In many parts of the country, water heaters are commonly placed in the attic. This is manageable until you suspect your water heater has a leak, and accessing it to complete water heater repair is challenging to you and a professional plumber.
Why the Attic?
Homes built on pad foundations (no basement or crawl space) often have attic water heaters. While cheap to install, their attic location makes water heater repair very difficult. Garages are not good locations for gas-fired water heaters specifically, because of the proximity of flammable liquids.
By the Numbers
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety points out several factors that increase your risk of water heater repair and failure:
- Age—The older your water heater, the more likely you will experience failure, with nearly 75 percent of water heaters failing by the time they are 12 years old.
- Poor Maintenance—Flushing the water heater every six months to remove sediment, and having a plumbing professional inspect and replace the sacrificial anode rod in the tank as part of routine inspection and maintenance, will prolong the water heater’s life
- Geography—In the IBHS study, more water heaters failed in northern states than southern states
- Location—While attic locations are statistically rare, the higher a water heater is placed in a home, the more extensive and expensive the damage it causes when leaking. First-floor leaks caused 33 percent greater losses than basement leaks. Attic leaks, by extrapolation, cause even greater losses.
Diagnosing a Leak
If you are concerned your attic water heater may have a leak, take steps immediately to learn more and get the water heater repair you need:
- Most water heaters do not simply burst, but develop slow leaks
- You can purchase a gadget that sits in the metal pan customarily seated under your attic water heater; when it gets wet, it sets off an alarm.
- Do not rely on the metal pan to contain a 40- or 50-gallon water leak; it is intended to help drain off water from a small, slow leak.
- Most leaks occur at pipe joints and valves, not from the tank itself, so carefully feel around each pipe connection with a dry hand.
- If you notice damp or wet drywall or ceilings, you probably have a slow leak that has been dripping into the walls. You can limit damage by removing all furnishings and belongings near the area and increasing airflow to help dry the material, but the drywall will need to be replaced after the water heater repair or replacement is complete.
If you confirm a leak, you need to immediately turn off two things and make one telephone call:
- Turn off water—look for the water shutoff valve, probably on the top of the water heater, and make sure you close the water supply
- Turn off the gas if you have a gas water heater—look for a black or red knob on the gas control valve; instructions for gas shutoff should be on the water heater itself
- Call a plumber for water heater repair or replacement.
A qualified plumber will diagnose the source of the leak and make recommendations for water heater repair or replacement. A temporary water heater repair may buy you a few weeks to make a rational decision about replacement.
This is a good time to discuss relocating the water heater to a more convenient, less damage-inducing spot. An outside space such as a carport may be suitable, or you could consider actually constructing a small addition to your home for the new water heater. Any location other than an attic makes the next water heater repair easier.