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January 10, 2013

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I'm surprised he didn't check the emergency check valve, which is a brass looking valve on the side that typically has a pipe of some sort that faces down to the ground. I've seen on older houses, this pipe will often exit through the side of the house to the outside as well. Over time, that valve can go bad, seal inside degrades or cruds up. It's designed to open in the event that the pressure in the tank reaches a dangerous level. I've seen instances where if the pressure valve doesn't function the blast from the explosion launched the water heater out of the house like a rocket leaving a silo, and ended up across the street in the neighbors yard.
Anyway, if the seal is compromised, it will leak. Sometimes not at all, some times a stream. It depends on if the water temp is at rest or if it is actively heating to catch up. So if it has been a while since hot water was used in the house... It's probably idle and maintaining a set temp. If you take a shower, and it drains and puts a bunch of cold water in there, the heat kicks on, and it will go until it gets the water to the temp, and a little beyond. That is most likely the time it will leak noticeably.

I would think it strange that after 20 years, you hadn't seen the meteorlogical conditions that just happened and all of the sudden it leaked.

Actually I am a little concerned about the plumber. He is somewhat correct about the requirement about draining off a few gallons but the fact that you do get crud out the bottom indicates that the piping inside is not 100% effective in this regard. Also any crude that does get stirred up can end up in your faucet screens and plug them up. Typically leaks at at the penetration points and their welds. The pipe inlets and outlets and the heaters at the access panels. These can and do leak and typically will flow down the edges to the bottom and wick up via the insulation. If the outer cover was sealed then a full tank would get the insulation wet with a leak but the outer cover is not a sealed unit. Condensation is somewhat rare but possible under heavy use if outside air comes in contact with the cold tank while filling with cold water. I would check the boiler drain valve for leakage which is common since the seat can get partially plugged with your crude and not seal all the way. I would also check the relief valve piping including joints. It is suppose to be piped outside in most cases and should be dry. This valve can have issues sealing and you can usually reseal it by manually opening it and letting it close on its own. If it continues to releave replace it but also this could be an indication that your source pressure is to high. Also a leak will sometimes go away depending on your source of water. Inside an older tank and the pipes connected to it is a film from the minerals in the water as the unit ages. If this peals away during heavy use where a leak is present it may seal itself when the use stops. I have witnessed many of these during my 35 years as a power plant operator in hydros, coal fired, as well as gas turbine operations in water heaters, misc. piping, as well as heat exchangers. Water leaks are temperature affected so pay attention to your use when the floor gets wet.

Perry and Dan, thanks for the great info. Our water heater's release valve doesn't seem to be the problem. The release tube drains into a sink. Plus, the area around the valve on the top of the tank is completely dry.

I agree that it seems unlikely we'd suddenly get condensation when this hasn't happened in the six years we've had this heater. Possible, but unlikely. The theory of a small hole covered with film that got uncovered temporarily makes sense.

Our well water is bad, but is treated with some sophisticated equipment. Still, it has some minerals and salt from the softener. Good news is, the leak was so minimal, probably we'll have time to deal with it without water damage if it happens again.

The plumber guy thought draining a few gallons out periodically was fine, if done regularly. He agreed with me that very occasional draining isn't smart if you are on a well with poor water quality.

I told him my story of how, after we moved into this house twenty two years ago, I decided to drain some water from the water heater that had been used by a couple (with minimal water treatment) for a long time.

Can't remember exactly how I was going to drain some water. Probably by putting some in a bucket, given what I remember. Or maybe with a short hose into a floor drain. Anyway, I opened up the valve and a flood of what probably was magnesium grit started coming out.

It instantly gummed up the valve, so I couldn't close it. The utility room quickly filled up with disgusting black gritty water. It was a mess. Lesson I learned was that if you're going to open the drain valve on a water heater tank, do it regularly if grit is accumulating in the bottom. And/or have a long hose attached so you can drain the entire tank outdoors if something goes awry.

I have the same EXACT symptoms-everything dry!
But floor is wet & leak from under the metal bottom of tank ONLY after showers & loads of wash...then a little lake appears on the floor. In part 4 about condensation: I guess this is what we have too. So what is the fix for condensation that occurs when tank is heating up?? -many thanks in advance

We have some type of leak we can't find. Water meter runs off and on and recording gallons and gallons of water usage, but no sign of wetness anywhere. This morning we discovered that the incoming line is 'warm' and the outgoing line isn't as 'warm'. Anybody know what that means ? ? ? ?

Overflow pipe on waterheater is constantly running & its all very hot water. What can it be?

Hilda Nelson same thing happend to me it was a busted hot water pipe under my home water heater was running every so often could hear the water flowing but couldn't see it any where till my uncle went under my house and it was like a sauna under there even floor boards were starting to warp

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