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HELP! My Water Heater in the Attic Is Leaking through My Ceiling!

April 5, 2016

HELP! My Water Heater in the Attic is Leaking through My Ceiling!

Sitting in the kitchen and all of a sudden having water start steadily flowing through the ceiling from the water heater in the attic can be gut wrenching.  STAY CALM!  Your plumber in Duncanville, TX is going to tell you EXACTLY what to do!

Possible Causes of Water Leaking Through the Attic

This problem could be one of four common issues:

  1. You could have a leak on the incoming or outbound water line connections going into your water heater tank at the top of the tank.
  2. The water may also be coming from your water heater tank itself if it has split.
  3. You could have a leak on the drain down valve at the bottom of the water heater.
  4. The problem could also be a leak on either the hot water line or the cold-water line that is leading away from the water heater and going to supply the rest of the house.

The following steps will help stop the flooding problem for any of these issues.

Turn the Water to the House Off

Do this in case the water leak is coming from the cold-water line that is not connected to the water heater. The leak may not be coming from a hot water line or the water heater itself. There are typically two ways to do this—either turn the water off at the isolation valve or at the meter.  Not every house has an isolation valve, so it you don’t find one quickly, try the meter.

How to Turn an Isolation Valve Off

An isolation valve is the emergency shut off valve for the incoming water supply to the house.  This valve separates the water lines that run through the yard from the water lines that run under the house.  This isolation shut off valve is much easier and faster to turn off than the meter.

The isolation valve is typically located in the flower bed at the front of the home.  It is usually housed in a black or green box and the handle on the valve will be yellow or red.  The handle may be rusted if it has not been maintained. Carefully turn the water off by carefully turning the handle in a clockwise rotation.  The valve may be stuck if it has not been used in a while and any jerky or hard movements might break it.  Be very careful.

How to Turn a Water Meter Off

You may need to turn the water off at the meter if there is no isolation valve or if it is stuck in the open position. The meter is generally located at the front of the home or property by the street, maybe near the sidewalk or driveway. There are two types of meters; either a rectangular, black or green plastic lid or a large, round, black or brown metal or plastic lid.

Please note: Some cities will not allow citizens to turn the water off at the meter themselves.  They will fine you if they catch a homeowner doing it and if the meter is damaged in any way, the homeowner will be financially responsible for making the repair or replacement. Duncanville homeowners—this applies to YOU! If you need to turn your water off at the meter, you must contact the city to do it for you.

If you are a Duncanville plumbing client, the Duncanville Water and Sewer Emergency number is 972-780-4900 between the hours of 7pm and 4pm and 972-780-4959 after hours.

In the Attic, Turn Off the Incoming Water Supply

Do this at the water stop at the top of the water heater. If the leak is from the tank itself or one of the water lines leading away from the water heater, you will want to shut the water off at the water heater so that all the residual water in the water pipes coming from the isolation valve or the meter don’t continue to leak through the tank or the pipe.

The shut off valve for the water heater is at the top, on the right.  The handle will look like either a circular wheel or a lever with a red or yellow plastic handle. In order to turn the water off, you need to carefully turn the valve clockwise.  If it is the lever style, make sure the handle is perpendicular with the water line to ensure that it is turned all the way off.

Drain the Remaining Water from the Water Heater to Stop the Leaking

If the leak is from the tank itself or one of the water lines leading away from the water heater, even with the water turned off at the water heater, all the water that is remaining in the water heater tank itself is going to continue to leak from either the tank or the pipe.

Find the Closest Drain to the Water Heater

It will most likely be in a bathroom on a lower level (sink, tub, or shower). Check and make sure that this drain is free flowing and clear of any stoppages before attempting to drain the contents of the water heater into it.

Get a Garden Hose that Is Long Enough to Cover the Distance Between the Water Heater and the Nearest Drain

Hook the garden hose up to the water heater drain. The water heater drain looks like a metal or plastic faucet and is located at the bottom of the water heater.

Make sure that before you hook the hose up to the water heater, the other end is positioned where the water will flow into the drain.

Screw the Garden Hose on to the End of the Drain on the Water Heater

On the metal valve, use a screwdriver and turn counter clockwise to allow draining. On the plastic valve, using your hand, manual turn it counter clockwise to allow draining. WARNING!!!  IF YOU UNSCREW THE PLASTIC VALVE TOO MUCH, IT WILL BLOW AWAY FROM THE WATER HEATER AND THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE WATER HEATER WILL DRAIN INTO THE ATTIC!  USE EXTREME CAUTION!

Water from the water heater will now drain through the garden hose to the drain you have selected until the water heater is mostly empty (there will always be a little bit of residual water in the tank). Your water heater may vacuum seal, not allowing the water to drain. Read on for further instructions to deal with this issue.

Make Sure You Turn the Water Heater Off

This is so that it is not heating an empty tank.

Find a Double or Triple Handle Faucet in the House and Turn on the Hot Side Only

Do not turn on the cold side or use a single lever faucet. This will break the vacuum seal and allow the water heater to drain. Turn the faucet back off once water stops coming out of the faucet.

If you believe the leak is on the cold-water line that is not connecting into the water heater AND you have been able to turn the water off at the meter or isolation valve, open one of the cold side faucets and allow the water to drain from the cold side. This will minimize the water reaching the damaged pipe. Only attempt to drain the cold side if the water has been shut off at the isolation valve or the meter.

At this point, the water should be slowing and should stop soon. If the leak is visible and you can put something underneath it to catch the water or soak it up, that will help minimize the damage until it is completely stopped.

Clean Up the Water Before Any Damage Can Occur

Using a mop or towel, get up any of the water that you can from the floor of the attic and the walls as well as the floor and walls of the room that the water was leaking. If there is a large amount of water in the attic or the lower level, using a wet vac is very convenient.

You can use fans to help dry up the remaining moisture in the attic.  It is also a good idea to have fans pointed at the ceiling on the lower level where the water was leaking to.  Sometimes with large levels of water to clean up, having a water restoration company assist you will cut down on the amount of water damage.

Call our office and we can give you a recommendation for a reputable water restoration company. Because this type of water leak could come from several different causes, this type of issue would be best diagnosed and repair by a licensed, plumbing professional.

How Do I Prevent Attic Water Heater Leaks?

To prevent a leak on water heater incoming and outbound pipes and connections, you can check once or twice a year for any spots that develop corrosion or for any small leaks of water on the inbound and outbound pipes and connections. If the connections going into your water heater are corroded, this will eventually cause them to leak.

Sometimes a leak on the pipe can be so small that it is hard to detect and can go on for a long time before developing into a huge problem.  This very small, slow leak will cause corrosion on the pipe that just continues to grow until a larger leak is present.  Make sure all fittings are tight and sealed properly with no small leaks.

If your connections are corroded or leaking and you prefer to have a professional take care of it for you, call your local, trusted, licensed plumber.

How to Prevent a Leak on the Tank Itself

Water heaters come installed with an anode rod on the inside of them to prevent internal rusting of the tank.  Once the anode rod is rusted through, the tank itself begins to corrode. Changing out the internal anode rod of your water heater every four years or so will continue to protect your internal tank from rust.

Tap water from the city comes with some sediment inside it.  This sediment settles inside a water heater tank and can cause a lot of internal problems as it builds up. Flushing your water heater every six months will remove the majority of the sediment and extend the life of your water heater.

Your water from the city tap also carries in it minerals and either chlorine or chloramine to prevent bacteria from growing in the water before we are ready to use or consume it. The presence of all of these can break down the inner components of your plumbing system, and more specifically, your water heater.

Installing a whole home water softener will remove the minerals and the right kind of whole home water filter can remove the chlorine or chloramines from your water, extending the life of your water heater.

How to Prevent a Leak on the Water Lines Leading Away from a Water Heater

Galvanic corrosion and electrolysis cause pinhole leaks in copper piping. Galvanic corrosion happens on a copper pipe when two dissimilar metals are in contact, causing the weaker metal to corrode. To prevent this, make sure there are no two dissimilar metals connected together without a dielectric union anywhere on the visible plumbing and if any repairs are made on the underground plumbing, that the repairs are not make by joining to dissimilar metals.

Electrolysis mostly happens to copper piping due to lightning. When lightning strikes a home or even the ground near a home, electricity will find that path of least resistance to travel and that path is most often your metal plumbing system.

There are some lightning damage prevention companies and products out there, but they do little to protect against the damage to the plumbing system.  Having a flood stop installed on your water heater will give an alarm if the water is coming from the connections or the tank, automatically turn off the incoming water to the water heater, and let you know immediately when the problem starts so you can handle it quickly and minimize the damage.

Sometimes, even with the best maintenance, disasters happen in plumbing. Duncanville clients can take steps to minimize the damage even if the worst comes.

Tips to Minimize Damage When Attic Water Heaters Leak

  • Make sure you have a ladder at your residence and you know where it is located.
  • Know how to turn off the water supplying the water heater.
  • Know the distance to the nearest drain (tub, shower, sink) and have a garden hose that is long enough to reach that drain neatly coiled and in a convenient spot near your water heater.
  • Practice draining your water heater from the garden hose to the nearest drain once a year.  Not only will this train you to respond to the problem quickly and calmly if it happens, this practice is also flushing your water heater of damaging water sediment and extending the life of your water heater.
  • Have a water heater pan installed to catch some of the water if it is coming from the connections or the tank.
  • Have a flood stop installed on your water heater to give an alarm if the water is coming from the connections or the tank, automatically turn off the incoming water to the water heater, and let you know immediately when the problem starts so you can handle it quickly and minimize the damage.
  • Have a wet vac at your residence. This will allow you to quickly remove water from the site and minimize water damage to the ceiling.
  • Put fans in the attic blowing to help dry out the space as quickly as possible.
  • Have the emergency number for your city’s water department. They can dispatch a team out usually within minutes to turn the water off at your home if you are not able to do it yourself.
  • Have the number for a reputable water restoration company on hand to help with any major water damage beyond your capabilities to handle.

Call Dial One Johnson Plumbing for Plumbing Service in Duncanville, TX

At Dial One Johnson Plumbing, we want to deliver overwhelming value to the Duncanville community, whether you become a valued client of ours or not.  We hope these plumbing tips have been valuable. If you ever need a plumber in Duncanville, contact us!