Having said that, the average life of a hot water system is around 10-12 years although we have replaced systems that were more than 30 years old. It is a sad fact of life that sooner or later your hot water system will begin to leak from somewhere and the following gives you an idea of what it could be and what you can do about it.
There can be nothing more annoying than a leaking hot water system, particularly if the unit is located inside the home. There are only a few places that a hot water unit can leak from. The pressure and temperature relief valve (ptr valve) is located near the top on the unit and to one side of your hot water system and will have a small lever on it. This lever should be gently lifted approximately every six months or so to flush the valve free of accumulated debris. Be careful when you do this as hot water will come out of the relief line under pressure – keep all your valuable body parts out of the way!
After 10 seconds or so, gently let the lever back down and the flow will stop. The relief valve is designed to leak small amounts of water particularly on the heating cycle (after someone has had a shower for example) to stop the excessive build up of pressure inside the hot water system itself. These valves will eventually wear out and will need to be replaced. If you notice water running from the relief line on a regular basis the valve needs to be replaced. The longer you let it run the higher your electricity bill is going to be as the unit is constantly heating water even though you are not using it – hot water is running out the relief line on and cold water is coming in to the bottom of the tank to be heated continuously.
Another place a hot water unit can leak from is the element gasket. The element will be near the bottom of the hot water system where the electrical wires enter and is covered by a box or plate. The element has a rubber gasket around it where it penetrates the tank itself and these do perish over time which will cause leakage. Obviously, leaks from this area should be treated as a matter of urgency due to the close proximity of the leak to the electrical supply. Do not, under any circumstances try to fix this yourself – water and electricity do not mix and can make your hair curly – this is dangerous! The unit usually needs to be drained and the element removed to allow replacement of the gasket. Sometimes the area where the element bolts on to the tank is too corroded to allow the bolts to be tightened up enough to allow the new element gasket to get an effective seal. If this is the case the hot water stem will require replacement as there is no repair available for this problem. Always use a qualified tradesman when dealing with any aspect of your electricity system and supply – it simply is not worth risking your life for the sake of a few dollars.
Another place the unit can leak is from the cylinder itself. In the great majority of cases a leaking hot water cylinder means the unit is beyond repair and will also require replacement.