I came home today and found that the gas water heater (traditional tank style) was not working. The pilot light was out so I relit it and the heater came on. After about 10 minutes I noticed that it had shut off. There was a sound like water dripping on a hot surface coming from inside the tank, maybe a drop every few seconds. The pilot light was once again out. There is no sign of water on the floor. Time to replace it? The unit is a Whirlpool, about 10 years old.

  • in my experiance 10 years on a gas water heater (on a well) is a normal life. a couple years longer in the city with less minerals in the water
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 9, 2015 at 1:05
  • Was it raining? Is the vent pipe cap on? Water can come down the flue pipe into the burner area if the vent is not properly capped. +1 for saying "water heater" instead of "hot water heater". Dec 10, 2015 at 6:22

2 Answers 2


In then end it was indeed the thermocouple. At some point the water heater shut off and things got cold enough that condensation formed when it was restarted. Since replacing the thermocouple, the problem has not reoccurred.

  • Thanks for updating. I have this situation going on right now with my water heater. It sounds like water is dripping inside onto the burner. And it will not stay lit. I have tried vacuuming out the screen underneath in case I was bad air flow, and taking the burner out to see if it would stay lit outside the tank, but I didn't want to leave it burning like that long enough. I guess I will try ordering a new thermocouple. Apr 7, 2018 at 23:43

Leaks in a hot water heater don't get better and are not generally repairable, so it's new water heater time since it's leaking (and it sounds like it is, enough to put the flame out.)

I would suggest shutting both the water and gas valves for the hot water heater off to head off any excitement if it decides to get worse than "1 drip every few seconds." Depending on your family's tolerance for cold water and your plumber's "get it done now!" rate a few nights at a motel might be cheaper than a quick fix from the plumber (or you may have other options such as showers at a gym, pool, etc.) - if DIY-ing it, it buys a little time for shopping around instead of taking the first HWH you can lay your hands on.

  • 1
    After some more research, I'm not ready to write off this heater yet. I found multiple sources that say that on firing up a cold hot water heater, condensation can form and drip down to the burner. Once everything is fully heated the dripping and hissing should stop. I hoped to test this out yesterday, but the pilot light refused to stay lit when I release the pilot button. So, I'm now leaning toward this being a thermocouple problem.
    – Jim S.
    Dec 15, 2015 at 19:58

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