Tag Archives: water heater leaks

Protect Yourself from Water Heater Leaks

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question: Our home’s water heater is located in a hallway closet in the central part of our home and we have just recently had very expensive hardwood flooring laid in this hallway, living room and master bedroom. My wife and I are concerned about the wood floors being water damaged if the water heater were to spring a leak. What can be done to protect our new floors?

Your Handyman: It was not uncommon for water heaters to be placed in an interior utility closet often alongside the furnace in tract homes that were built in the 1950’s and 60’s. Even the highest quality water heater is going to eventually suffer from internal rusting and start to leak, which if left unchecked can cause extensive water damage to flooring, cabinets, and drywall. Many of the owners of these homes have relocated the water heater out to the garage and the furnace up to the attic, and then converted the old utility closet to a linen closet or additional square footage for a bathroom or bedroom. If moving the water heater out to the garage is more of a project than you are primed for at this point in time, there are simple precautions that you can take to contain the eventual leak.

A water heater in most any location should be seated in a shallow metal pan often called a Johnny Pan which ideally should have a drain line that allows water to drain out to the exterior of the home. Such a drain line may not be possible in your utility closet but the pan is still a good idea for containing a slow leak, and is also a good place to put a water leak alarm which can be purchased at most any hardware store for about $20. The alarm will sound off when any water comes in contact with the sensor, and is similar in size to a smoke alarm.

A seismic bracing strap kit can also be purchased at any hardware store to hold the water heater secure during an earthquake to prevent both water lines and gas pipes from breaking and to keep the tank from toppling completely over in a strong shaker. The tank needs two straps, one at the top 1/3 of the tank and the other at the bottom 1/3. The straps need to securely hold the tank in contact with the back wall or an inside wall corner in order to be effective. A tank not held in firm contact with the wall risks being torn loose as it moves about independently of the movements of house in an earthquake.

Lastly, if you are going out of town for even a day or two, be sure to shut off the water supply to the house interior. This requires a separate water supply shut off valve for the house and for the outside sprinklers and hoses. Many unfortunate homeowners have arrived home from vacation to find that a minor water leak has flooded their home causing all sorts of expensive and time consuming water damage.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Water Heater Leaks and Noisy Fountains

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Water Heaters & Fountains

Question: Fortunately I noticed that the water heater in our laundry room started leaking last week and I was able to get a plumber out to the house to replace it before it caused any water damage. However when I called the company that made the water heater, which is a very well know brand, to register the warranty, the customer service person told me that the water had been made in 2007, and so it is 7 years old! Thank goodness the warranty starts from the date of installation so there is no problem there, but should I be concerned that the water heater is so old?

Your Handyman: This is really sort of an unusual situation that I have not run across before. I have no idea at all why a water heater would sit in a distributor’s warehouse for 7 years before being sold. It’s not some kind of discretionary purchase item that people buy on a whim. Who knows: maybe your water heater was set in the back of the warehouse, newer water heaters were stored in front of it as they were received from the manufacturer, and the last ones in were the first ones out. Finally it’s time came and it was sold to your plumber who probably assumed it was brand new as he delivered it to your home.

The most important issue is that the manufacturer’s warranty starts from the date of installation so you essentially have the same protection from manufacturing defects as if the water heater was made last month. Good for you that you are one of the few people out there who actually take the time to register their warranty otherwise you might have been out of luck if the water heater had failed early in its service life.

The main problems that occur with a water heater are due to corrosion, either from minerals in the water or from sulfur in the natural gas if it is gas burning versus electric. Since your water heater has never been filled with water or hooked up to natural gas, then corrosion is not an issue and I would think that the life of the water heater should be the same as if it were brand new. The only other possible problem that I can think would be if the circuitry was affected by age but a residential water heater is a pretty simple appliance that has very little if any circuitry built into its controls. So your situation is definitely unusual but I don’t think your water heater’s expected life will be any less for its age.

One easy way to significantly extend the life of a water heater, especially in a town like Santa Barbara that has very hard water, is to completely drain the tank every year or as frequently as you are able. This will flush out all the mineral rich water that settles into the bottom of the tank which makes the tank less energy efficient and ultimately promotes rust that slowly corrodes the interior tank wall away until a small leak eventually starts.

Most water heaters have a drain valve on the side near the bottom of the tank that looks just like a hose bib valve for your outside garden hose. To drain the tank, connect a garden hose to this valve with the hose extended outside the house to a point lower than the water heater, turn the tank off, open the pressure relief valve on the top of the tank, and then open the drain valve allowing the tank to completely drain. On some water heaters the drain valve is made of plastic that can become brittle from years of being exposed to heat, so be very careful not to break the valve off, in which case you will need to quickly form a bucket brigade to avoid flooding the room that the water heater is located in.

Question: We have a decorative fountain in the lobby of our business that is very attractive but the little fountain pump is making quite a lot of noise. It is a newer pump that was just replaced last fall so I am surprised we are having problems with it so soon. Do you think we need a new pump and what sort of maintenance should we be doing to keep the fountain working quietly?

Your Handyman: Decorative fountains and overflowing urns can be attractive visually and the sound of splashing water can be very calming and is often used to mask less appealing sounds like traffic or the blaring TV next door. Most fountains have a small submergible pump that if kept clean and not allowed to run dry will last for several years or more. The pump will start to make noticeable noise if the water level gets low or the pump gets clogged. More than likely the pump in your fountain has just gotten clogged up with a little algae and simply needs to be cleaned.

A small amount of chlorine added to the water regularly can help to keep the algae in check, but too much chlorine can damage the rubber and plastic parts of the pump thus shortening it’s life.

Often an outside fountain can become a popular meeting place for crows and other larger birds who will quickly foul the water and clog the pump with feathers, food and worse. Crows tend to want to dunk their heads and food into the water so one way to discourage repeat visits is to fill the fountain with a decorative stone like Mexican Pebbles which are available in several different colors and sizes.

Homeowners are often surprised by how much water is required by a medium to large sized fountain and it soon can become a new additional chore to keep the water filled. Fountains loose a significant amount of water due to evaporation from hot weather, spray from even the slightest breeze, splash from water spilling from one level to the next, and from birds and animals using the fountain as the neighborhood watering hole. An easy solution is to have your fountain filled with water automatically via a drip line without an emitter every time your irrigation system turns on rather than having to remember to fill it manually with a garden hose.

If you are considering placing a fountain in your yard, be sure to consider the effects of spray and splash on the surrounding hardscape if any. A patio surface that is continually being misted by a fountain will soon accumulate an unsightly build up of minerals and sometimes slippery moss that can cause someone to loose their footing and take a fall.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259