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Water heater sounds like it's running water.
Email from Lavern arrived. She said:
My brand-new electric water heater periodically sounds like water running inside. When I shut off the valve at the top of the tank, the sound stops.
What is this? Should I be concerned? Nobody I talk with seems to know the answers.
Thank you.

My response:
When you hear water running, there are informal ways to check:

-Check the water meter. Turn off all taps for 2-3 hours, and check water meter reading before and after. If homes is on water well, check pressure gauge before and after.

-Hot pipe feels warmer than cold pipe. Hot-cold pipes are attached to top of heater... when hot is running, the hot pipe feels warm to touch because the hot water is flowing through the pipe ... use hand to gauge temperature of hot side pipe wnen no taps are on.

-Sound in pipe. Turn off all taps and put ear against hot pipe. If you hear sound of running water, there is probably a leak somewhere. A continual leak will drain the hot out of tank, and evidence is hot water shortage.

-Broken pipe. If your water pipes are under a slab, they can break and leak and you can't see it, but you can hear it at the tank.
-If your water pipes are under a trailer or in a crawlspace, the leak might not be noticable.
-PVC and CPVC plastic pipes can be broken fairly easily. Galvanazied pipes can rust or deteriorate over time. Copper and PEX are preferrable, and can withstand expansion-contraction from cold-hot weather, and bending due to movment of structure over time.

-There is a TP valve located on side of heater, with an overflow tube... if this tube just goes to bottom of heater, you can visually see if it's leaking ... but if the overflow tube goes through the wall somewhere, the TP valve might be leaking ... put hand on pipe to see if it feels warm. Slowly lift the lever on TP valve and then reset to see if that solves problem.
-Leaking TP valve will drain water out of tank if the TP is faulty or water inside tank is overheating... both unlikely with new heater, but common with older heaters.

-Cause can be a cold water leak, where the sound is broadcasting through the pipes and you can hear it at the heater./... the culprit can be broken pipe under slab, or something simple like a toilet overflow running... for example do your toilets have a 'phantom flush' where you can occasionally hear them refilling..?
Add a bit of food coloring to water inside the toilet tank and see if it shows up in the bowl.

-Toilets are not connected to Hot pipe... but one unusual case, the homeowner finally discovered his hot water shortage was caused by a 'contractor' connecting toilet to hot pipe instead of cold ... but not before he purchased and installed a new water heater.
Second email from Lavern: Hello Gene,
You are my hero!! I had called the water heater manufacturer, looked at several websites, and you were the only one who had the answer.

I was able to track down a small leak in the guest bathroom toilet, called a plumber, and it was fixed. The plumber was a very kind neighbor who didn't even charge me!!  Now I hear the noise in the water heater tank only when I use water.

 I am a 76 year old widow, and you saved me a lot of worry and money. Thank you so much!!

Gene response:
Your kind words made my day, and your email caused this webpage, which helps the next person.

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