Hot water heaters are workhorse appliances that undergo repeated use for years at a time. Eventually, these heaters will reach the end of their normal lifespan, or start developing premature problems that you should attend to sooner rather than later. Whether you own a unit powered by gas or electricity, one of the most common problems is leaking. While a small leak may seem like no cause for concern, it can quickly lead to such serious issues as floor damage, subfloor damage or even wall damage. A leak in your hot water tank can appear in various locations, including the bottom of the tank. A brief rundown will help explain the top causes of actual and apparent leaks at the bottom of your gas water heater.

1) An Aging Water Heater

The average hot water heater lasts anywhere from roughly eight to 12 years. A number of things can influence the actual lifespan of your unit, including its design and location inside your home, the quality of your local water supply, the regularity of heater maintenance and the skill of the individual who performed the heater installation. When your gas hot water tank nears the end of its useful life, it can start to develop serious problems with rust and corrosion. Once the corrosion process advances far enough, leaks can begin to form in the bottom of the tank. You should take these leaks very seriously. If corrosion is the source of your problems, the bottom of the unit can fail completely and release gallons of water into the surrounding area.

2) A Loose Drain Valve

All conventional hot water heaters come equipped with a device called a drain valve. This brass or plastic valve, which looks like a water tap, is used to drain your tank periodically and help you avoid a sediment buildup that can make it harder for your heater to do its job properly. Since the drain valve must empty the hot water tank, it sits near the tank bottom. Under normal conditions, the valve should remain fully closed. In addition, it should make a watertight connection with the side of the heater. However, in some cases, a loose drain valve or valve connection may lead to leaking. Unlike a corroded tank bottom, which always calls for a water heater replacement, you can typically remedy this source of leaks on your own.

3) Water Condensation

The third most common cause of leaking at the bottom of your hot water tank is not a leak at all. Instead, the issue here is an apparent leak caused by water condensation. This condensation forms when the temperature of the water inside your heater’s tank falls significantly below the temperature of the air surrounding the unit. Such a situation usually occurs when cold water first enters the tank. In some cases, condensation may drip down the side of the heater, reach the bottom of the unit and produce water spots that mimic the appearance of a small leak. A quick glance further up the heater should help you identify the presence of this condensation, which fortunately doesn’t affect the health or function of your hot water tank at all.