Water heater question.

I have a 21yr old State/Courier Gas fired water heater (old but looking/working great.)

While doing annual maintenance (checking TPR & draining), I noticed that the cold water supply pipe is actually very warm to the touch, almost hot. Following the water supply line back toward the source, it gradually cools down to a point about 6’ out, where it is then cold to the touch.

It’s apparent that either the hot water is backing up into the cold water supply, or just by conduction the WH is warming the supply pipe.

QUESTION: Is this an issue to be concerned about? If so what are some of the possible repairs/concerns?

I would think it is nothing to worry about. A hot water heater that old lacks the insulation of the newest ones. Most of the older ones are like that. An expansion tank may help.

Water expands when it is heated. The water has only one way to expand and that is back up the supply line as long as there is no check valve in the line to stop this flow. If there is a check valve in the supply line then an expanstion tank is recommended.

No check valve nor expansion tank. Just a straight line into the WH.

The is also a fill tube that drops from the top of the WH to the bottom so that the cold water is heated before it can escape to the system. In a heater that old it is very possible that that tube doesn’t exist any more. So as the hot water rises to the top of the heater it can either go out the HW supply or into the cold water line. This is just another possibility.

Next time , you could run the hot water first and see if that cools it down.
It would at least put your mind at ease .
I have noticed this phenomenon many times.

No problem, it’s normal, especially if not much Hot water is used, as a matter of fact, I doubt if you could stop it completely while it is static.

Absolutely it’s something to be concerned about. It means that the directional valve in the water heater has failed, which is not unusual in a water heater that old.

It’s a very normal thing in older water heaters when no hot water has been drawn out in a while.
Hot water rises, cold water falls.

Never seen or heard of a “directional valve” in a water heater.

I have a brand new WH, it does it and every WH I ever had did it also. The only way to prevent it is to completely isolate the cold water supply from the WH. The laws of physics demands that the heat is transferred thru the easiest path(the cold water).

It’s completely normal, however, it can be reduced by installing a “heat-loop” between the shutoff valve and the tank.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Normal for older heater, if its that old it might be worth the money to get a newer one that is energy efficient. But it may work fine for a few more years your call.

Merry Christmas,

Thanks everyone… Like I said, it seems like it is working fine. Since I’m not a plumber, nor do I play one on TV, I didn’t know if it was something that could be a cause of concern. I know enough about Hot Water Heaters to know that they can and do blow up. Thanks again for all the advice. We’ll let it go a while longer and see how it lasts. So far it’s been an excellent appliance, with virtually no maintenance.