Many water heaters contain durable materials and feature extended warranties for homeowners to use them without any issues for years to come. But the combination of heat, water and smaller components that help water heaters operate can also contribute to various problems. The key to effective repair is knowing how to diagnose water heater problems. If you find your water heater not working, learn more about common water heater issues and their fixes here!
What Are the Components of a Water Heater?
A water heater
consists of multiple parts that work together to warm water. The main components of gas and electric water heater include:
- Tank: Most water heaters feature large insulated tanks to store the hot water.
- Dip tube: Cold water from the main power line enters your hot water tank through the dip tube.
- Heating element or gas burner: These elements sit at the bottom of the tank and heat the water.
- Anode rod: An anode rod prevents the tank from rusting, and this steel rod will often rust instead of the interior of your tank.
- Thermostat: All water heaters have an external thermostat so you can measure and adjust the temperature of your water.
- Heat-out pipe: The heat-out pipe draws hot water out of the tank to the service line, which distributes your hot water.
- Drain valve: The drain valve helps drain all sediment buildup inside your tank.
- Shut-off valve: The shut-off valve is outside the water heater and turns off the water flow.
- Pressure relief valve: A pressure relief valve prevents pressure from building to a dangerous level inside your tank.
How Does a Water Heater Work?
Your hot water begins its journey in the main water line connected to your home. Before your water enters your water heater, the line will split into two pathways that create the water intake system in your home.
A tank water heater stores your water in a perpetually warm tank. After turning on the tap, cold water will flow through the shut-off valve and dip tube before entering your water heater tank. The heating mechanism at the bottom of your hot water tank will heat the water based on your temperature setting. The tank's water is then displaced — so warmer water rises to the top through the heat-out pipe to flow through your tap.
Another water heater option is a tankless water heater
, which only heats water when needed. After turning on the hot water tap, a sensor activates inside the unit to warm your water. A tankless water heater bypasses the process of storing a tank of hot water and reduces the amount of energy needed to maintain a high temperature continually.
Water Heater Not Working? Start by Checking the Warranty
Before troubleshooting your hot water heater problems, check your appliance's warranty. Every hot water tank features a rating plate with the model and serial number. These numbers will detail the manufacturing year of your heater and whether your tank has a prorated warranty. Call the manufacturers with these two numbers on hand to see if you're eligible for a new tank or replacement parts free of charge or at a discount.
Troubleshooting Your Water Heater
You can run into a few issues with your water heater. Look for the problem you're having below to help troubleshoot.
Water Is Too Hot
Extremely hot water is often a thermostat issue in which the temperature is set too high. To check the settings of your thermostat:
- Access your service panel and turn off the power to the water heater.
- Remove elements like the access panel, insulation and plastic safety guards from the heating elements on the water heater. As you remove these parts, do not touch the wires or electrical terminals.
- Test the wires with a non-contact voltage tester to confirm the power is completely off.
- Check the heat settings on the two thermostats to ensure they are at the same temperature.
- Adjust the temperature on either thermostat to the desired setting using a flathead screwdriver.
- Ensure both thermostats are at the same setting before replacing their safety guards, insulation and access panels.
- Turn on the circuit breaker.
If the water temperature is too high, you may need to replace your thermostat or contact a professional to correct a wiring issue.
Water Is Too Cold
Water that is too cold is commonly the result of thermostat issues. However, exploring other possible causes is essential. Your water heater may not be getting enough power. Or, there could be a tripped limit switch or a failure of one or more heating elements. Your tank may also not be large enough for your needs, resulting in other appliances or people using all the hot water before the tank can recharge.
If your water heater could produce enough hot water previously and suddenly stopped, this may result from a malfunctioning heating element. Before troubleshooting your water heater, ensure you do not need to reset your circuit breaker.
If you reset the breaker and are still experiencing issues, correct the temperature of your water heater by:
- Turn off the breaker by accessing the water heater's circuit in the service panel.
- Remove the access panel for the upper heating element.
- Withdraw the insulation, plastic and safety guard. As you remove these elements, ensure you do not touch any wires or electrical terminals.
- Locate the red high-temperature cutoff reset button above the upper thermostat.
- Replace the safety guard, access panel and insulation.
- Turn on the circuit breaker.
Once you complete those steps, if your water heater is still not working, test each heating element and replace them as necessary, or get a professional to do the job for you.
Water Heats Slowly
One of the downsides of an electric water heater is that it takes longer to reheat an entire water supply compared to a gas model. The exact amount of time can vary between models. But if it's taking longer than usual to reheat your water or your hot water runs out too quickly, there may be an issue with the heating elements on the thermostat, and you may need to contact a professional to replace a few parts.
If your household uses more hot water than when you first installed your water heater, consider investing in a model with a larger tank. To correctly size a water heater, you will need to determine flow rate and temperature rise
. If your water need exceeds the capacity of your heater, you can also try to limit the length of your showers, install low-flow shower heads or wash dishes and laundry at different times of the day instead of doing both tasks at once.
Water leaks typically result from a loose valve or connection but can also relate to plumbing issues. If you notice leaking water, fixing your leak as soon as possible is essential to prevent damage to your home.
Your water tank can also experience a leak at the top or bottom of the tank. A leak near the top of your water heater could result from a loose pipe or valve. Leaking at the bottom of your water tank can be due to normal condensation or a leaking gasket. When the temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valve opens to release excess pressure in the water tank, it also expels a small amount of water, which can cause a leak.
To correct water leaks, turn off the breaker and inspect your tank for any loose elements and if needed, tighten them with an element wrench. If you see corrosion on your tank, contact a professional to replace your tank. To stop your tank from leaking until you can schedule a replacement, turn off the power and water supply to your tank and then completely drain the tank.
Rust-colored water indicates corrosion of the anode rod or your hot water tank. If you do not treat discoloration as soon as possible, you'll have to replace your entire tank, as the corrosion may cause your tank to develop a leak. One solution is to flush your water heater to clean the internal components and remove rust or the buildup of minerals. To flush your water heater:
- Turn off the power for your electric heater or turn your gas heater to pilot mode.
- Switch the water inlet valve off.
- Attach a hose to the drain at the bottom of your heater and then position the hose so it drains outside.
- Move your drain valve and some hot water faucets in your home to the open position to drain the water from the tank.
- Unlock the cold water inlet to drain the tank as you run cold water through your tank.
- Close your drain valve and make sure your hot water faucets remain open to allow the system to purge the air.
- Shut the hot water taps once they stop making a hissing and popping noise, and open the drain valve again at the bottom of the tank until the water turns clear.
If the water is still discolored, repeat those steps until the water is clear.
Noises like popping, knocking and hissing are commonly due to scale building up on your heating elements or an excess of sediment on the bottom of your tank. Other causes of strange noises include a leak in your tank, excess pressure in the tank or your pipes expanding or contracting. If your tank makes noise, it's generally harmless. However, it is worth looking into the source if these noises become louder or more frequent.
A quick solution for preventing noise is to use a descaling product to break down any sediment buildup. Another option for removing sediment is to have a plumber flush and drain the tank. You can also try to drain your hot water tank with the following steps:
- If your tank is powered by electricity, shut off the breaker. For a gas-powered tank, switch the tank to the pilot setting.
- Shut off the cold water with the valve on one of the thin pipes at the tank's top.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve and turn on the hot water faucet at a sink near the tank to prevent air gaps.
- Turn the handle to open your tank's drain valve and let the tank drain until the water runs clear.
- Close the valve and attach your hose cap to the valve.
- Turn on the tank's cold water to begin the refill process. As you refill, check the hot water tap. When you feel hot water coming from the tap, turn it off and turn on the gas control.
- Use your water pressure gauge to check the air pressure in your tank. Check the pressure when the tank is quiet and after it runs for a few minutes. After ensuring the pressure is below 70 PSI, lower the thermostat and install the pressure gauge onto the open drain valve for the indicator to read the pressure level.
- Turn the thermostat to your average temperature so the heater starts running again.
- If the pressure gauge still indicates high pressure, open and close the T&P valve to see if your tank will stop making noise without further assistance. If your tank continues to make noise, you need a professional to replace this valve.
Low Water Pressure
Low water pressure is standard in older homes due to smaller pipes. If you live in an older home and are experiencing low water pressure, your hot water heater problems may not be with your boiler but with your pipes.
The best solution to correct low water pressure is to install modern piping. This permits more water to enter and flow through your pipes to increase pressure. If your water heater and home are relatively new and you're still experiencing pressure issues, you can have a plumber flush and remove any sediment buildup inside your tank.
Foul-smelling water is the result of bacteria in your heater. It's common to experience bad-smelling water with tanks that draw water from wells. Flushing your tank can eliminate the problem, or you can increase the temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the bacteria.
Rotten-egg-smelling water can also result from a failing anode rod that requires a professional to replace. A plumber may also flush and disinfect your tank to remove the bacteria that's creating the rotten egg smell. Using well water may also contribute to a smell due to a high amount of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Your plumber may suggest a shock chlorination treatment to kill the SRB and reduce any smells present.
Contact Ingrams Water & Air for Help With Your Water Heater
When correcting issues with your water heater, the best thing to do is identify the problem early and take the necessary steps to fix it. If you ignore the problem, you may make it worse, leading to more expensive repairs later.
Luckily, Ingrams Water & Air offers free technical support
for the lifetime of your product. Our live tech support for owners and technicians is available five days a week from our Kentucky call center. We look forward to helping you correct problems you may be experiencing with your water heater.
If you think it's time for a new water heater
, we can help with that, too! Find the best water heater for your needs today at Ingrams Water & Air.