Signs of Pending Water Heater Failure, or Repair Needed

Water Heater Inside Diagrams:


Diagram of Inside of Water Heater  — Electric on Left & Gas on Right

Visual Sign: Water Around the Base of Water Heater

When you see water nearby, it’s may be leaking from 2 different places.  One reason may be no problem at all, or a minor repair.  The second reason water is accumulating means the water heater must be replaced.

Possibility # 1:

Temperature and Pressure (T&P) Valve

If you see a little water near your water heater and/or dripping from the pipe that runs down the side, this may mean your Temperature and Pressure (T&P) valve is venting excess steam (which prevents the water heater from exploding). The steam condenses into water, which exists down the pipe. This is normal, but if there is a large amount of water coming from that pipe, call a licensed plumber.

temperature and pressure T&P valve installed on water heater

Temperature and Pressure (T&P) Valve

Proper operation of this valve is critical to safe operation.  This valve is designed to release excess water pressure, or release hot water if its temperature exceeds 210 degrees (water starts to boil at 212 degrees).  Never tamper with or disable the T&P Valve  — it’s a safety feature which keeps the water heater from exploding due to excess water temperature or water pressure.

water heater that exploded

Water Heater That Exploded.  Imagine The Danger Of Steam and Very Hot Water All Discharging At One Time

You Can Test The T&P Valve For Proper Operation.  To do this:

  • Put a bucket under the discharge pipe coming from the T& P Valve.  Don’t skip this step — very hot water will discharge during the test.
  • Pull the lever outward / away from the water heater for 5 seconds.  During this time hot water will discharge into the bucket if the valve is working properly.

Possibility # 2:

Water is leaking from the water-storage tank inside the water heater.  When water is leaking from the base, your water heater is leaking internally. This is due to hairline cracks which form in the water heater tank — due to continuous expansion and contraction of the tank when heating up and cooling down.

electric water heater leaking gas water heater leaking

Water Heaters leaking from the water-storage tank (Electric on Left & Gas on Right).  These water heaters must be replaced.

Visual Sign: Corrosion at the pipe fitting.

If you notice corrosion around the pipe-fittings, this indicates water is leaking through them. Pipe fitting corrosion occurs because mineral deposits from the water are seeping out through the gaps in pipe connections. This is often called a “slow leak,” which means you will need to repair it soon.  The corroded area can fail if the problem isn’t addressed.

A plumber will replace the areas with corrosion.  The old pipe and fittings will be removed and new pipe and fittings soldered into place. The repair is to the water pipes connected to the water heater, not the water heater itself.

Visual Sign: Burn Marks

If you see burn marks on the bottom, it’s typically an indication of two problems.

Visual Sign: Burn Marks On Water Heater’s Outer Metal Jacket

Problem #1: Burn marks can indicate improper venting that is causing back-drafting.

This is a serious problem that requires urgent attention because exhaust fumes are not exiting your home correctly, rather they are coming into your home if the water heater is within the living-space.   If the water heater is in the garage or attic, exhaust gasses can still enter through air-leaks in your home.  This condition must be repaired to ensure your safety.

Problem # 2: Burn marks can also indicate the flue pipes located inside the water heater are blocked or damaged. This is also an unsafe condition which can cause improper venting of exhaust gases.  If this is the problem, a new water heater is needed now.

Visual Sign: Yellow Flame Color

When your water heater is running, there should be an even blue flame. If the burner is yellow or orange, there is not enough air coming in the water heater at its burner, OR a venting problem exists. This condition means the burner or the venting needs to be serviced to ensure your safety.  If the venting is not correct, it’s possible carbon monoxide is coming into your home.

blue flame in properly working gas water heater

If working properly, a water heater burner flame should be mostly blue

Do you hear popping?

Audible Sign: Water Heater Is Popping

The most obvious indicator your water heater is about to fail is when it sounds like popcorn cooking.

This popping noise is caused by an accumulation of mineral sludge caused by hard water. Water trapped in that sludge becomes super-heated, and flashes off into steam. That flash-boiled water is what’s causing the popping noises. Eventually that sludge stresses the water tank to the point it cracks and starts leaking. You need your water heater replaced at that time.

sediment in water heater tank

Tremendous sludge build-up from mineral deposits in hard water.

The best way to extend the life of you water heater is to minimize sludge build-up by flushing the water heater once each year.  This removes most of the sludge left behind by hard water.

Note: An important consideration about flushing an older water heater that has not had yearly flushes.

Disturbing a large build-up of sludge may cause an older water heater to start leaking, because the sludge was covering hair-line cracks in the water-storage tank.  Rest assured, if a flush causes an older water heater to leak, it was going to fail soon anyway.

For maximum water heater life, Annual Flushes must begin when the water heater is 1 year old.

If correct flushing has occurred, sludge build up is minimized.  With minimal sludge, the water heater heats water more quickly and uses less fuel.  The reason is, the sludge has to be heated before much heat will get to the water.

A gas water heater has a burner under the water storage tank.  An electric water heater has 2 heating elements inside the tank. One electric heating element is near the center of the water storage tank and the other element is near the bottom.  With enough sludge build up in an electric water heater, the lower heating element can become covered and burn out.

If either electric heating element fails:

  • The water heater now runs out of hot water much quicker.
  • The water now takes much longer to get hot.

Here is a YouTube Video showing how to do a (partial) flush of a water heater:  Water Heater (partial) Flush

Contact Al’s Plumbing for Water Heater Repair or Water Heater Replacement

Al’s offers only one premium Water Heater — Rheem Professional Series

 Rheem’s Premium Series Water Heater has the word “Professional” on the label near the top


Al’s Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning provides Maintenance, Repair and Replacement Services for all brands of water heaters.  We sell and install only the Rheem Professional Series Water Heater.

Al’s offers Full-Service plumbing.  This includes; clogged toilet repair, water heater repair, water heater replacement for both tankless and tank water heaters, sewer line replacement (under slab or in lawn), trenchless sewer line replacement (in lawn only), slab leak repair, burst pipe repair, repiping, leak detection, water filtration system installation and sales, gas line repair, and gas line installation.

These repairs are only part of what Al’s can do for your plumbing.  We do every type of plumbing repair and replacement — and no job is too big or too small.

Al’s provides Full-Service HVAC System Maintenance, Repair and Replacement Services on all brands of Air Conditioners, Furnaces and Heat Pumps (including Trane and American Standard).  We perform every service needed to keep your heating and air conditioning system running at its best.

We sell and install American Standard, Coleman and Ameristar — Air Conditioner unit, Furnace and Heat Pump.

Contact Al’s today to discuss any problem you have with your Plumbing or HVAC System.  We offer appointments at your convenience & are also your Emergency Plumber resource, with 24/7 Emergency Service.  All our Plumbers are licensed and experienced in diagnosing and repairing your residential plumbing.

Our HVAC Technicians are NATE (North American Technician Excellence) Certified.  They are trained and experienced in providing maintenance and repair of your HVAC System + Installation of new HVAC systems.

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Call Al's For Water Heater Service

Al’s Plumbing can install a new gas or electric water heater in your home today! Give us a call at 972-225-5257 or contact us online.
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