My experience trying to fix a water heater leak

So, after a couple of years of dealing with cold showers and hoping for the best, I finally fixed the leak.  Fortunately, it was pretty simple to fix thanks to an extremely helpful video guide by a local plumbing company. Before getting started, I should preface this post by mentioning that my heater is located in an unfinished area above my garage accessible only through a hatch. To reach this area, one must access the attic and pull down a folding ladder from one of two storage areas. Once inside the crawl space, there’s not much working room, and all but about 5 feet or so is filled with insulation and fiberglass batts making it difficult to maneuver around. These pictures were taken before I finished the ceiling so the insulation and ladder are gone but the heater and water pipes are still in these pictures:

The yellow tape was put there by my wife because I’m dumb and didn’t take a before picture when we first moved in. The green arrow shows the approximate location of the leak which was located behind the connection to one of two black hot water lines (the other line wasn’t leaking). The red arrows show where all of this is in reference to the hatch, insulation, and insulation-covered fiberglass batts. As you can tell from this picture it’s a very tight fit:

So yeah, that’s about as cramped as it gets and not much in terms of working room.  Having to work around things like an old heating unit in such a small space means you can’t make a mistake. I’ll try to take as much of the back story as possible but there might be some things I forget so here goes…

The water heater leak was due to the unit being roughly 10 years old and has had no maintenance done on it since we bought the house almost exactly four years ago. We knew about the leak at that time because it was causing damage to the ceiling in the unfinished area above the garage (hence why there’s now drywall there).  We also knew that 10+-year-old heating units are generally due for replacement so we just dealt with it, letting it drip all over rather than trying to fix what would likely need replacing soon anyway. Over time the drip became more of a dribble and the damage to the ceiling was getting worse so we decided it was time to see if we couldn’t fix it and simultaneously save ourselves a few bucks. The first step (after watching Karl’s video above) was letting out all of the water in the tank:

Following that, I removed one bolt from each connection and disconnected them:

The idea here is that you’re supposed to be able to pull off the black hose once both lines are disconnected (only do one at a time like after you’ve done one). Unfortunately, neither line budged which meant there must be other bolts holding them in place I hadn’t noticed before because they were covered by insulation or carpeting. Since I didn’t want to make any more holes than necessary in the tank I decided to see if I could access those bolts from the top of the machine by removing the lid:

The next step was disconnecting some wires so I could remove the rest of this.  I’m not sure if there’s a standard way to do this but on mine, one wire (the ground) is connected directly and two others (one black and one red) are connected using a “faston” connector which is basically just like a regular spade connector except with an extra tab that holds it in place after you crimp it.  I don’t know what that means exactly but here’s what they look like:

After pulling these off (be careful not to let them fall inside of the heater by accident) I was able to disconnect the wires from their respective connectors.  I should mention that the black wire with blue tape on it is not needed and can be removed:

Next, I loosened and removed four screws holding the lid in place:

With those loosened and out of the way, I was finally able to remove the lid:

And now we’re getting somewhere.  This is where things started to get a little more complicated for me so if you have any questions about what’s going on here don’t hesitate to ask.  Just keep in mind that it took me quite a while (and some helpful videos from YouTube) before I figured this stuff out so might be steps missing or something that doesn’t make sense… I started by removing the insulation between the two hot water lines (don’t forget to turn off the gas first!):

And then I went about disconnecting both hot water lines from their associated valves, making sure to take note of which was which.  I don’t think it matters much but keep in mind that if you ever have to replace either line it’s important that you use one with a black handle and one with a red handle because if not things will get mixed up pretty quickly. After that, I was able to find the leak but I wasn’t able to fix the problem, so I had to call a local plumbing company to help me replace the whole unit because as I stated before it was old. Now I can’t stress this enough the need to find an honest and experienced local plumbing company to get it fixed the right way.

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