air vent is located and in the hot water tube but not on the fitting any advice thanks

  7. My electric hot water heater is leaking from the input. I’ve done everything I can think of to fix it. What can i do?

  8. There is a filter on the input water (cold) side that sprung a leak. I shut off the valve leading to the water heater, but the water that leaked sprayed onto the dry wall and collected on the floor (luckily no carpeting from a previous issue).
    Do you know what the cost to replace this piece?

  9. Thanks for posting these hot water heater repair tips! It seems that I should know what to do in this situation in case my water heater leaks. I liked that you posted these tips for diagnosing a leak in my water heating unit. Knowing to turn it off would be an important step so that I can prevent further water damage. I have an electric unit, so I’ll make sure to locate it in my circuit breaker to turn off the breaker switch.

  10. There is a small spray coming from behind the temperature dial at the bottom of my tank. It’s a small spray, and is spraying up on the outside of the tank. Help please. It’s an old hot water heater, but need to know if it’s fixable. Thanks

  11. We have two access panels (I assume for the elements). The top one is leaking very slightly. How do we repair?

  12. Thanks for the information. I have noticed a little water leaking our of my pressure relief valve on my water heater. I need to try and clear it out, and see if that helps. It is an older tank and I think it might just be time to get a new one. I will have to have a plumber come out and take a look at it.

  13. There are two plastic caps on top of my electric water heater one of them is leaking when I lift up the plastic cap that is leaking there’s just foam inside and water is coming through a small hole in foam. Any ideas how to fix that??? Or what that part is even called someone suggested it’s a safety feature to keep it from freezing and exploding

  14. My water heater is leaking from the very top center of the tank. It looks to be some kind of plug but it it threaded ( female) does anyone know if this can be replaced or is this actually part of the heater itself?

  15. Cold inlet is leaking. Connection is tight. Gas valve went into lock out status, due to either water hitting it or the power vent shorted out. A – is this repairable? B – would you trust the vale and vent? It is 6 years old.

  16. Just installed a new water heater. Can’t seem to get rid of a small leak on the hot water threaded nipple. I’ve got it pretty tight but still has a tiny drip. I used leak tape on the threads but I was thinking I need to remove it and add more tape. Also, I grabbed beaded heat trap nipples at home depot. I’ve never seen those before. Is there an up or down on them?

    • Yes, redo the teflon tape or tape dope and add a bit more this time. The heat trap nipples are directional. On the cold side, the flapper should be on top to let the water in. On the hot side, the flapper should be on the bottom to allow the hot water to come out.

  17. We are building a new house next year and our contractor is suggesting a tankless water heater. He has one in his own house and loves it. I’m still undecided. The conventional kind has worked for decades and the tankless is such a new thing. I’ll have to give it more thought.

  18. My water heater has been leaking from the top of the tank. I will make sure to do your test with the bucket under the overflow tube. If I am right, I will make sure to tighten the connection. Thanks for the advice.

  19. Awesome article! It was so comprehensive. My water heater was leaking from the top and I tested it by putting a bucket under the overflow tube like you said. Just had to tighten the connection!

  20. I left the gas on when working on some plumbing and had the water shut off to it for several hours. Upon completion of my project turning the water back on now the water is leaking around the top. It is where the pressure relief valve and the plug screw in but not on the threaded portion it is outside of the threads

  21. I have warm water coming out around the exhaust shield screws on the top. I have dried it multiple times and watched the water come up from under the plate and not down like it was rain water. It also does not appear to be coming from the fittings What could be causing the water to pool up and push through that area? Looking at the exhaust hole is does look like there is rust around that area as well.

    • I am experiencing this same issue. Any ideas. Inlet and outlet have been changed and still have water coming from what appears to be the center of the tank on top???

      • How old is the water heater? I’m assuming it’s a gas model like Dave’s? If you’ve checked all the common locations noted on this page, there’s a good chance the tank has failed. With the amount of pressure a tank has, even the tiniest pin sized hole can cause a good size leak.

  22. puddles of water on top of gas heater. cannot tell where it’s coming from, as puddles in area of each copper pipe entry, as well as in center, and where valve is. Looks rusted in these areas. What might be the issue? HELP!

  23. My pressure relief valve is definitely leaking as in continuously dripping. I noticed it when my wife saw that there was hot water running out of a pipe that comes from the side of the house. I can only assume it was coming from our hot water heater and that this pipe is connected to the pressure relief drain because that appears to be leaking. I also noticed that the temp on the tank was pretty close tot the HOT setting.
    1. I turned the temp down in the tank.
    2. I was going to test the relief valve, but am wondering if that is even safe. If there is already water coming out of the pipe on the side of the house will pushing on the valve cause a huge pressure surge and cover me in hot scalding water? I don’t want to risk making a bad situation worse. We are also renting this place so I am a lot more conservative with the house than I normally would be.
    Question; Is it reasonably safe to check the pressure relief valve. My only other option is wait for a maintenance call which probably won’t get here until Monday.

  24. My hot water heater is leaking on the top, it appears to be coming out of two tiny holes where the vent hooks into. I have turned off the gas and the cold water pipe. I can’t tell if any water is coming from the round plug on the top.

  25. I have water spraying from the flue up into the vent, then dripping bank k down on the water heater. Can the water heater be repaired some how?

  26. I have water coming from the exhaust on the top of the water heater. It’s pooling up and running down the backside of the unit itself. Any ideas of what would be the cause of it to happen? I’ve tried releasing the pressure and that just drained some of the water out and it still continues to run. Seems like something internal but not quite sure which direction to look..any ideas?

  27. Replaced the pressure relief valve and now leaking water out of the spout at the top of water heater, what would be the next step.

  28. I have water coming from the hose at the top of the water heater. It looks like a worn spot on the hose and now water is coming down tank. Should I call a plumber or can I replace this hot water hose?

      • My flex line on the hot outlet from the hot water heater is spraying water out. I have turned the water off and it continued to spray for a little while. My question is do I need to release pressure from the hot water heater, or the fact that they spraying stop dose that mean the heater drained out past the outlet hole.

        • Your second guess is correct. Once the source is turned off, water can continue leaking (or spraying) momentarily until the pressure in the tank drops.

  29. Just want to say thanks. Had a small leak at the top. I’m not exactly what you’d consider a do-it-yourselfer but using this page I narrowed it down to a bad pressure relief valve which I managed to buy and install myself. Feeling pretty proud of myself.

  30. Ok, my water heater is spraying water directly from the top like a tea kettle, what does this mean and what can I do before I have to enlist the help of a pro???

  31. I have hot/warm water coming up to fill both the hot and cold inlet recessed. It is also around the center plug. My water heater is in the unfinished basement so not sure when it started but it was pretty wet on the floor as well. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find a leak anywhere. Thank you for the help

  32. Our local appliance store had a sale on “scratch and dent” models so we picked up a new AO Smith and had them install it. It’s been working great but we noticed a really small leak the next morning somewhere from the top of the tank. Any ideas?

    • First thing I’d check are the inlet/outlet lines at the top since it was just installed. Make sure they’re tight enough.

  33. Just had an A O Smith GPVL 50 gas water heater installed yesterday and water leaking from pressure valve pvc pipe all over laundry room floor. Valve was released– seemed to stop but happened later and flooded the connecting bathroom floor too. Then water intake valve turning 1/4 turn off–but I felt no resistance when doing this. Did not fix problem. Now have five gallon pail under pipe. I seldom use hot water during the day–took short shower that morning only with minimal use rest of day. Setting is on hot. Contacted regarding problem. Now all weekend before reply! What can I try now?

  34. My heater tank is leaking from the top of the water tank, water coming out from bottom of the exit hole in the hot side of the tank. Pipes are ok but the entrance of the pipe to the tank is leaking from the small holes around the the pipe itself no other leaking found. What can I do I have to replaced the heater? thanks and let me know if you can help

  35. Both could inlet and hot outlet are always full of water. It just fills the wells around the nipples but does not run over. Now they are starting to rust. The screws around the vent cap are rusting also. I have a new expansion tank and new water pressure valve. Where could this leak be coming from?

    • Hard to say not knowing how old the water heater is but could just be a sloppy install. There’s likely a small leak at the connections which is causing corrosion. You may have dissimilar metals connecting without dielectric nipples (this causes a reaction between the metals). Replacing the nipples may be all that’s needed.

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