Why is Your Heater Leaking?

comes to almost any household appliance, or really any appliance or machinery one can think of, water leaks aren’t something you want to see. From your refrigerator to your car engine to your boiler, any liquid that is required for proper operation should remain in its proper place within the machinery if it is in working order, meaning if it isn’t, something’s not right. That being said, this is a very broad problem and without further investigation, it can be hard to say what the cause of a leak in your heater could be.

Heaters themselves come in many different forms and those different forms are going to have different potential causes of leakages. Heat pumps, furnaces, and boilers all carry the potential to develop leaks and today we’re going to look at all three types of heaters and what could cause leaks in each. This is going to be a troubleshooting tip of the day focused on the particular problem of a leaky heater and how to diagnose and fix the issue. Read on to learn all about leaking heaters and what you might be able to attribute the cause too.

Furnace Leaks

One might not imagine that water leaking out of your furnace is something you’d have to potentially worry about. After all, the mechanics of a furnace don’t revolve around the use of water like a boiler does. The main mechanism of action that the idea of a furnace conjures up in the mind is burning. A furnace burns fuel or heats the air with electricity and then blows that heated air throughout your home. But despite this, in some furnaces at least, water is involved in the process, in the form of condensation.

The condensation drain malfunctioning is the most common cause of leaks in furnaces. High-efficiency furnaces, those with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating of 90 percent or higher, have cool exhaust, and as a result, they produce condensation. An easy way to tell if you have a high-efficiency furnace is to look at its vent pipe. If the pipe is white plastic (PVC piping), you have a high-efficiency furnace.

Typically, the condensation from a high-efficiency gas furnace is channeled to a floor drain. A leak means something has happened along the way. Your leak could be a result of the condensation tubing becoming clogged or from breaks in the line. It could also be a result of the floor drain becoming clogged.

If your furnace isn’t a high-efficiency furnace that doesn’t mean there’s no chance of a leak developing. A standard-efficiency furnace, which has a metal exhaust pipe, not PVC, should not have condensation. If it does, it could mean that the flue pipe was incorrectly sized. That could allow the hot exhaust to cool down and condense in the pipe, then drain back to the furnace and leak out. If your furnace is relatively new, not high-efficiency, and develops a leak early on in its usage, this is likely the cause.

There are other causes of furnace leaks, however. If you have a whole-house humidifier connected to the furnace there may be an issue that is causing the humidifier to leak into your furnace. The humidifier itself is going to naturally produce moisture as it does its job humidifying your home. If it is attached to your furnace then that could be where the water causing the leak is coming from. Your humidifier should be getting annual maintenance from a professional to prevent this. An Austin heating professional will be able to identify an issue with the humidifier that could cause a leak down the line before it affects your furnace and potentially causes damage.

Just because you have a leak and your furnace is a high-efficiency furnace doesn’t mean you should automatically make the assumption that it is a problem with the condensation. It could also be an issue with the heat exchangers. A condensing furnace actually has two or even three heat exchangers as opposed to a single heat exchanger in a conventional furnace. This allows the furnace to absorb a lot more heat from the combustion gases before they exit the system but it also means that the heat absorption process is much slower.

And by the time those hot gases reach the 2nd or 3rd heat exchanger, they’ve had time to cool down significantly. So the 2nd or 3rd heat exchangers usually produce a lot more condensation than the first heat exchanger. But if the passageway holding that heat exchanger is cracked or damaged, that condensation will find its way onto your floor. Unfortunately, a bad heat exchanger is a very expensive repair. You should have a professional inspect the heat exchanger and give you advice on whether you should replace the part or replace the entire furnace.

Boiler Leaks

Boilers undergo a lot of internal pressure when running. Sometimes the pressure relief system can malfunction and this can be a source of leakage. All boilers are fitted with a special pressure outlet pipe. It's a small pipe connection point on the side of your boiler but with no fittings that will occasionally drip water. This allows the pressure inside the boiler to escape.

The occasional drips are normal. People sometimes worry that this is actually a leak and cap it off, but with the pressure outlet pipe specifically, this is highly unadvisable. Your boiler could explode or collapse. Small occasional drips are part of the healthy operation and pressure release system of the boiler.

Since occasional drips of water are how the boiler relieves excess pressure, a large amount of water coming out could mean that the outlet pipe is working overtime and dripping more frequently. If you find water directly below the boiler on a daily basis, this may suggest that you need to reduce the pressure inside the tank. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this by yourself we recommend you call a professional to diagnose and fix the issue with the pressure in the boiler.

If the pressure isn’t the cause of the leak then corrosion might be. Corrosion is the main cause of many boiler leaks as corroded pipes and tanks will weaken and allow water to escape. If your boiler starts to develop corrosion inside its tank or along its pipes and around its valves, the metal will weaken and water can start to leak out. Repairs can sometimes remove small corroded patches or replace the corroded parts. For example, if the corrosion is isolated to a single component, such as a valve, then you will need to have this valve replaced. However, if the corrosion is more wide-spread, your boiler may have to be scrapped as it will be beyond economical repair. This can be the case especially with particularly old boilers that should have been replaced anyway a long time ago.

On the opposite end of time, if your boiler is new and has developed a leak then the problem is probably a shoddy installation. The usual trouble you’ll see from poor installation is leaking because of bad soldering along with the copper pipe fittings. You may not need a complete reinstallation as experts can often perform repairs that will get the boiler into proper shape, but this is sometimes the best option. Either way, make sure the heating technicians you call to replace or fix your leaky boiler are different from the ones who performed the unsatisfactory initial installation in the first place.

Regardless of the cause, when leaking begins, you need to act fast to stop it. Not only do leaks often warn about other problems in the boiler, but even the smallest water drip can cause structural damage to your home and encourage the growth of mold and mildew.

Heap Pump Leaks

Heap pumps can develop leaks in much the same way that an air conditioner can. This is because a heat pump operates with very similar principles as air conditioners. To understand how a heat pump could leak, it’s helpful to understand more about how a heat pump works. This heating and cooling device uses refrigerants to move heat from one location to another.

In cooling mode, a heat pump works exactly the same as an air conditioner to extract heat from indoors and exhaust it outside. Indoor evaporator coils heat up as air passes over them. The refrigerant inside the coils travels outside to the condensing unit where the heat is exhausted. With the refrigerant cool again, it’s ready to circulate back inside and absorb more heat. Along with removing heat, a heat pump in cooling mode also removes excess moisture from the air. Under normal conditions, condensation forms on the evaporator coils and drips away down the condensate drain.

The opposite occurs in the winter when the heat is extracted from outdoor air and exhausted inside your home. Condensation can form on the outdoor unit as heat is extracted from the air. The drain meant to carry excess moisture away can become clogged with algae, mold, or debris. This can cause the drain pan to overflow, resulting in a pool around your heat pump. In many cases, the dripping water comes from ice on the cooling coils, which indicates a loss of refrigerant. Heat pumps and air conditioners need specific levels of refrigerant to operate. When a leak springs up and the refrigerant levels drop, the cooling process is thrown off balance, and ice forms on the evaporator coils.

So those are two of the main causes of leaks within heat pumps, a clogged condensate drain which is unable to drain away from the condensation that forms on the evaporator coils, or a loss of refrigerant which throws off the cooling process and causes an excess of ice to form on the cooling coils. Either problem is going to require the help of a professional expert in heating in Austin in order to fix it.

Heater Leaks and Heating Repair in Austin

A leak in your heater can certainly be disconcerting. It’s never a good sign when something that shouldn’t be shedding water is and diagnosing the underlying cause can sometimes be tricky. But the causes of leaks within heaters often follow a similar pattern and often times simply knowing more about the specific heater you own can help you diagnose the issue. After that, the next step is contacting an Austin heater repair company who can send a technician out to sort out the problem and get your furnace, boiler, or heat pump back in perfect working order.

So if you ever notice a leak in your heater or any other kind of problem develops, call AC Express. AC Express does heater repair in Austin and the surrounding areas, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Lago Vista and Lakeway. For same-day heater repair, call AC Express today!