Leak from a Hot Water Heater or condensation?

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by tj218, Jul 21, 2011.

  1. tj218

    tj218 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NH
    I woke this morning and noticed approx 2 cups of water around the hot water heater. I later determined it was coming from the leg on the hot water heater. The water heater is a natural gas heater with a 50gallon tank (made or sold by Rheem)and it was made in 2003 with a 12year warranty. I called the # for service and they had me first do a "leak test" which had me turn the gas setting to pilot and wait an hour and look for leaks.

    After calling them back and telling them I couldn't see any leaks they said "it was just condensation then." Since I have turned the gas back to the "on" setting the waterdrip has come back. I can't actually see the water dripping (it's not fast) but when I put a paper towel down near the legs, the towel will have some water spots after a few minutes.

    It is really hot and humid right now, but I thought water heaters only get condensation when they are first filled up. I haven't seen this happen since we moved into the house in 2005. I am on city water and I don't think hard water is an issue.

    Should I be worried about a catastrophic failure of the tank?

    Thanks for any and all advice.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2011
  2. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Messages:
    3,273
    Location:
    Land of Cheese
    That's usually how a leak starts. When it gets worse it will extinguish the pilot light.
  3. tj218

    tj218 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NH
    Any ideas on how I can convince Rheem that it isn't just condensation then?
  4. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,313
    Location:
    New England
    Does it only happen when the burner is on? Do you have an expansion tank in your system? If so, have you checked it to see if it is shot? Could the water be coming out of the T&P valve?
  5. tj218

    tj218 New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NH
    This only started about 2 days ago. I only really noticed it when the burner was on, when it was set to pilot I couldn't see any water hitting the floor.

    The water is definitely not coming from the T&P valve, the valve area is dry and the bucket it feeds into is dry. There is no expansion valve in the system (there is one for the furnace though).
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    27,237
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Condensation will occur if the tank is not full of hot water and the burner is operating, but it usually just causes "sizzling" when the condensate strikes the hot burner, NOT a pond of water around the tank.
  7. Runs with bison

    Runs with bison Member

    Messages:
    897
    Location:
    Midwest
    Yep, that and a yellow flame. When I started mine up cold a few years back I could see the water dripping onto the burner and the flame went from blue to mixed/yellow as long as droplets were falling. Strangely, the owner's manuals I've perused don't bother to mention this when they tell you to check the flame. I've written plant start up/normal op/shut down manuals and that is the sort of detail you put in to avoid confusing the operators.

    Since TJ is already looking at a the likelihood of needing a new tank, it would be a good idea to evaluate max operating pressure as well...and whether or not a thermal expansion tank is required. The water down the leg might be from a leak at elevated pressure...though I doubt it. Putting a gauge with a max press indicator on an external bib faucet should answer the question about requiring a thermal expansion tank. (Although if it doesn't have one, it would probably be best to put one in during the water heater replacement, regardless.)

    One other possibility, the plastic drain valves or the packing on the valves can leak. I had one of these valves crack years ago...unbeknownst to me until I tried to gently tighten the packing gland and the whole valve snapped off at the gentlest touch of the wrench...boy, that was fun. I noticed some moisture and some build up near the packing gland, that's what started the fiasco. Before you touch the drain valve, make sure you are ready to shut off water and clear the area if it should shear. Don't do it on a weekend night...so that you can get a replacement valve/plug if you need it.

    Final oddball thing to evaluate: Is there any other source of water above the water heater? Air inlet lines to the furnace can drip condensate...I've seen that on mine recently since the joints are not allowed to be sealed and a small amount of humid outside air is entering through the joints in this heat wave--it is just a drop's worth on the WH though. Another possibility is cold air duct line dripping. I had to replace a bathroom AC run with insulated line because it would sweat horribly running through a non-conditioned space...and drip down a wall and closet next to the water heater.
  8. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    A cup of water is NOT condensation. The company is quick to throw that at you , because they probably get called on almost EVERY install about the "sizzling sound" which many people think means a leak. The sizzling is normal, temporary, and normally occures only at first fill. Could also occur in cold months after a very long hot water usage . But it would in my opinion and experience NEVER result in a cup of water, or ANY water under the unit.
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