Water Heater Relief Valve Replacement Tips
How to Install and Test

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A water heater temperature and relief valve or TPR (or T&P) valve is a safety device that is temperature and pressure sensitive and designed to limit its levels in the tank-type heaters. A pressure relief valve is also required on tankless water heaters per ANSI and CSA standards.

Find out how to test and replace it properly.

Whenever there is a call for water heating, electric heating elements or a gas burner (depending on the type) turns on and starts heating stored water (tank-type heaters). 

Once the temperature reaches the set level, the unit automatically shuts down utilizing the thermostat and control valve. If, for any reason, the thermostat or control regulator quits working and fails to stop, the temperature and pressure reach dangerous levels.

The dangerous level is when the water is heated beyond its boiling point of 212 F. The overheated water turns into steam instantly, increases its volume, and releases the amount of energy enough to become a steam-powered bomb. This is why the heater, working without the safety elements, can weaken the tank, cause rupture, even explosion.

All the tank-type heaters, whether heated by gas, oil, or electricity, must have a TPR valve to prevent an excessive increase of the temperature and pressure within the system.

Once the relieving point of the relief valve is reached, it releases the excess pressure with the hot water and allow cooler water to enter the tank and lower the temperature.

The T&P regulator has a probe immersed in the first six inches of the water heater to measure the stored water temperature. The temperature rating is set to 210 F. Once the probe senses an excessive temperature (i.e., due to thermostat failure), the relief valve opens fully and discharge hot water until the temperature is below its reset temperature.

The maximum working pressure in the water heater is up to 150 psi (it can be found on the water heater's data plate), and it should never be above the allowable working pressure stamped on the TPR valve.

Once the pressure in the tank reaches the pressure rating, the hot water heater pressure relief valve opens to release the water. In the plumbing and HVAC world, this is also known as dribbling or weeping.

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Important tips

Note: An expansion tank should take care of excess hot water and pressure built but not released through the TPR regulator.

It is recommended to install an expansion tank if the pressure relief valve releases water after a large amount of hot water is used. What happens is that the backflow-preventer valve or a pressure regulator is probably limiting water expansion, therefore causing the TPR to open.

A TPR valve must comply with the ANSI and ASME codes, be certified by a nationally recognized testing lab, correctly sized, and adequately installed.

Due to an overheating and extreme tank pressure that can cause serious injury, it is mandatory to install a T&P safety regulator and must not removed from its designated opening, never be altered, restricted, or blocked. No obstruction is to be placed between the relief valve and a heater.

It is vital to have the BTU capacity of the TPR exceed the BTU input of the heater.

When installing the TPR valve, position it downward and install the tubing to discharge the excessive water. The discharge pipe should be appropriately sized and terminated to an adequate drain (6" above the floor drain or drain pan) with no contact with the electric part.

How to test the temperature and pressure relief valve

The opening for the temperature and pressure relief valve is either on a side or top of the heater tank. The recommendation is to install the brand new T&P valve only.

To prevent any problem with a water heater relief valve, it must be manually tested at least once a year.

Note: When testing the relief valve, make sure no one is in front or around the outlet of the TPR valve discharge line, as the water from the tank might be very hot.

If a water heater relief valve fails to reset completely after lifting the lever, and continues to release hot water, turn the unit and water off and replace the TPR.

If you see a puddle of water around the unit's base, a leaking water heater relief valve might be one of the causes.

Usually, water is seeping around the valve-tank connection, leaking at the threaded portion of the TPR valve connection and directly from the valve in moderate or large volumes.

A solution for these problems is to remove the relief valve and reseal connections if the problem is on the threaded part or to replace this part entirely.

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How to install or replace a TPR valve

  • Apply the Teflon tape or approved pipe sealant on threads and install a T&P relief valve in the marked opening. The valve must be installed, so the temperature sensing element is immersed in the water within the top 6" of the tank.
  • Connect a drain pipe to the valve outlet and run to a safe place for water disposal. Keep the length as short as possible with the same size as the valve connection.

Also, when replacing a T&P valve do the following:

  • Turn off the power and gas supply
  • Shut off the water supply
  • Drain the tank so the level is below the TPR valve
  • Unscrew the old TPR valve
  • Apply the Teflon tape or appropriate pipe joint compound on the thread
  • Put the discharge pipe back
  • Turn the unit on and refill the tank
  • Restart the heater

What to do when a relief valve is dripping?

There are two reasons why the temperature and pressure relief valve is dripping.

The TPR valve is dripping when it opens due to the excessive temperature and pressure. In such a situation, water expands its volume, and if the system is closed, water cannot go anywhere except through the TPR valve and out.

The second reason for the relief valve discharge is when it is broken (faulty). The valve might not seal properly, so it gets stuck due to sediment buildup, and remain open.

The problems with the leaks can be as small as wasted water and energy to severe, such as property damages.

In order to prevent damages from the TPR leak, it is recommended to install a discharge pipe. One end of the pipe is connected to the TPR valve, while the other end should terminate a few inches above the floor drain or a pan. 

Some experts do not recommend the termination of the discharge pipe into a home drain or outside because it is essential to see and monitor when the discharge occurs, so there is time to react and deal with the problem.

The best way to prevent the TPR valve from opening due to increased pressure and temperature is to install an expansion tank on the plumbing system. This applies to closed systems.

Check if the TPR valve is sized correctly because the risk of explosion is real

A TPR valve is both pressure and temperature-sensitive, so when installed, it provides needed protection against extreme pressure and temperature, including rupture and explosion.

If the water inside the tank reaches boiling point (212 F), the water turns into steam, increases its volume, and releasing a considerable amount of energy, making the operation unsafe for the water heaters and surroundings.

When the TPR valve is correctly installed and working as it should be, and if the pressure and temperature go over the limit, the valve will discharge the overheated water. At the same time, cold incoming water enters, reducing an inside pressure and temperature.

If the BTU capacity of the TPR is lower than the BTU of the heater, the valve won't be able to do its job correctly, increasing the risk of the tank rupture, even explosion.

To make sure that the size is right, check the capacity found on the valve plate.

Note: Gas water heaters use BTU for the gas input or power, while electric models use kW. So, to convert kW to BTU, use this formula: 1 watt=3.413 BTU/hr. If the heating elements have the power of 5500 watts, this will give you 5500*3.413=18771 BTU/hr.

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