A faulty water heater is not a pleasant experience! If you wake up in the morning and don’t have access to a hot shower, it will probably be a problem you want to resolve right away. Unfortunately, there are many potential causes for this issue, which is why we’ve written this guide. Today, we’re examining the most common water heater issues and what you should do about them.
Some of the most common water heater problems are water temperature, odd colors and smells, noises, and leaks. These issues are complicated by the fact that there are many different models of water heaters. There are also many different types of water heaters, with the primary two being gas and electric. Many issues are similar across different brands and different types. The first step in finding the solution is to identify the problem.
With a little bit of know-how and expertise, you might even avoid having to call a plumber.
Should I Call a Plumber?
The big question – do you call a plumber, or do you handle it yourself? Of course, the answer depends on your expertise and how confident you are that you can identify and fix the problem! It depends on your experience with these tools and components and your experience working with water heaters. If you are confident that you have identified the problem and have the necessary equipment to fix the problem, then go ahead.
But do note that gas and electric heaters carry their own specific sets of potential risks. For example, electric heaters are high voltage home appliances. You will need to be sure that your breaker is off before working on this water heater and that you have tested the wires before you start.
Next, let’s check out the most common hot water heater problems:
Most Common Water Heater Problems (And What to Do)
We’ll start our list with the most common issues that you might experience with your water heater. Most likely, your issue will fall into one of these categories.
If that’s not the case, then you can skip ahead to some less common issues below.
Perhaps the most common issue with hot water heaters (or at least the most noticeable) is water that won’t reach the desired temperature. Usually, it’s water that won’t get hot (or hot enough), but sometimes it’s water that gets too hot.
Most of the time, it’s an issue with the thermostat on the hot water tank. Perhaps it was accidentally adjusted, bumped into, or mistakenly changed. Whatever the case, the fix is simple, go to the water heater and adjust the thermostat to your desired levels.
If you’ve switched the thermostat and the issue is still not resolved, then it may be an issue with the thermostat itself. In this case, the thermostat will need to be replaced so it can monitor and adjust your hot water heater more appropriately.
It might also be the case that you have simply run out of hot water, and the tank hasn’t had a chance to replenish yet which might be the case if you have used a lot of hot water at once. The solution is to wait a little bit. Or you might consider getting a larger hot water heater tank to better suit your needs.
Of course, these aren’t the only issues that can cause unreliable water temperature on your water heater. Here’s a quick rundown of other things that might be leading to issues with your water temperature:
The temperature-pressure relief valve isn’t working properly.
Mineral buildup or deposits within the tank are affecting the water heater’s ability to function properly.
The water heater is leaking (more on this below).
The gas control or burner might be faulty on your water heater.
As you can see, many potential issues could be causing your water temperature problem. A thermostat issue is most common and also tends to be the easiest fix. But if you aren’t sure that’s the issue, then you might spend money on a thermostat you don’t need. Beyond that, many issues require detailed knowledge of the components involved in the water heater itself and might require the help of a professional.
Odd Color or Smell
Another common issue with water heaters is water that looks or smells strange. Water might be discolored or have a range of foul smells. Unfortunately, due to the differing nature of this issue, it can be difficult to pinpoint the root of the problem.
A few factors can help a professional identify the root of this problem: How long has this issue been occurring? Do all the faucets have this problem? Does the problem go away after running the water a while? Does it occur with both hot and cold water? The answers to these questions will help you identify the problem.
Let’s take a look at each issue in turn:
If your water is discolored, it is typically caused by rust from high mineral levels in your water supply. This rust can give your water a brownish tinge, but it depends on the amount of rust in your pipes. Typically, the solution to this is to buy a water softener, which filters these minerals out of your water supply and makes it less likely that rust will build up within your pipes.
Contrary to popular belief, discolored water isn’t usually harmful. It’s simply caused by mineral deposits in the pipes. However, it can affect the functionality of the pipes and can potentially block faucets and taps. Therefore, you’ll want to contact someone with the expertise to install a water softener in your plumbing.
If your water has an odor, then the issue can be quite a bit more serious, and you’ll generally want to contact a professional to diagnose the issue.
Water odor might be caused by bacteria growing in your water tank. In this instance, your water tank will need to be drained, cleaned, and maybe even replaced. Issues such as a corroded anode rod, an extinguished pilot light, and even a faulty gas line can also cause the odor!
With a smelly hot water supply, it’s recommended that you contact a professional. This issue may be compromising your safety and health, so it’s very important that you properly diagnose and address the issue.
Leaky Water Heater
As mentioned above, a leak in your water heater may cause a drop in your water temperature. Of course, you may have also identified the issue by noticing the leak itself!
A leaky water heater may be a quick fix, or it may be a more extensive issue with the tank/plumbing itself. If you notice a pool of water under your water heater, then it might be very easy to identify the source of the leak. It might be coming directly from the tank, the drain valve, the plumbing affixed to the tank, etc.
If the leak is coming from the tank, then the issue is generally much more expensive to repair. A water heater that has corroded to the point of leakage will need to be replaced. If the leak is coming from the plumbing or the valves, you can sometimes resolve the issue by simply tightening the components or adjusting the valves.
A leaky water heater is usually an issue that you can identify and maybe even fix yourself. But in the case of a full water heater or plumbing replacement, you’ll likely want to call a professional.
Noisy Water Heater
You should expect your water heater to make a certain amount of noise, as it’s not a completely silent appliance. That said, noise past a certain point is unusual. If you think your water heater is too noisy or making an odd noise, you may have an issue.
Unfortunately, identifying the issue is not always so simple. A noisy water heater can potentially be caused by:
Excessive mineral buildup inside the water heater, causing the water heater malfunction
Units might become noisier as they age and begin to break down, which isn’t always necessarily a problem, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
If your water heater makes a boiling sound, then the water might be overheating to a dangerous degree. Contact a plumber immediately.
Most of the time, a noisy water heater isn’t a sign of anything immediately serious, but this isn’t always the case. If you think the noises coming from your water heater are not normal and need to be addressed, then you might want to contact a professional.
Other Potential Issues
Above, we covered the most common issues that you might experience with your water heater. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list. As a household appliance, many things might go wrong.
Here are some other potential issues you might encounter and what you’ll want to do about them:
Similar to the leaky issue above, you might notice condensation forming on the exterior of your water heater. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. Some water heaters do this in the course of their regular work. As the water heats, it produces water vapor, which might cause condensation.
The issue develops when the condensation becomes a leak. If you think the problem is a leak, refer to our section above on leaky water heaters.
If you notice that your water heater isn’t properly heating your water, the issue may be a damaged burner or gas control. A water heater won’t heat water correctly if these components are damaged.
Usually, this issue requires the burner to be replaced. It’s a relatively straightforward fix but requires you to turn off the gas and water supply. If you’re hesitant to do this yourself, call a professional to address the situation.
Corrosion in your hot water tank, as mentioned above, can lead to rust-colored water. Most of the time, it’s an easy fix if you get to it fast enough.
Corrosion in a hot water tank is often the result of a fully corroded anode rod. The anode rod acts as a corrosion magnet. The rod attracts the minerals within the water heater that are corrosive and sacrifices itself by corroding away. Once the anode rod becomes fully corroded, its magnetic powers will stop, and the tank itself might start to corrode.
You must check the status of your anode rod often (once or twice a year). A rod should last you at least a couple of years, but it might depend on the density of minerals in your water. Either way, you need to replace the anode rod before the corrosive materials start to damage the tank itself.
No Hot Water for Bath
If you have no issue getting hot water for taps and faucets, but your hot water goes away when you’re taking a bath, then the issue is generally the type of hot water heater. More specifically, this is usually because you have a tankless water heater.
Tankless water heaters heat water as it passes through the water heater (hence the lack of a tank). Therefore, their functionality depends on how fast they can heat the water that passes through. Because a bath requires such a strong, fast stream of water, many tankless heaters can’t keep up, and you’ll see your hot water supply quickly diminish.
If you’re only having issues using a bath (or other fast, high-pressure hot water tasks), the issue is most likely the tank itself, and you’ll have to get a more powerful tank to fix the issue. Alternatively, you could fill your bath slowly, but this is a less-than-ideal solution.
Pilot Won’t Light
If your pilot light won’t light, then the issue could be one of a few reasons. It’s possible that the tube is blocked and may need to be replaced. It’s also possible that the thermocouple on your water heater is faulty and would need to be replaced as well. Additionally, the gas line supplying the pilot light could be faulty or an issue with your utilities.
Whatever the issue, contact a professional to have it resolved.
If you’re noticing less than ideal water pressure coming from your faucets, there may be a few potential issues. Please note that this is not usually an issue with your water heater. But since it’s so easy to confuse these issues, we’re including them on our list as a reference.
Low water pressure is often caused by pipe diameter. If the pipes running from your water heater to your faucet are thinner, then your water pressure may be lower because not as much water can reach your faucets in time. It may also be an issue with the faucet or tap itself.
Low water pressure could also result from sediment deposits in your pipes (as we mentioned above). In this case, a water softener could solve the issue.
Finally, the issue could be outside your control altogether and might be from low water pressure from your municipality.
While the issue isn’t generally with your water heater, it’s still something to watch out for.
How to Prevent Issues Going Forward
Identifying the issue is the first step to an effective solution. But there’s something else you can do that is even more effective. If you properly maintain your water heater, then you can expect fewer issues in the future. As with any household appliance, if you take better care of it, it will work better. Maintenance isn’t a guarantee against future problems, but it goes a long way.
An essential part of proper water heater care is a routine inspection. It’s recommended that you have your water heater inspected once every year or once every couple of years. In this instance, the water heater will be drained, tested, and a professional can identify any potential issues or quick fixes that need to be made. If you’re competent in this area, you can even do it yourself.
It may seem like a pain, and it may seem like a big expense, but having your water heater inspected will be much less costly than letting the problem develop into something serious. Issues that could be quick fixes can turn into issues that require a full water heater replacement. Be proactive, and it won’t happen to you!
Thanks for reading our guide to common water heater problems and how to fix them. We’ve aimed to cover most of the common issues that water heaters might encounter during regular use. Of course, the issue might not always be so black and white, or you might be dealing with an issue not covered on our list.
Whatever the case, your best bet is to contact a professional who can identify and solve the issue for you. Better to deal with the problem now than let it develop into a huge issue later!