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Old 01-11-2009, 12:32 PM   #1
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


I have a GE 50 gallon natural gas hot water heater that is less than five years old. This week I discovered that all of the fittings on the top are rusted and leaking. When I dry them, water continues to seep out.
A. Any guesses as to what would have caused this? The older unit that I replaced was over twenty years old before it finally leaked through so I think I would rule out extreme water conditions.
B. Should I try removing all fittings, cleaning and re-installing? Other than the dip (fill) tube, are there replaceable gaskets, etc? I don't remember any when installing the heater.

FYI- I installed the heater with the help of a neighbor who is a refrigeration/HVAC contractor with a solid background in this area.

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Old 01-11-2009, 05:04 PM   #2
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


When you installed it, you probably used standard galvanized fittings without any di-electric fittings to help prevent corrosion between two dissimilar metals (galvanized to copper?).
If they're leaking, you shluld replace all of those fittings, and use teflon tape on the threads.
Good LucK!
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Old 01-11-2009, 05:45 PM   #3
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


A picture is worth a thousand words in describing this problem. As Mike stated, dissimilar metals can cause all sorts of corrosion without dielectric nipples/unions. Perhaps the pipes were never sealed correctly, but I'm thinking electrolysis is eating them from the inside.
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Old 01-12-2009, 09:17 PM   #4
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


Update:

GE reports that I registered this unit in 2002. Time must have gotten away a little, so it is seven years old. Having a hard time finding the original docs.

Closer inspection after cleaning away most of the crud from two of the areas shows that the top cover has corroded away from around the fittings. Since it continued to seep, I turned off the supply, drained down about a gallon off the top, and set the stat to pilot. Had a local plumbing contractor come by and look at it. He suspects 90% that the tank has failed and that water is simply going out from the top wherever it can find. For example, there is also rust and corrosion around the sheet metal screws that attach the vent stack. He said to plan on replacing it, hopefully with some warranty assistance from GE. They (GE) told me to take everything apart, "refill" it (which was eventually clarified to mean to apply more sealant or tape) and then call them back. Basically uninstall and re-install a defective and worn out product.

Tomorrow I will probably try to turn it back on so the MS can get a quick shower and at the same time watch these areas more closely after they have dried out overnight to see if I can tell where the flow comes out from, i.e. the fitting itself, down in the tank from under the fittings, etc.

Will try to get some photos maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, any suggestions for a brand other than GE/Rheem?
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Old 01-12-2009, 09:52 PM   #5
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


Anymore, if you buy a name brand water heater you're buying an ok product. There isn't one brand that stands out as much better than the others. GE, Whirlpool, Bradford White, and AO Smith are all pretty common brands.

Installing/replacing a water heater isn't hard. If you want to do it yourself you'll certainly get plenty of help here.
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Old 01-13-2009, 08:00 AM   #6
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


kc
Here's two thousand words worth.

Notice how many places on the top have corrosion, especially around the relief valve. The others are the same but more photos would be redundant.

Based on GE's customer service so far, I will look for another brand. There are bad Fords, Chevs, etc but how the dealer treats me in the service dept usually determines which I buy. Same for local WM, HD, etc.

The only problem I have with replacing the unit is a bad back with no hand trucks, i.e. getting the old one out of the house and the new one in. I have been sweating pipes for thirty years, now and then when the occasion calls for it. I know he has to make a living, but I can't pay $250 here for three connections. Maybe if it includes delivery, R&R and everything.
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Old 01-13-2009, 08:54 AM   #7
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


Something to think about when you or someone else installs the new water heater, which it sure looks like you need....

The short 3/4" nipples that screw into the bungs in the top of the heater are probably galvanized iron. Then you have copper fittings that thread onto those nipples. The contact between the different metals leads to electrolysis, which is what you're seeing now. Next time, be sure to use dielectric nipples or dielectric unions to prevent that electrolysis. Also, make sure that T&P valve is piped downward toward the floor for safety!

As for GE's customer service, too bad. However, you should understand that water heaters don't really last 20 years anymore and they're not expected to. 8 or 9 years is about it for most. Once the anode rod is eaten up, if not replaced, the unit starts deteriorating. Considering it is as old as it is, be glad they were willing to take the time to try to help you and not just tell you what you didn't want to hear...That your water heater is old and has crapped out and it is time for a new one.
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Old 01-17-2009, 02:57 PM   #8
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Gas water heater leaks at all fittings


The rest of the story:

Called GE back the next day after cleaning from around the fittings, talked to a different rep, told them that unit seemed to be leaking from all points from underneath the top lid, NOT from around the fitting itself (themselves). This rep authorized a replacement since it was still within the 9 year warranty: 2003-2009. She told me to take it back to Home Depot.

Called HD before the return trip and told them of the conversation with GE. I asked if they needed any confirmation info from GE and was told that they could look on the heater and tell the date from the tag.
I took it back and apologized for not being able to find the receipt. New unit is $568. Without the receipt, all she could credit me for was $519.

I upgraded to a 12 year unit for $30 difference. Clerk took $20 off.
I need to take that girl a biscuit one morning.

New unit was an inch or so taller than the old, so I cheated and got a couple of flex connectors instead of making up a new rig (new ells, etc)from the wall supply/return to the heater inlet/outlet.

Soon I will probably make up a better circuit. For today, it is 17* and furnace won't start. But I have a couple of plug-in ceramic heaters!

FWIW-
I got to thinking that the water dept changed out a lot of the meters in the neighborhood a couple of years ago. I called and, sure enough, they have backflows on them now. I'm really thinking-maybe- that was what caused a failure so soon. So I will get an expansion tank and refab those lines. For the time being, I'll let the relief valve handle it until I get the furnace back running.

Thanks for all the advice.

PS-
KC, during the install I forgot to get the dielectric connectors so I went with what I had on hand. Just one of those never got around to it things with changing them. As for pointing the relief valve down, actually it was. I removed the short piece from the top of the heater for better visibility. It went out to the edge of the heater, back to the wall (what the brown towel is hanging on to dry), then down and out through the wall to the outside.

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Last edited by downunder; 01-18-2009 at 12:38 PM. Reason: omission
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