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5 Steps For Dealing With A Leaking Hot Water System

A leaking hot water system is one of the biggest worries that can pop up at home.

A leaking hot water system is one of the biggest worries that can pop up at home. Not only does it mean you’ll likely find yourself with cold water when you turn on the hot water tap, but you might also find yourself dealing with higher running costs and a risk of serious water damage to your home. Even if the initial problem looks minor at best, leaking hot water systems will get worse over time. That means there should be no delay in finding the cause and organising repairs.

Whether you have a gas, solar or electric hot water system, it’s typically best to call a plumber for any major leak. However, there are a few simple steps you can follow to prevent immediate headaches from worsening. You won’t be on your own when faced with a leaking hot water system.

Step 1: Identify the Type of Water Heater

Depending on how much attention you pay to your hot water unit, you may or may not know what type you have. Take a moment to quickly identify what you have, as options can include:

  • Solar hot water systems
  • Electric hot water systems (including electric storage tanks and electric instantaneous water heaters)
  • Gas hot water systems (including gas storage systems and instantaneous/continuous flow systems)
  • Heat pump hot water unit

Each type of heating method or style of hot water system could determine the steps it takes to stop a leak. Gas systems might have different parts or components compared to heat pumps or electric hot water systems. On top of that, an instantaneous system will have different needs to storage units.

Choosing the Right Hot Water System for Your Needs

Selecting the right hot water system is crucial. The ideal new system should align with your household’s water heating needs, climate conditions, and budget. If you live in an area with cold climates, a continuous flow system or a natural gas storage system might be more suitable. These systems ensure a steady hot water supply even in colder temperatures. On the other hand, if you are looking to save on electricity prices and have adequate roof space, installing a solar PV system or heat pump-powered unit could be the ideal choice. Solar hot water systems are highly efficient, utilising solar panels to heat water, and can work in tandem with an electric or natural gas booster for cloudy days.

Step 2: Confirm Where the Leak is Coming From

The location of the leak may not necessarily be as important to you, but it will be to the local plumber. It may also indicate how much trouble you’re in.

Assess the situation to see whether the leak is coming from the top or bottom of a tank. A leak from the bottom of the tank is problematic because a large amount of water is spilling out with intense pressure pushing down. Meanwhile, a leak in a wall-mounted continuous flow unit could easily be stopped by turning off the water supply. There is different pressure being placed on the unit, and a different set of circumstances. A leaking pressure/temperature relief valve (PRTV) or pressure relief valve (PRV) is another scenario. And in each case, you may be in luck as a leaking valve is quite common and easy to replace or fix.

Also, be sure to check any other exposed plumbing if it looks like there’s no water running from a water heater. The problem may be further down the pipe where leaks aren’t as noticeable. Just take the time to investigate the whole system if you suspect – or see – water.

Understanding Your Hot Water System’s Efficiency

When dealing with a leaking hot water system, it’s vital to consider the efficiency of your current setup. Australia has been shifting towards more energy-efficient appliances that must meet minimum energy performance standards, and hot water systems are no exception.

If you’re using an old large tank or an outdated model, you might be spending more on your energy bills than necessary. Upgrading to a more efficient hot water system, such as a heat pump or a solar hot water system, can significantly reduce your running costs while being environmentally friendly. These systems have lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to the gas systems or traditional electric models. To ensure you are making a cost-effective decision, weigh the initial cost against potential savings on your electricity bills and the system’s longevity.

Step 3. Turn Off the Water Supply

Once you identify the leak and its overall severity, you’ll have to turn off the water supply. To do this, head to the main water meter at the front of your property and turn the tap off. You’ll find the water meter in the front yard, potentially near the driveway or along the boundary fence with the street.

Shutting off the water mains means you can prevent any problem leak from getting even worse. There’s no risk of additional flooding or invasive water damage. Sometimes you can get away with keeping water at the mains on. There are hot water systems that have an inbound tap with a specific knob you can turn off to stop the direct flow of water. If you can directly shut off the water supply without having to cut off the whole home, that’s a big plus.

Step 4. Shut Off the Electricity or Gas Supply

If you have an electric hot water system, or a electric-boosted solar hot water system and there is a risk of electrical shock, switch off the power supply at the switchboard. The exact switch or circuit breaker should be clearly labelled so you can safely isolate the hot water system circuit. You can maintain power for the rest of your home as a result and avoid further disaster from a leaking electric water heater.

Additionally, gas hot water systems should have the gas isolation valve to the hot water heater turned off. With both the gas and water supply off, you can remain confident that any leak risk is minimised.

Maintaining Your Hot Water System to Prevent Future Leaks

Regular maintenance is key to extending the life of your hot water system and preventing future leaks. Australian homeowners should consider having a licensed plumber inspect their heated water system at least once a year, particularly if the unit is installed outdoors and exposed to the elements.

For storage tank units, checking the anode rod and flushing out sediment can prevent corrosion and build-up. Stainless steel tanks, although more expensive, offer greater resistance to corrosion and can be a worthwhile investment for longevity. Pay attention to any signs of wear and tear, and ensure that the pressure relief valve is functioning correctly to avoid excess pressure that could lead to leaks.

Step 5. Call a Licensed Plumber

With everything in order, give your local plumber a call. They’ll arrive on-site and will either repair or replace the hot water system, depending on the overall issue. And if your water heater is leaking and you can’t stem the flow, they’ll be able to shut it off with precision. They will assist in any way possible and can install a new hot water system with no delay, or fix an existing leak. Also, check to see if the unit is still under the manufacturer’s warranty. This may mean you’re still covered by them for any repairs and replacement and will require an authorised plumber so the warranty is not voided. But no matter what, if you’re in doubt, always contact a plumber. They’ll be your best bet for fast and effective hot water system leak repairs.

When to Consider Replacing Hot Water Systems

Sometimes, repairing a leaking hot water system might not be the most cost-effective solution, especially if the unit is old or has required frequent repairs. In such cases, investing in a new hot water system might be the better option. Australian households have a huge range of options to choose from, including electric storage tank systems, gas water heaters, heat pumps and solar models. If your current storage tank unit is large and your hot water needs have decreased, you might save money in the long run by switching to a smaller unit or a continuous flow system.

Before making a purchase, consider the flow rate, venting requirements, the number of hot water outlets in your home and how much hot water you’ll need to make sure you are selecting a system that meets your specific needs. Remember, while the initial cost of a more efficient unit might be higher, the potential for low running costs, especially with gas, a heat pump, or off peak electricity, can make it a worthwhile investment.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.