Water Heater Overflow Pipe: How to Fix?

It is fairly common for water heaters to begin to drip out of the bottom. Water heater manufacturers are aware of this leak, but it tends not to be something that will cause your tank to fail too quickly. The usual symptom of a Water Heater Overflow Pipe is when you suddenly discover that your basement is flooded with several inches of water. This is often due to the water heater leaking for a long enough time to completely drain your tank. While replacing a hot water heater is never fun, here is what you will need to do if this happens and how to fix it yourself without calling and expensive plumber.

First step: Turn off the power

Turn off the breaker that supplies power to your water heater. The gas valve supplying the tank with fuel is typically located near this breaker, so you will need to turn off both. Once power has been turned off, your water heater should be safe to disconnect.

Causes of Water Heater Overflow Pipe:

Before I show you how to fix it, let’s talk about why this happens in the first place…

When the elements inside of a water heater begin to fail, the most common symptoms are that you suddenly have no hot water or very little. A typical occurrence would be for your water heater to work fine one day, but then start making terrible noises and spewing out cold water the next.

This tends not to be an issue with any of the anode rods located inside of the tank. In fact, if you have anode rods installed in your tank, this is a good indication that the anode rods need to be replaced. This is one reason why I recommend that homeowners install a water softener and replace their hot water heater every five years or so.

The real culprit behind a leaking water heater is often one of the anode rods. These rods are made of aluminum and the inside of your tank is lined with magnesium – both of which corrode as soon as they come in contact with each other. What happens is that over time, the anode rod begins to disintegrate and bits of it fall all through out the bottom of your tank.

This can cause a number of leaks from the tank itself all the way out through your drain line. That is why if you have an old water heater, I recommend replacing it before it starts to leak. If a water heater is leaking for a long enough time, then there will be nothing left in the tank except a rusty shell that looks quite a bit like Swiss cheese. It is also common for the bolts that hold the anode rods in place to corrode and break inside of a tank. When this happens, it can cause a large leak around one of the nuts holding the rod in place.

If your water heater has been leaking for some time, then there will be little left in your tank but a pile of goo. This is when it is time to call a plumber or give Dirty Hands a call to fix it for you.

Things you need to replace water heater:

In order to replace the hot water heater, you will need the following:

  • A new hot water heater (of course)
  • Pipe tape and pipe dope in the proper size
  • New quarter-turn ball valves for both the cold and hot water lines
  • A drain pan to catch any excess water
  • Pipe wrench, pliers, screwdriver, adjustable wrench – all of which you should have already if you are a homeowner.
  • If your pipes are galvanized steel or chrome vanadium, then be sure to pick up some new steel bolts and nuts. If your water heater is leaking from the tension rod, then you will need to remove the old ones before installing it.
  • A crescent wrench or pliers to turn off your gas line (if needed)

How to Install a New Water Heater?

First step: Disconnect the tank

Take a picture of how Water Heater Overflow Pipe is connected ahead of time so you have a reference.

Before you begin removing anything, it is important to remember that water will come out pretty much everywhere once you remove the pressure relief valve cap on top of your hot water heater. This is especially true if the tank has been empty for some time and all of that gunk I mentioned earlier has flooded into your pan causing the tank to pressurize and pushing all of that water and goo up the relief valve. This is why it is important to have a drain pan under your hot water heater at all times.

Before you disconnect anything, make sure that no one has any access to the hot water in the house – this could be as easy as closing off the bathroom and kitchen sinks. Close off any exterior faucets that you do not want running for the next few hours as well.

Once everything is closed – disconnect the hot and cold line quarter-turn ball valves with a pair of pliers and screwdriver (or your adjustable wrench if you are lucky enough to have one). Be sure to keep track of which hose goes back to which connection.

Now, disconnect the pressure relief valve from the tank by turning it counter clockwise. If you have any water left in your water heater, this will come spurting out once the cap is removed – so be ready with your pan! Once all of the water has been drained from your water heater pipe, remove the remaining three nuts with your adjustable wrench.

Do not let go of the pressure relief valve! Hold onto it because you are going to need it in just a second.

Now that everything is disconnected, carefully lower your water heater into your pan – careful not to let any water get on yourself or out of the pan. If you have a helper for this part, then great. If not, then use a couple of cinder blocks and a strong rope to lower your tank without breaking anything or dropping it into the pan.

Now, remove the three nuts from the bottom of your water heater with your adjustable wrench or crescent wrench. Once these are removed, you can slide out your old hot water heater.

The next step is to remove the drain plug on the bottom of your tank – this will release any excess water that may be left inside of it. If you are like me, then there won’t be much left in your tank at all! It might not hurt to let this go for a minute or two.

Finally, remove the one remaining cap on top of your tank that is covering the hole in the bottom where the drain plug used to be. Be sure to have a strong grip on it because there still may be some water left in your tank!

Now, disconnect the power wire to your Water Heater Overflow Pipe by either cutting or unscrewing the wire.

Step 2: Preparing the new water heater for installation

Once you have your new water heater in hand, begin with removing any old or excess tape that might be on the tank. Make sure to keep all of the boxes, receipts, manuals and additional parts inside of them! These are especially important if you are swapping out a tank that is less than 10 years old.

Before you begin attaching anything to the new hot water heater, make sure to attach your power wire back on and turn it on. Don’t worry about the temperature yet – we will get to that in a few minutes.

The next step is to use some Teflon tape (or pipe dope if you prefer) and wrap it clockwise around the threads of your new pressure relief cap (or your old one if you are reusing it). Don’t go overboard with this stuff, but make sure to do a nice even job all the way around. Once this is done, tighten the cap back on top of your tank.

Next, connect your new hot and cold quarter-turn ball valves to the front of your tank. If you have a helper, use them here because it is going to be difficult to hold everything in place by yourself. Once these are attached, make sure you turn all three of the valves on and tighten them down – but not too tight! Now that most of the connections are taken care of, you can move on to attaching your new pressure relief valve.

Using a padded pipe wrench or adjustable wrench, grip your pressure relief valve and turn it clockwise until it is hand tight. Once this is done, use your ratchet to tighten down the cap as tight as you can get it with out using a ton of force.

Now, let’s turn our attention towards the cold water in line. We are going to need to remove it from the house so that we can cap it off with your street elbow adapter. If you have a double-handled adjustable wrench, this will be easy – otherwise you will have to get creative here.

Once you have the cold water line disconnected, go ahead and remove it from the house. You will now need to attach your street elbow adapter – make sure you read the package for correct installation of this part. Once you are finished with that step, re-attach the cold water line back to your house.

Now that you have both lines reconnected, you can begin to fill your new tank. Follow the directions on your new water heater and slowly fill it up until it is about a half inch from the opening in the top of your tank.

Now that you have filled up your new tank, it is time to check for leaks! Go ahead and turn off all three valves on top of your tank and let it sit for a little while. If you have any leaks, you can tighten or re-wrap your connections as needed.

Once this is done, go ahead and turn the cold water valve back on and slowly bring your temperature up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you reach this temperature, make sure to go ahead and check for leaks again.

Now, check your hot water line to make sure it is also at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Once everything is set and you don’t see any leaks, you are ready to turn everything back on! It might not be a bad idea to let this run for about an hour or so just to make sure that everything is stable.

If you don’t have a meter to check for leaks, you can also do it the old fashioned way – with your ear! After you tighten down all the connections on top of your tank, go ahead and turn it back on. While making sure to stay away from any hot water lines or surfaces that might be hot, put your head close to the pressure relief valve and listen for a constant hissing noise. This means that you have a leak, so you might need to take it apart and try again!

If everything checks out ok, go ahead and turn your water heater back on and make sure to check for leaks one last time. If everything is set, enjoy your new-and-improved water heater!

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