Water Heater Leaks

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Dear NH,
I have a 40 gallon gas water heater. It is leaking at the base of each pipe going into the top of water heater. Is this a problem with the water heater when there is no leaking from the bottom?
C.M. from Lees Summit, MO

Dear C.M.
From your description it appears that you are getting leakage around the threads for the in-and-out water supply lines into the heater. When this occurs shortly after installation, it is an installation snafu. However, most leaks that occur after years of service are caused by chemical corrosion that has "dissolved" the threaded fittings. The corrosion is softer than the original metal allowing water to seep around the threads. Eventually, the fitting will begin to spray water. Therefore, even though you are not in emergency mode as yet, this problem must be taken care of A.S.A.P. The leakage may or may not be correctable, depending on the severity of the corrosion. Be prepared the only repair option may be replacing the water heater.

Most water heater connections are not designed to be taken apart without cutting the pipes so a rescue operation will involve pipe cutting, disassembly and examination of the fittings to determine whether or not they can be saved. It may take nothing more than wrapping the threads of the threaded connector with a few layers of Teflon pipe wrap and reassembling it. Then again, if the corrosion has deeply pitted the fixed connector on the water tank, it may leak when reassembled no matter what you do! Worst case disassembly might even damage the tank!

Since reattachment of the pipes will be pretty much the same for an old or a new water heater, you should give some serious thought to replacing it now. If the heater is ten or more years old, you have reached the end of its useful life and would probably be better off getting a new one. Old water heaters, even if they don't leak, tend to be less energy efficient. Even if you have been diligent in draining the heater annually to remove energy-stealing sediment from the tank, buildup of hard scale in the tank still robs you hard-earned money 24 hours a day! Over a few years a new heater will probably pay for itself in energy savings... with the added benefit of you NOT having to clean up the soggy mess of a major water heater failure.

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