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Hot water heater leaking from base?

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As you can see from the photo - we have a leaking problem. Has been going on for over a year on & off, but lately there seems to always be some water on the floor to varying degrees. The confounding part is the water coming from the water softener. I get that the water heater might be going, but why is the softener leaking at the same time? Is is two separate problems and is either problem urgent?

The gas water heater is as old as the house - about 14 years. The softener is about 12 years old. Can anybody clue me into what might be going on here? Seems whenever I call a service tech - they come out to find no water on the floor!

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

Farmington, MI

The water heater's shot, time to replace it.

The softener's leak is likely a coincidence. Find the highest wet fitting and go from there.


reply to baffled

I had the same type of issue. I would often find water around the base of the hot water heater. I finally discovered it was coming from the discharge pipe (long pipe on the right side of the water heater). We changed the hot water pressure valve thinking it was faulty but it wasn't as it continued to happen. We then discovered that our water pressure was too high so the plumber put a water pressure expansion tank in line with the water heater which resolved the problem.

You can see if the water is coming from the discharge pipe by putting a small container under it.

It doesn't explain the water softener (never had one of those) but perhaps it gives you something to look at.

Good Luck.

Sunnyvale, CA
reply to baffled

said by baffled :

Has been going on for over a year on & off ... is either problem urgent?

Given that you have waited for a whole year it doesn't seem to be urgent to you.

If a water heater is nice enough to indicate imminent demise with a slow leak then I consider it urgent to replace it. It will not remain a slow leak forever and you could face considerable water damage when the water heater dies.

There is nobody here that can tell you from just looking at that picture whether or not you have one or two problems. You also didn't indicate whether both leaks started at the same time ?
How is the slope of the floor in that room ? Are you sure water is draining from both water softener and water heater towards the bottom of the picture or is it possible that either of those appliances is a low point where water accumulates ?

All water heaters have a T&P safety valve that may release water when it is either too hot or the water pressure too high. The T&P valve is not visible in the picture but it seems that the vertical pipe on the right side of the water heater might be going to the T&P valve. A simple test to see if the water is coming out of the T&P valve (instead of a leak in the water heater) is to put a cup under the opening of that pipe. If the water is coming from the T&P valve you may have a bad water heater thermostat (water gets too hot at times) or too much water pressure (bad pressure regulator, expansion tank needs maintenance or not present but needed).

Some water softeners have an automatic self cleaning cycle that flushes water backwards through the filter element. Does your water softener do that and where does the water from the cleaning cycle drain to ? If it simply drains to the floor it may explain what appears to be a leak.
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North, VA
reply to baffled

OP Did you try to determine where the water was leaking from on both the WH and Softener? The bottom outside skin doesn't look like it. If the tank were leaking the bottom of the housing would be wet along with the insulation and rusting out.

Or you could just replace them both due to age. Essentially they're at the end of their service life.


reply to leibold

Thanks for your insight. Agreed that we don't want to flood the basement when we could have intervened earlier! As to floor slope - it slopes toward the floor drain below the bottom of the photo.

I found the softener is leaking at the neck of the unit, so we'll figure out whether that is repairable.

Also placed a cup under the overflow on the WH. Will see if there is water in the cup in the morning.

Thanks again.


Milwaukee, WI
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said by baffled :

I found the softener is leaking at the neck of the unit, so we'll figure out whether that is repairable.

On my softener resin tank this is just a threaded connection with a large o-ring. The o-ring may have been compressed beyond the limit, or the resin tank may have gotten knocked or rotated slightly while you were investigating the heater problem. Mine is just hand-tightened.

If you have to replace the o-ring, and the control head is still in good shape, you might want to replace the resin in the unit at the same time. Not a tough job but messy.
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reply to baffled

Replace the tank asap. Statistically it has reached the end of life.

One good bump against the tank can dislodge the rust holding the bottom of the tank together, and then you'll have 60 gallons of hot water in your basement in seconds.