Is your normally dependable supply of hot water letting you down? Suddenly there isn’t any, or it runs out halfway through your shower? Is there a nasty odor, or a cloudy or colored flow when you turn on the faucet?
Fortunately, conventional (tank) water heaters–both electric and gas–have more or less retained their simplicity in this age of increasingly sophisticated appliances. Thankfully, troubleshooting a conventional water heater also remains pretty straightforward.
Common Water Heater Problems and What to Do When They Occur
Sudden lack of hot water: Assuming that the problem isn’t a blown fuse or other problem relating to the delivery of power to your unit, when your water heater doesn’t output hot water, either your water heater’s thermostat or its heating element is malfunctioning or has failed. In a gas unit, the gas pilot or thermocouple may be defective. All these components can be repaired or replaced.
Lukewarm water: Most electric water heaters have two heating elements. A constant supply of lukewarm water is indicative of a defective upper heating element. A short duration of hot water supply may mean a defective lower heating element. If the elements are working properly, the unit’s thermostat may be the problem. On a gas unit, the burner may be malfunctioning. Any of these components can be replaced.
Water too hot: When your water heater is outputting water that is too hot, check your thermostat settings. Most hot water tanks are set between 110 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are set too high can force the tank to shut off and stay off until it is manually reset, which can also explain water output that is too cool.
Water with an odor of rotten eggs: Your tank has an anode rod that “attracts” corrosive activity away from other parts of the tank. Eventually, hydrogen gas (a byproduct of corrosion) becomes fodder for the bacteria that dwell in tank sediment. You can replace the anode rod and/or clear the tank of sediment through flushing.
Rust-colored water: Most conventional tanks are glass-lined, so rusty water means that the sacrificial anode rod needs to be replaced.
Popping sounds: Popping sounds usually mean that there is too much sediment in the tank. Whining sounds in electric units indicate that the heating elements have scale buildup. Time to get things cleaned up!
Leaks: Leaks outside the tank can be repaired. If the leak is from inside the tank, you may need to replace the gaskets around the heating elements. If the tank’s wall is rusted or broken, you are out of luck: You have to replace the entire unit.
Water Heater Maintenance Safety
Obviously, you need to consider safety first when troubleshooting your unit. Go ahead and check your thermostat settings and your reset button, and maybe try flushing your tank (following manufacturer instructions!), but call your plumber before you tinker with gas lines or explore the uneasy relationship between water and electricity!
Stay tuned for the Atlas Home Services Blog’s next topic: Tankless Water Heaters! Look for our post next month!