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I have a Gas Reliance Water Heater 1212. I found recently (in winter) there is a water dip through the relief valve into a 5 gallon bucket. Sometimes, it can fill the whole bucket. Sometimes, it has no water drip at all.

I can't find the reason why that happens. My two guesses are the usage of water or temperature in the basement. However, I have normal usage -- just laundry, or the dish washer. Nothing odd there. I checked the temperature, and it's sometimes hot, sometimes cold (I live in PA). I can't find any pattern.

Can anyone help me on this?

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When was the heater installed? What year was the house built? Do you have an expansion tank (steel barrel looking device near the heater)? What temperature is the heater set at? Is this a gas or electric unit? –  Tester101 Feb 13 '13 at 19:02

3 Answers 3

There are three reasons a T&P valve opens. Temperature, pressure, or a faulty valve.

Temperature

If the water in the heater reaches a temperature of 210 degrees F, the T&P valve will open and release water until the water temperature is reduced. As water is removed through the T&P valve, cold water enters through the inlet and mixes with the water in the tank. When enough water has been mixed to reduce the temperature, the T&P valve will close. If temperature causes the release, there will likely be a lot of water released.

Pressure

Most T&P valves are set to open at 150 psi. If the pressure in the tank reaches this level, the valve opens until the excess pressure is released. If pressure caused the release, you'll usually see about 1 cup of water per 10 gallons in the tank (per release).

Temperature or Pressure

To figure out if the trip is being caused by temperature or pressure, you'll have to monitor both.

Test water pressure?

To test water pressure, you'll need a pressure gauge. They sell threaded gauges, that can attach to a standard hose bib. This will work well if you have laundry hookups.

  1. Wait until the water heater is actively heating the water (you can expedite this step by using hot water, so go take a shower or something).
  2. Connect the gauge to any hot water outlet, and open the tap.

Monitor the pressure through the end of the heating cycle. If you get a gauge with a "lazy hand", it will stay at the highest pressure achieved. That way you won't have to stand by and watch the gauge the whole time.

Test water temperature

To test the temperature, all you need is a thermometer.

  1. Wait until the heater has just finished running.
  2. Open the nearest hot water tap, and let it run for a minute of two.
  3. Use the thermometer to measure the water temperature.

Causes and fixes

Without knowing more information about the installation, it's very difficult to speculate as to why this is happening. Determining why the valve is opening (temperature, pressure, or some other reason), is the first step to diagnosing the problem. Once you understand why the valve is opening, it will make it much easier to figure out the cause of the problem.

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re: monitoring the pressure, shouldn't the point at which you install the pressure gauge be at the same elevation as the T&P valve? The pressure on the second story is lower than the pressure in the basement (about 4.3 psi per 10 ft), you're interested in the pressure at the valve. –  mac Feb 12 at 20:32
    
@mac When you're comparing 150psi to 50–70psi, that height difference isn't going to matter much. Unless you have a lot more floors than the typical house. –  derobert Apr 17 at 21:14

Relief valves discharge when the temperature or the pressure gets too high in the tank. When the tank heats up water, the water will expand and the pressure will increase.

Pressure: If there is no allowance within the system to absorb the increase in pressure such as an expansion tank or a thermal expansion valve and all the taps are closed, the relieve valve will open and discharge water until the pressure drops to below the setting of the relief valve. This would most likely happen after a large amount of the tank was been used and it has to heat up the majority of the tank's volume.

Temperature: If there is an issue with aquastat, the tank may over heat the water resulting in the temperature getting higher then that of the setting of the relief valve. This will cause the reloef valve to open and discharge water.

Simple Test: I would drain the tank empty and then refill it with cold water, allow it to fully heat the water backup to the set temperature. Do not open any taps during this time as you don't want to release any pressure. Once the water is fully heated, check the bucket for any new water.

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I test the relief valve every six months, when I test smoke alarms et al. I also flush the tank a bit by letting some what out from the bottom valve, if there is one. I have done this ever since a tank blew out on me. Removing the sediment seems to elongate the life. In my last house my hwh lasted over 15 years, up until I sold the house. I think it is still working, making it 18 years. It was an AO Smith.

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