Author Topic: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?  (Read 434 times)

less4success

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Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« on: December 09, 2021, 01:40:34 PM »
Looking for some advice on how to fix a leak on a relatively new water heater. I'm on a private well and have untreated, moderately hard water.

My AO Smith water heater is ~5 years old and I recently noticed some water in the pan it sits in (I'd estimate < 1/4 cup of water total). I don't know how long it's been leaking for. No leaks from the T&P valve, so I'm not too concerned.

Everything on the outside of the water heater looks dry, except that there's a suspicious orange line from the lower element access door. I opened up the door and couldn't get a great look (there's a bunch of insulation to work around), but it certainly looked like the water was coming out of the lower element somewhere. The instruction manual shows that there's a gasket where the element goes into the water heater.

My current plan is monitor the leak while I wait for parts to arrive, then drain the water heater (flush if necessary), take out the lower element, re-tape it, and replace the element gasket; then hope for the best (might also check the anode rod while I'm messing with everything).

One more possibly relevant note: I'm not sure what my house water pressure is, but my well's pressure tank is ~3.5 years old, so I'm assuming that's not the problem.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions on what to check/do :)

Side question: any suggestions on where to buy parts? AO Smith's web site doesn't work and all the random replacement parts sites have crazy shipping prices (e.g. $19 for a small $18 part). I ended up using eBay, but I'd prefer a more reputable dealer!

Model96

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2021, 03:19:41 PM »
Try tightening the screws that hold the element first.?

uniwelder

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2021, 03:39:38 PM »
I guess your heating element has four screws that attach it to the tank? That style would have a gasket but if it threads in directly, you just tape the threads. You should be able to find a new element at a hardware store, with gasket if needed. For anode rods, Iíve always had to go to a plumbing supply store, though theyíve been surprised Iím actually replacing the rod because they sell so few of them.

Before buying parts, investigate the leak a bit more. Shut off power, pull away the insulation, feel if itís wet. If you are going to replace anything, make sure you have the correct size wrenches. Loosen before draining the water from the tank so extra weight helps stabilize. I had an anode rod that was in so tight, I used a 3 foot long extension on it with a strap around the tank to keep it from shifting.

less4success

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2021, 05:35:58 PM »
Those are good tips, thanks!

As for tightening the screws, I didnít see any screws yet, but I will definitely try that first. Iím generally not lucky enough with plumbing projects in this house to think that will be all thatís required. Last time I thought I just needed to tighten bolts on a wall hung toilet and ended up having to redo the entire installation because it wasnít donít correctly the first time.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2021, 05:14:37 AM »
for replacement parts I tend to go with

https://www.repairclinic.com/

or

https://www.ereplacementparts.com/

They tend to have good parts diagrams and will get you the part number. From there you can search and find sellers with lower prices elsewhere, including amazon, but some parts that kind of site appears to be the only game it town.

Every modern residential water heater I have seen uses the screw in type elements. That means you will need to pick up the tool for installing (and removing) them, it's basically a stamped steel socket.

I would also echo the guidance you have gotten to completely identify the source of the leak before throwing parts at it.

less4success

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2021, 09:41:31 AM »
Thanks! Yes, Iíll double check the leak first. I donít think thereís anything else around there that could be leaking, and the insulation above it seemed dry, but I should absolutely look again.

I also need to make sure I have the proper tools (I think I already have one from a past adventure).
« Last Edit: December 10, 2021, 09:44:12 AM by less4success »

sonofsven

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Re: Water heater lower element leaking (slowly) -- replace gasket?
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2021, 10:19:28 AM »
When mine was leaking it was the drain at the bottom, so obviously no insulation was wet.
Like Uniwelder found, the anode rod on mine was so tight I moved the wh onto my front porch, strapped it to a post and needed a six foot pipe as a breaker bar to move it.
Mine had a lot of calcium deposits so having it on the porch made for easier flushing and cleanup, too.