Most of the time, your hot water heater is installed in a closet or a basement where it's out of the way. Unfortunately, this often means that problems with the unit can go undetected for a while. If you've just recently noticed some water at the base of your water heater, where the drain valve is, you need to determine if it's really a problem in need of repair or just a one-off thing. Here are some tips to help.
Rule Out One-Off Situations
Sometimes the water you're seeing isn't actually a leak from the tank, but instead could be caused by other issues that are happening. For example, if the pressure release valve is triggered due to excess heat in the tank, this could be the source of the problem. Check the thermostat and make sure that it hasn't been inadvertently bumped up too high.
Additionally, you should also look at the base of the tank and the drain valve itself. Check to see if it may be caused by condensation building up. Wipe everything dry, then come back an hour or so later to see if the problem is recurring. If not, it may have just been condensation due to differences in temperature between the tank and the storage area.
Check For Damage
If you've ruled out the one-off situations, that means you've got a bigger problem on your hands. The next thing you should check is to be sure that you don't have a pinhole leak at the bottom of the tank somewhere. Use a flashlight to examine the tank for any signs of damage. See if you can spot where the water is coming from, and trace it back to rule out a hole in the tank itself.
Repair The Drain Valve
Sometimes, even the obvious issues aren't the source of the problem. If there are no holes in the tank and you have ruled out pressure buildup or condensation, it may be that the drain valve itself is leaking. In those cases, you may have to replace the whole drain valve to fix the problem. However, before you go to those lengths, try tightening the valve first. It may have just loosened up a little bit.
If you need to replace the valve, drain the tank completely first. Then, remove the old valve. Clean the area where the valve attaches, and wrap the threads of the new valve with plumber's tape. Remember to wrap against the threads so that you don't undo the plumber's tape as you thread the valve into place.
Make sure the new valve is secure before you refill the tank. Then, monitor it for a while for any signs of a leak. If you're still experiencing leak issues, it's best to call a water heater repair technician to inspect the tank and isolate the source of the issue. Not only can a leaky water tank cost you money in water bills and repeated heating, but it can also put you at risk of water damage. Have it repaired right away to avoid these risks.