How urgently do I need a plumber?
October 16, 2017 7:54 PM   Subscribe

How urgently do I need to replace my 8-9 year-old electric hot water heater, and do I need to worry about some water underneath it? The water came from me knocking the release valve, not a preexisting leak.

I was checking out the date on my water heater tank tonight for the first time since buying my place to see when it might need replacing. In doing so, I accidentally knocked the release valve and let out a quick burst of water. It was momentary, much shorter than 1 second, and mostly went into the pan. I cleaned it up as best I could, sopping with towels, but there's still some water caught in an uneven piece of the pan below/under the rim of the tank. I sop, wait for the water to come out a little, sop again, repeat. It's pretty dry now, but not perfect.

So, two questions:
1) The tank was replaced in 2008 or 2009 and had a 6-year warranty, but I couldn't find any other lifespan info. I imagine I should replace it ASAP?
2) While I wait to call a plumber tomorrow and schedule the replacement, should I be concerned about the small bit of water under the tank? The electric connection is on top of the tank, if that matters.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
In an electric water heater, all the electronics are above the top of the pan at the bottom, which is designed to channel and even temporarily hold a small amount of water without the need to sop it up.

Standard electric water heaters last 10-15 years. What's the need to change it right now? If it's not producing hot water to temperature or to volume you're expecting, sure, call a plumber. If it's working fine other than you nudged the blow-off valve, then leave well enough alone.
posted by deezil at 8:18 PM on October 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think 10-15 years is quite optimistic. I have medium water - not hard and not soft - and 10 years is very generous. I made it eight and just replaced mine, though we tend to have our water heated to a higher temp than some. Now that I think of it, we've been in our house 16 years, and have replaced it twice. If your water has lots of minerals that would contribute to less longevity.

I have no idea what knocking your valve might contribute to the lifespan of your hot water heater, but individual conditions probably matter.
posted by citygirl at 8:41 PM on October 16, 2017

There's no urgency on either front. But you want to have that release valve plumbed to to the outside. Terminating inside is not to code.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:01 PM on October 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also check the relief valve later to see if it's leaking by - they don't always fully reseat, and letting it leak by slowly will erode it until it can't reseat. If it's leaking, manually lifting and releasing it again until it stops usually works.

It's pretty unlikely you need to do anything with the heater. Maybe open the electric breakers and drain it to get any sediment out, which should be done once in a while. You didn't hurt anything with the valve.
posted by ctmf at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a thought, instead of replacing the hot water tank, check the anode. The anode is a metal rod inside the tank that corrodes. Without getting too technical, the rod is designed to prevent the tank itself from rusting by "attracting" the corrosion to itself and thereby prolonging the life of the tank liner. Replacing the anode can help prolong the life of your hot water tank.

These are all very broad rules of thumb, so take it for what it's worth but;
If the anode rod is in fairly good shape chances are that the tank is OK.
If the rod is partially corroded it may be time to replace the rod.
If the rod is completely corroded away it may be time to replace the tank.

Replacing the anode rod is something most homeowners can do themselves in about 15 minutes with just a wrench. The only thing that can prevent you from checking the rod or changing it is if the tank is located in a place where there's little room above the tank to get at the rod, like under the stairs. Otherwise it's easy. I've done ours twice and the hot water tank is about 12 years old.
posted by Zedcaster at 10:26 PM on October 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

No need to worry too much. If the only water in the tray is from the relief valve, and that was because you (inadvertently) operated it, everything is sweet. I would even cancel the plumber.

The life of a HWS is hugely dependent on the quality of the local water, and the material of the tank itself (the inside of the tank, not what you see). You should research the water quality of your locale, and people's experience of tank life. You should also check the material that the inside tank is made of, so that when looking at the results of your research, you know what to look for. My tank has just been replaced after 25 years in my ownership, and it was second hand when I got it (enamelled steel, tank water).

If you do get a plumber, beware him selling you something you don't need. You decide what you need by doing your own research.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:06 AM on October 17, 2017

But you want to have that release valve plumbed to to the outside. Terminating inside is not to code.

Draining to the pan is up to code for me and for anyone else governed by the IRC. This is from the NYS adopted version.
P2804.6.1 Requirements for discharge pipe.
The discharge piping serving a pressure-relief valve, temperature-relief valve or combination valve shall:
5. Discharge to the floor, to the pan serving the water heater or storage tank, to a waste receptor or to the outdoors.
I wouldn't worry about the water at all, it will evaporate in short order. Get the tank replaced when/if it needs it.
posted by no1hatchling at 6:46 AM on October 17, 2017

My (limited) experience is that you absolutely cannot go by recommended years with a water heater: my parents' old one lasted 30 years; the ones in my last apartment building were all installed at the same time and all started to go at 10-11 years; I bought a house with a 5 year-old heater and thought I was good... and just replaced it last month.

The rule of thumb my plumber told me was to keep the heater until you notice a spontaneous leak or rusty hot water.

If you're really worried about the leak factor you can buy an alarm that will sit in your pan and go off if water starts to collect.
posted by TwoStride at 8:11 AM on October 17, 2017

Zedcaster has said what I came to say: I would add that you can also change out the heating elements, the things that heat the water - it's easy and any plumber can do this no muss, no fuss.

The temp. relief valve could, if you're worried about it, be set up so a hose (high pressure, like for a washing machine is best) or hard pipe (pic would work fine) leads into a 5 gallon bucket, or to the pan, so if it does go off the water doesn't go flying all over but rather to a contained place. (Plumbing codes/ building codes often vary between municipalities. For residential applications they are all pretty similar, with some small variations.)

Water in the pan is no big deal. But if it rises over the day...
posted by From Bklyn at 1:26 AM on October 18, 2017

To clarify, the water after the valve is hot, but not under pressure (the pressure is on the tank side of the valve). I use garden hose on mine. When operating as a pressure relief, it releases the pressure as a small flow of water, seen as a trickle at the end of the hose. When tested, if the lever is flipped quickly to the maximum extent, you WILL get a large flow of very hot water, which is why I ease the valve open when I test mine. The point of the exercise is to flex the mechanism and check both that the valve shuts completely after the test, and there is nothing blocking the escape of the released water.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:02 PM on October 19, 2017

if it's not broken don't fix it.
posted by patnok at 1:16 PM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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