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13 Common Water Heater Issues and How to Troubleshoot

If you’re a homeowner, then you know that water heaters are one of those household appliances that you just can’t live without. But what do you do when your water heater starts to give you problems?

Gas water heaters and electric water heaters, both the water heater tank and tankless varieties, can become a malfunctioning water heater at any point throughout the unit’s lifespan. Your hot water heater problem can range from minor to significant, including issues such as not enough hot water, hot water that smells like rotten eggs, low hot water pressure, a bad gas valve, tank corrosion, or water that is ice cold.

The plumbers at Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing shares some common water heater problems, how to fix them, and when to consider water heater replacement. Read on for information that could save you from an expensive repair bill and learn how to troubleshoot common water heater issues.

1. Cold Water

Nothing is worse than expecting a hot shower only to be met with a blast of cold water. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know that it’s usually caused by either a lack of power, a faulty thermostat, or a faulty heating element. Start by eliminating power as a suspect by resetting tripped circuit breakers and replacing blown fuses. Next, check power switches to make sure they are turned on and power indicators are lit. Finally, check the thermostat to see if it has power.

For gas water heaters that are tankless, check the gas valve. If it’s turned off, simply turn it on and wait for the unit to start working. If the valve is already on, however, the problem may be an obstructed vent. The intake and exhaust vents of a tankless water heater need to be clear all the way to the exterior of your home in order to work properly. Inspect them for things like bird or insect nests that could be blocking the vents. Also, look for damage to the vents themselves. Once you’ve removed any obstructions and made repairs as necessary, your gas tankless water heater should start working properly again.

If the problem persists, it’s likely that one of the other two suspects is to blame, either a bad thermostat or heating elements. First, locate the reset button near the heating elements. Then, press the reset button to restart them.

The good news is that both the thermostat and heating element can be replaced relatively easily by a licensed plumber.

2. Lukewarm Water

If your water isn’t as hot as you’d like it to be, there are a few possible explanations. One possibility is that your water heater is too small for your needs. If you have a lot of people in your household who take showers one after the other, for example, you may need a larger water heater in order to keep up with the demand.

Another possibility is that you have a crossed connection between your hot and cold-water lines. This can usually be fixed by turning off the water supply and then turning on a hot water faucet; if the water still flows, you have a crossed connection. Finally, another possibility is that your heating element or thermostat is faulty. If this is the case, you may need to replace them in order to get your water heater working properly again.

3. Water Is Too Hot

If your water heater’s water is running too hot, there’s a good chance the thermostat is set too high. The best way to fix this is to adjust the thermostat to the recommended setting of 120° F. This will help ensure that your water heater is operating at peak efficiency. For more tips on how to care for your water heater, be sure to consult your owner’s manual.

4. Water Tank Leaking at the Top

If you notice a water leak at the top of your water heater, it’s likely coming from one of the two pipes located on the top of the tank. Warm water is essential for comfortable living, and these pipes are how it gets into your home. First, the water enters the tank, where it is heated. From there, it flows out into your plumbing and finally to your fixtures. If the fittings or connections on either of these pipes are loose, it can cause a leak. In this case, you can try tightening them to see if that stops the leak. If not, you may need to replace the pipes entirely.

5. Tank Leaks from the Side

One of the most important safety features on your water heater is the pressure relief valve. This valve is designed to release water if the pressure in the tank gets too high. If you notice a leak from your pressure relief valve, the first thing you should do is check the water heater’s temperature setting. If the temperature is set too high, simply turn it down to 120 degrees. If the leak persists, however, you’ll need to replace the pressure relief valve.

6. Tank Leaks at the Bottom

One of the maintenance tasks you’ll need to do from time to time with your water heater is draining it. There’s a drain valve at the bottom of the tank for this purpose. If you notice water leaking from the bottom of your water heater, the first thing you should check is that the drain valve is completely closed. If the valve is closed, continued leaks typically mean the valve is loose. Tighten the drain valve slightly. Don’t overtighten it, as doing so can make leaks worse. If leaks from this component continue, you’ll need to replace the drain valve.

If you notice water leaks around the base of your water heater, it could be due to a corroded tank. In this case, water heater repair will not be sufficient to stop the leaks. You will need to install a new water heater.

7. Rust Colored Water

The anode rod is responsible for preventing corrosion in a water tank, and over time it will eventually deplete – it will corrode in order to protect the rest of the tank. If the anode rod has been depleted, you may notice discolored water when you turn on a hot water tap.

If you suspect that the anode rod is the problem, simply remove it and take a look. If it’s covered in rust, then it’s time for a replacement. Replacing the anode rod is easy to do and can often add years to your water heater if done promptly. However, if the tank itself shows signs of corrosion, leaks are imminent. In this case, it’s best to replace the entire water heater before leaks form.

8. Water Smells Bad

Have you ever turned on the hot water and noticed that it smells like eggs? This problem is usually caused by bacteria in your water heater tank. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to fix the problem. First, try increasing the water temperature. This will kill the bacteria, and the smelly water should go away. If that doesn’t work, you may need to flush your water heater periodically to remove the build-up of bacteria.

If water smells continue to come back, you may need to replace the anode rod. This is a metal rod that helps to prevent corrosion in your water heater, and it can become corroded itself over time. Replacing it should get rid of the smell for good.

9. Low Water Pressure

If you have low water pressure using hot water in your home, it may be due to mineral buildup in your water heater or pipes. Over time, these minerals can form deposits that gradually clog the pipes and reduce water flow. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to flush your water heater regularly. This will remove any sediment or mineral deposits that have formed and help to keep your water flowing freely. Tankless heaters should also be flushed on a regular basis to prevent clogs.

Tankless heaters should be flushed every six months, while tank heaters should be flushed at least once a year. If you have not been regularly flushing your water heater, you should call a professional plumber before you clean it out. Removing buildup can open leaks, which will require new water heater installation because they cannot be fixed.

10. Not Enough Hot Water

Causes of insufficient hot water or running out quickly can be due to a low thermostat setting (especially in winter), a malfunctioning thermostat, or a broken/damaged dip tube, which results in cold water mixing with hot water at the top.

Insufficient hot water may also occur if your water heater tank is inadequate for your home’s usage. A 40-gallon tank may only provide 28-30 gallons of usable hot water. To resolve this issue, consider upgrading to a larger tank or a tankless water heater.

11. Water Heater Noises

Strange noises such as hissing, banging, popping, knocking, or others from your water heater are typically caused by either scale buildup on the heating elements or excessive sediment accumulation at the bottom of the tank. Other potential causes include leaks, high pressure within the tank, or normal pipe expansion/contraction noise. These noises are usually harmless, but for peace of mind, it’s always a good idea to have a plumber check them out.

12. Water Takes Too Long to Reheat

One drawback of electric water heaters is that they have a longer recovery time (time to reheat the entire water supply) compared to gas models storage tank of similar capacity. Recovery time can vary significantly among different models, with newer models typically having faster recovery times.

If you find that your household’s hot water usage has increased in recent years, upgrading to a water heater with a larger capacity tank, a tankless model, or installing a point-of-use water heater near frequently-used water sources (such as the shower) may be a good option. However, it’s recommended to research and compare tankless vs tank water heaters before making a decision.

13. Pilot Light Issues

If your gas water heater isn’t producing hot water, there are a few special areas of concern that don’t apply to electric water heaters. First, make sure that there is gas flow to the gas water heater, and check the pilot light. If the pilot light is out, relight it. If the pilot light is on, but the water isn’t heating up, the thermocouple may not be correctly sensing that the pilot light is on. Try cleaning or replacing the thermocouple.

Water Heater Manuals

If you are you looking for a little bit more information on an issue specific to your water heater, make, and model, here are some popular water heater manual links below:

Water Heater Repair in Cincinnati

If you are experiencing any of the common water heater issues we’ve outlined in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for help. Thomas & Galbraith Heating, Cooling & Plumbing can help you troubleshoot and fix your water heater so that you can enjoy hot showers and baths once again. Schedule an appointment with our team online, or give us a call to get started.

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