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In this post: Minimize damage and deal with leaks by learning what to do when your water heater fails.
As I was getting ready for bed on a Friday night, it seemed like the water wasn’t getting as warm as it normally did.
When I woke up Saturday morning, the water wouldn’t get warm at all. I went out to the garage to check the hot water tank, and found rusty water leaking onto the floor.
Of course this would happen on a Saturday, when many plumbers are closed.
A huge inconvenience, but no need to panic.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR WATER HEATER FAILS!
There are a few simple things you should do right away when your water heater fails. These will help minimize any water damage, and make sure the tank condition doesn’t get worse before help arrives.
My tank has a handy sticker on the front outlining exactly what to do. If yours doesn’t have something like this, just follow these steps.
1. Turn off the heat source
I have a gas hot water heater. For my tank, I simply had to turn the dial to the “OFF” position.
If you have an electric hot water heater, you may need to turn off the power at the breaker. Look for the switch in your electrical box labeled for the hot water heater.
If you’ve never even looked at your electrical panel before, pick up a free copy of the You Can Do This DIY guide to get introduced to the basics.
2. Turn off the water supply
Once the heater is turned off, you want to stop any more water from going into the tank. Locate the shutoff valve at the top of the tank. Turn the valve clockwise (righty-tighty) until it stops.
If you can’t find the valve on the tank, you may need to turn off the water supply to the house. This is a less fun option, because then you won’t even have cold running water until the tank is repaired.
3. Drain the tank
If your water heater is leaking, the quickest way to stop the leak is to empty the remaining water out of the tank.
Attach a hose to the drain spigot located near the bottom of the tank. Run the other end of the hose outside, or to a nearby drain, and then open the valve. (I needed a screwdriver to turn mine.)
As the water drains out, you will need to allow air to flow into the tank. Otherwise, a vacuum builds up, and the water can’t get out.
To let air in, open one of your hot water taps at a sink. No water will come out of the faucet, because you turned off the hot water tank, but this will allow air to flow the other way into the tank.
4. Call a plumber
Now that you have things under control, you can call a plumber. You should leave the rest of this job to the professionals.
While you’re waiting for help to arrive, I strongly suggest researching the average cost for water heater replacement in your area. Then you’ll have an idea of what it should cost you.
A good place to start your research is to use a service such as HomeAdvisor. They have cost ranges, and a list of pre-screened contractors.
Make sure to get a price quote before the plumber begins the work. Question any charges that seem excessive, or you don’t understand. Get a few quotes if you can.
Protect yourself, and your hard earned money. Just because you’re a woman who desperately wants her hot water back, that doesn’t mean you’re a clueless sucker.