Leaking water heater

Our water heater has started to leak. It appears to be leaking from the long copper tube that runs the length of the outside of the heater. My understanding is that this is an overflow pipe.
We moved into this house 2 years ago and I am not sure how old the water heater is or when it has last been serviced.
Any suggestions as to what to do here? Is it something a marginally- handy guy can do himself or should I just call an expert?
Thanks.
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that's your T/P valve, also known as Temperature/Pressure. It pops off whenever the water in the heater gets too hot or the system pressure gets too high. Check the temp. of your hot water with a thermometer, and check the pressure at a handy hose fitting (e.g. slop sink faucet, outside sillcock, etc.) with a pressure gauge on a female garden hose fitting - available for probably $10 at your local Borg. If both are within spec as printed on the little metal tag on the T/P valve (usually 210F and 150 PSI I think?) and they should be - you'd likely notice scalding hot water or insane pressure - simply replace the T/P valve. It unscrews from the side of the water heater. You will need to shut the water off to the house to do this and drain the hot water tank down to below the level of the T/P valve to do this. When you shut the water off turn off the water heater so that the elements don't burn out (electric) or you're heating an empty tank (either electric or gas.) You'll need to open at least one faucet to do this to let air into the system.
A new T/P valve of a rating acceptable for a residential hot water heater should be less than $20 at the Borg, and you shouldn't need anything besides a pipe wrench and some pipe dope, unless the outlet pipe is soldered in such a way that it can't be unscrewed, in which case you'll also need a torch, some flux, and some solder.
After you've installed the new T/P valve, let the "hot" (it won't be, now) water flow from a faucet until all the air is out before re- energizing/re-lighting the HWH. Expect sputtering and air from all your faucets/showers/etc. for a little while until each fixture has been used at least once.
see here for more than you ever wanted to know about hot water heaters:
http://waterheaterrescue.com /
I'd recommend, while you're in there, replacing the drain valve of the HWH as suggested on that web site for ease of maintenance in the future. You don't need to buy from them, unless you want to - their drain valve kit is simply a 3/4" dielectric nipple, a 3/4" female pipe thread ball valve, and a 3/4" male pipe thread to garden hose adapter. I do recommend leaving a cap on the garden hose fitting as a ball valve lever is easy to inadvertantly kick. Definitely at a minimum purchase a brass cap for a garden hose fitting before you start just in case your drain valve sticks open when you drain the water heater.
good luck
nate
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Nate:
Good post! Well written.
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Except for the HWH :-)
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yeah, yeah. I'll be mocking you next time you say "ATM machine."
nate
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Phil Again wrote:

replaced, then the cal rods and shortly thereafter the whole unit leaked and needed replacement. Fortunately my plumber prorated the first two costs. With my well water, electric water heaters only last about 6 years.
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that's your T/P valve, also known as Temperature/Pressure. It pops off whenever the water in the heater gets too hot or the system pressure gets too high.
***************************************** Nate covered the basics well, but one thing was not addressed. Why is it leaking? As they get old, some do start to leak but others leak because the thermostat is bad causing overheating, or water pressure is up for some reason, or it blew off once and grit got in there so it won't seat properly.
Keep an eye on the new valve to see if you need to investigate more.
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Ed Pawlowski wrote:

Go back and read again. He did cover the possibility that the water was too hot and/or the pressure was too high.
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call the tank manufacturer with model and serial number. if its old justr replace it and write the install date on the outside of the tank for future easy reference
water heaters are pretty cheap appliances and not costly enough to spend a lot of time or money repairing, while new ones are more reliable, and energy effiucent
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I've actually had two go bad on me when there was no other failure. Water temp about 120F (too low for my comfort, actually - I"ve since set it higher) and pressure never exceeding 80 PSI. The other was at my parents house, it failed Xmas AM one year. That made for a fun holiday - nothing like celebrating by sucking water out of the carpet with a shop-vac. (this was before my parents renovated the basement, PO's had carpeted the laundry room floor. WTF?) Also no excessive temp (didn't measure it) and that house was actually on a well with a large expansion tank, so overpressure not a possibility. I believe the well pump cutoff was set at 60 PSI. They do just get weak with age, apparently - and grit holding them open once they *do* pop off is a possibility that grows larger with age.
nate
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The manufacture date should be on the name plate. If it is more than 10 years old you probably want to replace it rather then put money into it.
You are supposed to test the T&P valve every year, though no one does.
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meh, maybe, maybe not. I have a 20 year old tank in my basement that I just replaced the anode and T/P on last year. Yeah, I probably could have gotten more efficiency out of a newer tank, but I don't need the hassle/expense right now. Anode wasn't cheap, but I don't do gas work myself, so it's probably an order of magnitude less than a new tank, installed. (well, not counting the 3/4" drive breaker bar and 3/4" to 1/2" socket adapter that I needed to purchase... but I'll use those again for sure.) The old one still had a lot of magnesium on it although it was corroded enough that it was obviously doing its job, so I don't suspect any significant corrosion of the tank. We'll see in 5 years or so whether I got my money's worth or not.
Replacing the T/P is cheap and easy enough (for someone with basic plumbing tools laying around) that it's worth it even if you replace the tank in two months, just to have uninterrupted hot water and a dry basement.
Which reminds me... it's about that time to drain down the water to the garage, which is my yearly reminder to flush all the tanks... yes I have ball valves on all of them, that's some scary s**t, replacing the drain valve on a 20 year old tank, but I got lucky.
nate
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