We know there’s absolutely no worse feeling in the world than a hot shower that turns cold too quickly. Fortunately, some issues with your tank style water can be fixed easily. You should be sure to check the age of your water heater before you get to fixing it, though. We generally recommend replacing your unit if it is 10+ years old. Keep reading below for our most common tank style water heater issues and how to fix them.
Common Water Heater Issues & How to Fix Them
Water Heater is Leaking
If you see water pooling around your water heater, you’ll first need to determine whether it’s actually leaking. If you see a small amount of water, it could just be condensation from the water heater or surrounding pipes. This is especially common in basements. If your water heater is leaking, you’ll need to call a licensed plumber to make repairs. We do not recommend DIY work on your water heater as the components can be quite complex. As a general rule of thumb, plumbers may be able to replace specific parts like valves and connections if they are broken. However, if your leak is coming from the tank itself due to corrosion or damage, you’re going to need a new water heater.
Once the repair is completed on your leaky water heater, you always want to install an automatic water heater shut off valve on your conventional tank style water heater. The automatic water heater shut off valve will automatically shut off the water supply to the heater when water or moisture is detected in the pan saving you possibly tens of thousands of dollars in water damage. Since water heaters can be located in the attic or a closet hidden away, installing an automatic water heater shut off valve will give you peace of mind if for some reason your water heater starts leaking.
Water heaters can leak for many reasons. If you’re looking to diagnose a leak, check out our article detailing the Top Causes of Water Heater Leaks.
Water Doesn't Get Hot Enough or Runs Out Quickly
There are actually quite a few issues that can leave you with lukewarm water from issues with the thermostat to an improperly sized water heater:
- Thermostat – The first place to check on your water heater is the thermostat, which measures the temperature of water inside the tank and tells your water heater when to turn on and heat more water. You can first try raising the temperature setting on your thermostat, but for your safety, you should never go above 140 degrees. Some thermostats give you the option to choose “warm”, “hot”, or “very hot” rather than a specific degree. If this does not solve your problem, your thermostat may be malfunctioning – preventing the water heater from turning on because it thinks the water is hot when it really isn’t.
- Size of Water Heater – Another common issue is that your water heater capacity may be too small. If you’ve recently moved into a new residence or installed the water heater yourself, this could definitely be the case. It’s important to work with a licensed plumber to determine the appropriate size water heater for your home or business.
- Too Much Demand at One Time – Next time you take a shower, be conscious of all the other fixtures running in your home. If your washing machine, dishwasher, and shower are all running at the same time, a correctly sized water heater could still struggle to provide all the hot water you need. It’s best to run your washing machine and dishwasher at times when no one in the home will be bathing. You could also consider upgrading to low-flow fixtures, which will reduce the overall demand of hot water.
- Dip Tube – Another common water heater failure is at the dip tube, which is a plastic tube inside the tank that runs incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank for heating. If your dip tube is broken, cracked, or disconnected, it could cause cold water to mix with the hot water at the top of the tank. You probably won’t be able to diagnose this problem on your own, so you’ll need to give Reliant Plumbing a call if you suspect a dip tube problem.
- Sediment or Rust – Over time, hard particles can settle at the bottom of your tank preventing the heat from the burner from reaching the water inside the tank. We see this very often in parts of Austin that have hard water with minerals that are prone to sinking to the bottom. If you’ve got hard water, a water softening system could help slow this process down. However, you can likely eliminate the issue of sediment all together by draining your tank. We recommend you call Reliant Plumbing for a water heater flush twice per year to maintain the health of your tank. Unlike sediment, if rust is your issue, it usually means you’ve got an aging water tank that is in need of replacement.
- Hot Water Leak – There is a chance your issue is actually not being caused by your water heater at all. If you’ve got a severe leak in your hot water system, you may be actually experiencing a slab leak. Please check to see if your hot water bill has dramatically increased. This can be a sign of a leak. Another quick way to test your hot water system is to shut off the hot water valve that supplies water to the water heater. Wait 15 minutes while not using any other hot water appliances then turn it back on. If you hear a significant amount of water flowing through the pipes, this can be an indicator that you have a leak in your foundation – not your water heater.
No Hot Water at All
If you are not getting any hot water at all in your home, it could be that you are experiencing a very severe version of the above issues. However, there are a few additional issues that can lead to complete water heater failure.
- Circuit Breaker Tripped – For electric water heaters, the first place you should check is your circuit breaker. If the breaker is tripped for any reason, you will not have any power going to your water heater. You can turn the breaker back on and see if the problem is resolved. However, the circuit breaker is often tripped due to an issue with the water heater’s thermostat or elements also known as a tune-up kit.
- Thermal Reset Switch – Similar to electrical breakers, water heaters actually have their own tripping mechanism, the thermal reset switch, which will turn off the water heater to protect you. If your thermal reset switch is tripped, you need to call a licensed plumber to diagnose the problem.
We hear from home and business owners with gas water heaters all the time that their pilot light has gone out and they are having trouble lighting it again. This usually happens because there is too much debris around the pilot light area and it needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Call a professional plumber to clean the burner chamber, air intake, and flame arrestor and relight your pilot. It may be tempting to try this on your own, but mistakes around gas fixtures can be very dangerous and are not worth the risk to you or your family’s safety.
Water is Too Hot or Too Cold
For many years the IPC (International Plumbing Code) stated that there be a hot water mixing valve installed on the hot water system to ensure that hot water will not exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This was done as a measure to protect babies by avoiding 2nd or 3rd degree burns as the mixing action prevents scalding. It also allows the tank to hold water at a higher temperature reducing the threat of bacteria growth and you also increase your available hot water supply since you are mixing both the hot and cold water. However, when water mixing valves fail, it will cause you to experience “water not hot enough” or no hot water at all. Since a water mixing valve could be installed by a garden tub or by sinks in a public restroom setting this could be the first place you will notice the problem.
Pilot Won't Light or Stay Lit
For gas water heaters, the first place you should check is your pilot light. If it’s not lit, you can relight it. However, it is common that pilot lights won’t stay lit. In this case, the burner chamber, air intake, and flame arrester probably need a thorough cleaning or your thermocouple needs to be replaced. Since gas is particularly dangerous to work with, you should give Reliant Plumbing a call if you are having issues with your pilot light.
Water Smells Bad or Looks Dirty
When water smells like rotten eggs, most people assume this is a sewer problem. However, it can also be caused by your water heater. This is particularly common if you have been travelling or the home has been vacant. When water heaters aren’t used for several weeks or a month, the water inside the tank can breed sulfur bacteria and take on a disgusting smell. This small can also occur in homes or businesses that have a well for their water supply. In either this case, a plumber will need to flush your water heater and they may add some chlorine to your tank to be sure it is thoroughly cleaned.
Another cause of gross smelling water is your water heater’s sacrificial anode rod. This is a component of your water that protects your tank from corrosion by attracting all the corroding elements of the water. It is normal for anode rods to wear down over time. If you have a plumber check on your smelly water right away, they may be able to replace the anode rod and save you from needing a water heater replacement. However, if your water heater operates without an anode rod for too long, it will eventually corrode beyond repair.
Water Heater Tank is Making Noises
We’ve heard our Austin customers describe noises coming from their water heater in a million ways, but usually it could be said that it’s a hum, pop, rumble, crack, or even a sizzle. Most of these sounds are caused by the presence of materials other than water inside of your tank. This could be sediment, mineral deposits from hard water, or limescale. The buildup can create a sediment layer at the bottom of the tank that water must push through as it rises creating popping or rumbling. Sizzling and hissing noises usually mean debris has covered the component’s that boil water. All of these issues can be resolved by having a plumber regularly flush your tank, but if the buildup gets very severe, you may need to replace your water heater.
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