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Is it safe to use a leaking water heater that has been off for over a week?

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PJK1979
PJK1979 Member Posts: 5
I have a Weil McLain water heater that has developed a small leak. A plumber inspected it last week and said that it needs to be replaced but unfortunately isn’t able to schedule service for 2-3 weeks. I just got back from a one week trip, during which time I had shut off water to the water heater, for fear that the leak could get worse and flood the basement.

Now that I’m back home, is it safe to turn the water back on and continue to use the tank until it can be replaced? Are there any potential concerns with the tank having been left empty for the last week? I left a message with the plumber asking him the same question but thought it would be wise to get a second opinion as well. Thanks!!

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  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,505
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    I assume you mean an indirect tank, not your boiler. You could fill it back up, open a faucet and purge the air.
    Keep in mind the obvious:
    -A leaking tank is going to cycle your boiler more often, using a lot of oil/propane/nat gas.
    -The leak could cut loose and flood your basement/house. Water does a tremendous amount of damage. Then you would have to lie to your insurance company (or omit) the fact that you knew it was leaking and used it anyway.

    I'm pretty sure your plumber wouldn't want to tell you to use it and then if catastrophic damage happened...

    Replacing that tank with a helper (depending on logistics of getting the new one in and the old one out), if easy, should be about a 2 hour job.

    Unless you're in the boonies, don't know any other plumbers or this is the world's greatest plumber, I'd call another plumber, or a HVAC company-if you don't find anyone here under "Find a Contractor".

    Where are you located?

    There was an error rendering this rich post.

  • PJK1979
    PJK1979 Member Posts: 5
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    Yes, it is an indirect water heater. The water heater is in an unfinished basement, so a little leaking isn’t a major concern but obviously I don’t want the basement flooding.

    I heard from the plumber this morning and he said it would be ok to turn the water on to the indirect heater on in the morning for showers and then turn it off when done.

    Aside from the leaking and fuel usage issues that you mentioned, there should be no additional risk? I worry about over-pressurizing problems since there have obviously been many stories in the news of exploding tanks.

    I’m located in the Boston area. I think part of the delay is the fact that next week is Thanksgiving and there is some lead time to order the new tank.

    If it’s ok to turn on to use for showers (and laundry), and turn off afterwards, we can live with it for a few weeks.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,635
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    Let's think about this: will a leak cause overpressure problems? Ah... no. Therefore... I would think it's just fine to turn on the water to it for showers and laundry. What I would do is leave it full and operating normally (otherwise it will take forever to heat up), but shut off the inlet valve and leave at least one hot water faucet open somewhere (which will prevent pressure buildup). Then, when you want to use the hot water, close that faucet, open the inlet valve, and off you go. Reverse when you are done.

    In that scenario, the worst that will happen in the event of the leak getting very much bigger is the tank of hot water all over the basement, but it will stop there. If it happens when you are using the hot water, the hot water pressure will go very low, and someone will hurry downstairs and close the inlet. Same deal.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England