A leaking water heater will do a lot of damage to your home. Even a small, slow leak can soak into the particle board subflooring and cause the subfloor to decay. Leaking water may also seep into carpeting, create mildew and permanently stain your walls. As awful as this sounds, a faulty water heater can cause even greater damage. Fire or toxic fumes from a water heater that is not properly installed or maintained could pose a real threat to you and your family.

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Fortunately, most water heater problems can be avoided with proper maintenance.

All water heaters should be frequently checked for leaks. It's important to check the pipe connections, the valves and underneath the unit. Simple preventive maintenance will help you avoid lasting damage from a leaking water heater.

Take time to test the temperature/pressure relief valve once a year to make sure it's working. Be careful when you do. The water in the tank is HOT and can cause scalding burns. Pull up or push down on the valve handle; hot water should come out of the overflow pipe. If it does, the valve is working properly.

Periodically drain a bucket of water from the drain faucet at the bottom of the water tank. Again, take care not to get burned by the hot water. Draining a bucket of water will remove sediment from the tank bottom that could corrode the unit as well as reduce its heating efficiency.

Check all water lines, connections and valves for signs of leakage, especially where connections have been crimped. With a flashlight, check under the tank for small leaks that could be caused by rust and corrosion.

You can protect the floor under the water heater from water damage by painting the area with a water sealant. If you do, be sure you've turned off the heat source to the water heater. Otherwise, you may create a fire hazard.

Since particleboard may be damaged if it's soaked, consider replacing it with plywood flooring. You can install a specially designed drip pan under the water heater. These pans are available at most building supply stores for about $10. Make sure the pan you select has a drain out the bottom.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: If your water heater doesn't have a temperature/pressure relief valve, install one. This is a safeguard every water heater should have – it's an inexpensive attachment that can save you thousands of dollars. After you have installed the valve, test it. Open the lever on the valve. If water spurts out, the valve is working.

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