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What Do I Do if My Hot Water Heater is Leaking From the Top?

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

what do i do if my hot water heater is leaking from the top

We often get questions from homeowners about the issue, “What do I do if my hot water heater is leaking from the top?” Fortunately, we’re consistent in our responses. Your immediate action involves disconnecting the appliance from its power or fuel source.

Water coming out top of water heater is a clear sign of a problem with the appliance’s uppermost components. You don’t want to assess and troubleshoot the issue with the water heater still running. It’s like opening the doors to a costly disaster.

We see three possible explanations for why water comes out of the water heater’s top section and not from bottom – faulty connections and pipe fittings, a T&P relief valve issue, and a leaky cold water inlet valve.

So, join us in exploring the causes of such an issue and how to troubleshoot and fix them.

Table of Contents

Immediate Actions to Take


The following are the immediate actions you must take if you notice the hot water tank leaking from the top.

  • Owners of electric water heater units can go to their respective residential electrical panels. Open the panel door and look for the “water heater” circuit breaker, and turn it off.
  • If you have a gas water heater, rotate the gas regulator valve to the OFF position.
  • Clean the water heater’s top section, ensuring it’s completely dry. This action will help you determine the source of water leaking from this area.

Assessing the Situation

It should be easy to isolate a leak from top of water heater, as long as the water heater’s surface is clean and dry. Ensure to open the cold water inlet valve to let water flow, allowing you to identify areas where liquid comes out. Here’s how you assess the problem.

1. Check the water heater inlet valve.


Two water pipes are present on the water heater’s top. One delivers cold water to the storage tank, while the other moves heated water from the tank to fixtures and appliances.

Run your fingers on the valve and check for moistness. Alternatively, place a paper towel on the area and look for water seepage. If the leakage is severe, you might notice the water heater overflowing from top.

2. Examine plumbing fixtures and anode rod.


Water heater pipes (i.e., inlet and outlet) feature dielectric nipples, fittings, or connections. Assess these components plus the anode rod for signs of leak or corrosion.

3. Assess the T&P relief valve.


You can see a temperature & pressure (T&P) relief valve at the water heater’s side from top element panel. Some models might have this component at the top. Check for signs of water seepage or corrosion there. You can place a paper towel and assess moistness if unsure.

Please close the water inlet valve after identifying the source of the leak.

DIY Troubleshooting Steps

You’re ready to fix leaking water heater units after the assessment. We recommend thoroughly inspecting the different components to ensure you cover everything. Here’s how to troubleshoot these leaky concerns.

1. Tighten or replace a leaky cold water inlet valve.


Fixing a water heater spraying water from top is easy if the cold water inlet valve is only loose. You can get a wrench and anchor it against the inlet valve’s nut (the part connecting the handle to the valve). Rotate the nut clockwise to tighten. It should solve the leaky issue.

Unfortunately, there’s no temporary fix to a corroded or faulty valve. You can tighten the hardware, but the leak will persist. Hence, the only solution is to replace the cold water inlet valve.

Replacing the valve could be messy. Unless your plumbing skills are A-grade, we recommend hiring a professional to perform the task. If your DIY spirit is strong, here are the steps.

  1. Ensure the water is OFF (no electricity or no gas).
  2. Close the household’s main water valve.
  3. Turn on a hot water tap, preferably one near the water heater.
  4. Relieve pressure from the tank and close the faucet when the water starts sputtering.
  5. Use a wrench to loosen the nuts linking the cold water inlet valve to the flexible pipe. There should be two – one below and another above.
  6. Remove the corroded or defective valve and replace it with a new one.
  7. Tighten the connections, open the water supply line, and reestablish power to the water heater.

We found this YouTube video by Sky Management. It could help you replace your water heater’s leaky cold water inlet valve.

2. Tighten a loose pipe fitting.

If your assessment reveals that a dielectric nipple is not as tight as it should be, the water heater repair is straightforward. Get a wrench and clamp it against the “loose” pipe fitting. Tighten it as best you can.

3. Replace a corroded dielectric nipple.


Like a corroded cold water inlet valve, a rusty dielectric nipple requires replacement. The process could be as straightforward as switching the pipe fittings with a new one. Unfortunately, corrosion can make the removal challenging.

We suggest checking your water heater brand’s guidelines for replacing any component. For example, Rheem requires professional installation for all appliance parts and accessories.

But the general steps are: turn off the water heater and its water supply, then drain out the pressure from the T&P valve. At this point, you can remove the fittings with a pipe wrench and secure dielectric unions to the new nipples using the same tool.

4. Remove and examine the T&P relief valve and replace it if necessary.


If water comes out of or moisture builds up around the T&P relief valve, you have no recourse but to replace it with a new one. Here’s how.

  • Disconnect the appliance from its water and power (or fuel) source.
  • Leave the water heater for at least six hours to cool.
  • Connect a garden hose to the appliance’s drain valve at the tank’s bottom.
  • Open a nearby hot water fixture.
  • Open the water heater drain valve.
  • Drain some water from the tank up to the level of the T&P relief valve.
  • Unfasten the T&P relief valve using channel locks.
  • Remove the T&P relief valve from the storage tank.
  • Inspect the T&P port for signs of corrosion. You can skip the troubleshooting if you notice any because the only solution is tank replacement.
  • If you don’t see corrosion on the tank, get silicone or Teflon tape and wrap the T&P relief valve’s thread.
  • Insert the new T&P relief valve into the water heater tank and tighten it.

You can check AmplifyDIY’s how-to-YouTube video on replacing a water heater’s T&P relief valve.

5. Replace the rusty anode rod.

Turn off the water heater and its supply, then partially drain the unit about six inches from the top. Unscrew the cover of the anode rod using a ratchet or adjustable wrench then remove it. Finally, wrap the head of the new rod with Teflon tape, put it into the water heater, then tighten it.



When should I call the professional?

You can call a professional technician when the troubleshooting activities outlined above fail to address the top of hot water tank leaking. Moreover, if you’re not confident about performing any of these tasks or are afraid to make the problem worse, a licensed plumber can help.

Preventive measures for future leaks

The best way to prevent future leaks is by observing a yearly servicing. Corrosion is the common denominator in top water heater leaks, making draining and flushing essential preventive maintenance activities.

Setting the thermostat from 120 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit can also prevent unnecessary pressure buildup in the tank. Knowing your water heater’s age also helps. Most appliances only last about a decade, increasing the risk of leaks with age. A replacement might be necessary if your appliance’s old.


You know what to say when somebody asks, “What do I do if my hot water heater is leaking from the top?”

Temporarily disconnecting the appliance’s electrical power or fuel helps you assess the situation. Moreover, it lets you zero in on issues with the cold water inlet valve, dielectric nipple, or T&P relief valve.

Troubleshooting is as straightforward as tightening loose fittings. Or, it could involve a bit of elbow grease if replacing a corroded or faulty component. And if you’re unsure, professional technicians are available.

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