Common Water Heater Problems | Earth and Human 2020 (2022)

Water heaters have become a staple appliance in the modern household. Generally, this system comes to use every single day, and unless you’re away from home, they are barely turned off. So, as an everyday application, a water heater can face several problems.

Fortunately, traditional tank-type water heating systems are simple and straightforward when it comes to maintenance. Most of the problems in these water heaters can be solved on your own without spending a dime. However, if the problem is with the water tank itself, you might have to replace the water heater.

Here’s the list of some of the most common water heater problems that homeowners usually experience.

Let’s get into it!

Table of Contents

  • Common Water Heater Problems
    • Water Leakage from the Top
    • Water Leakage from the Bottom
    • Problem in Water Heating Itself
    • Excessive Heating
    • Slow Reheating
    • Strange Noise
    • Rusty and Cloudy Water
    • Unpleasant Smell in Water
    • Pilot Will Not Light
    • Pilot Will Not Stay Lit
    • Burner Does Not Stay Lit
  • Conclusion

Common Water Heater Problems

Water Leakage from the Top

Common Water Heater Problems | Earth and Human 2020 (1)

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One common issue you’re most likely to face with an electric water heater is the leakage from the top of the system. This could be caused by the loosening of cold inlet or hot outlet pipes. The leakage may also be caused due to the malfunctioning of the T&P valve or the inlet valve. However, all these issues are easily fixable and costs next to nothing.

Water Leakage from the Bottom

Common Water Heater Problems | Earth and Human 2020 (2)

Another issue you might face with the electric heating system is leakage from the bottom. It is caused due to normal condensation, leaking of the heating element gasket, or due to the discharge of water through the overflow pipe.

While some minor leaking can be fixed, in most cases, the only solution to this is to replace the entire water heater.

Problem in Water Heating Itself

Another frequent issue with water heating systems comes with the thermostat. If the thermostat malfunctions, you will no longer be able to adjust the desired water temperature. This means the water delivered from the water heater may not be warm enough as per requirement.

On electric units, the thermostat is usually located on the side of the water tank and layer of insulation, just behind the access panel. Unlike gas water heaters, the thermostat of electric models is set at the factory and isn’t intended to be replaced.

Also note that, during winter, you may need to raise the thermostat temperature from usual as the water cools down quicker while passing through the cold pipes.

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In addition to that, another possible reason for not having enough hot water may be simply because the water tank you own is not enough for your household needs. In case you choose the wrong size water heater for your home, you may face this issue more often.

Excessive Heating

Again, this is another issue that you may face related to a faulty thermostat. This may occur if the water temperature in the system is set too high. In order to fix this, all you have to do is gain access to the thermostat of your system and adjust the temperature as per your need. You may want to keep the temperature lower than usual during the warmer seasons. What is the best water heater temperature setting? Read here.
If you are not able to change the water temperature according to your needs, you may have to replace the thermostat. On rare occasions, it also happens due to wiring issues. In this case, make sure to call a professional technician to fix the problem.

Slow Reheating

This is another downside that comes with electric water heaters. On average, the actual time to reheat the entire supply of water on an electric unit is double to that of gas models. Although newer electric heaters have improved their recovery time, it is still too slow compared to the gas heaters.

However, if the recovery time takes longer than usual, there might be a possible issue with the heating elements or thermostat of your system. In such a case, you may have to replace those parts to get the optimum performance.

If the hot water needs of your household tend to be higher, you may want to consider investing in a tankless model, units with large tank capacity, or point-of-use water heaters. It is always better to do some research regarding which heating system suits your home the best. You can then only decide if you need an expansion tank on your water heater or not.

Strange Noise

In most cases, the common issues homeowners face with water heaters is the strange noise from the system. You may hear strange sounds such as hissing, popping, knocking, or banging from your water heater.
Such noises may be caused due to sediment build-up in the bottom of the tank or the scale build-up in the heating elements. It may also occur due to a leakage somewhere in the unit or due to excessive pressure inside the tank.
In most cases, the problems are harmless and often under control, when your water heater makes too much noise. However, it would be best if you consider checking your system as the unusual noises may come as a warning that your unit is facing particular issues.

Rusty and Cloudy Water

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Another common issue with both electric as well as gas water heaters is the flow of rusty and colored hot water. It is often a sign of corrosion of either the anode rod or the entire tank itself. If you’re facing this issue, consider fixing the problem as soon as possible.

If you leave it untreated, in the long run, the corrosion may seriously damage the tank and cause leakage. In this case, you’ll most likely have to replace the entire water heater to solve the problem. Therefore, it is always better to replace the anode rod as it is easy, inexpensive, and can add additional years to your water heating system.

If the water is not rusty but cloudy or dirty instead, it may be due to the scale build-up on the heating elements of your system. Additionally, make sure to check if the sediments are making its way into the hot water outlet.

Unpleasant Smell in Water

If you have a water heater at your home, you might also have noticed an unpleasant smell in the water delivered through the system. The smelly or stinky hot water is most likely due to the presence of bacteria in the water tank.

If you use well water as the primary source of water at your home, it is more susceptible to have a foul odor and unpleasant taste. While periodic flushing of the water heating system may temporarily fix the issue, you’ll most likely have to replace the anode rod to fix the problem permanently. Better yet, if you’re about to replace the rod, consider replacing it with a powered anode rod that will eliminate the smell and foul taste from the water.

In addition to that, we also recommend that you increase the water temperature to about 140 degrees to whip out any remaining bacteria from the water.

Pilot Will Not Light

This is by far the most common issue you’re likely to face if you own a gas water heater. If the pilot of the unit is not functioning properly, you’ll end up with cold water. The most common reason for the pilot to not light up is due to clogged orifice or tube that needs replacement. This will take place if the thermocouple is loose or due to the defective gas valve.

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Pilot Will Not Stay Lit

Just as frustrating as the pilot not lighting up is the pilot light that frequently turns off and won’t stay lit. Usually, this is caused due to the malfunctioning of the thermocouple. In this case, you may need to replace the thermocouple to solve the issue.

However, several other reasons can cause the pilot to go out frequently. The significant reasons are:

  • Filthy Pilot Tube
  • Flex Tube Issues
  • Main Control Valve Issues

Burner Does Not Stay Lit

While this is not a frequent problem, gas water heaters do occasionally have issues with the burner. The burner of the gas water heater does go out at times or even produce an unusual flame. This is mostly due to the clogged or dirty burner orifices. Similar to that of the pilot light, a dirty vent or faulty thermocouple may also cause the burner not to stay lit.


Well, that’s all regarding the water heater problems that homeowners usually have to come across. Since water heaters have become one of the essential appliances in the modern-day household, you must be familiar with these common issues.

I hope this article has helped you gain insight regarding common problems you may have to face while owning water heaters and the ways to fix them.

(Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Sadrish Dabadi)


What is the most common problem with water heaters? ›

Water leaks are perhaps the most common type of water heater issue you'll face. Any water heater will start to leak eventually, as by nature water will eventually corrode your tank and create microscopic cracks or fractures.

What would cause a hot water heater to stop working? ›

If an electric water heater is not producing hot water, it could be a simple problem like a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Additionally, some electric water heaters have a circuit-style safety switch located near or on the thermostat.

How do I reset my water heater? ›

Somewhere on your electric water heater, you'll find a reset button. It's usually red and often located near the thermostat. It may also be hidden behind a removable metal panel on the unit—and then behind some insulation. Once you find the button, push and release it.

How long do you hold the reset button on a hot water heater? ›

It depends on the size of the tank, but with any unit, you should be able to get in a hot shower with gas water heaters within 30-40 minutes and with electric tanks, about 60-90 minutes.

What are some common issues of heating equipment? ›

20 Common Winter Heating System Issues
  • Heating system won't switch on. ...
  • Furnace does not ignite. ...
  • Low or no airflow from vents. ...
  • Adjusting your thermostat doesn't do anything. ...
  • Cool air blows from vents when furnace operates. ...
  • Air filter clogs quickly. ...
  • Thermostat not turning on or appears blank. ...
  • Furnace creating a burning smell.

What are the signs of a water heater going bad? ›

Here are six common signs that your water heater is going bad.
  • Your Water Heater is More Than 10 Years Old. ...
  • Water Heater is Leaky. ...
  • Water is Discolored. ...
  • There's Not Enough Hot Water. ...
  • Water Heater is Making Unusual Noises. ...
  • You're Constantly Having to Have Water Heater Repair.
12 Jan 2021

Where is reset button on hot water heater? ›

How To Reset The Reset Button On a Electric Hot Water Heater Pretty Easy

Do hot water heaters have a reset button? ›

The first thing you should check is the water heater's reset switch, which is usually a red button on the upper thermostat of an electric water heater (you will need to remove the small panel to access it). If the button is lit up, it means the switch tripped and needs to be reset.

What trips the reset button on a hot water heater? ›

The high resistance caused by a loose wire produces a substantial amount of heat that can eventually cause fires. If there is a loose electrical connection within your water heater's system, your reset button's thermometer can trip (regardless of the water's temperature) if it picks up the heat from that loose wire.

What to do if hot water stops working? ›

No Hot Water? Here's How to Fix It
  1. Check the circuit breaker. ...
  2. Reset your water heater. ...
  3. Find out if other people in your household were using hot water. ...
  4. Look for leaking water around your tank. ...
  5. Check for water in the compartments on your water heater. ...
  6. Turn the gas on. ...
  7. Check the pilot light.
30 Sept 2020

How long do water heaters last? ›

Typically a residential hot water heater lasts between 6 and 13 years. Beyond 12 years, you are on borrowed time!

How do I reset my thermostat? ›

Here are the step-by-step reset instructions:
  1. Turn your thermostat off by switching it to the off position.
  2. Find the breaker that powers your HVAC system and turn it off.
  3. Wait 30 seconds and turn the breaker back on.
  4. Turn your thermostat back on.

How long does it take for the water heater to heat back up? ›

Typically, a water heater tank takes 30 to 40 minutes to heat up so if your water heater is still working, you can count on having more hot water come back in that amount of time as long as your system is still working adequately.

How long does it take for the hot water to come back? ›

Average Water Heater Recovery Times

60-70 minutes (for a gas tank water heater) 120 minutes (for an electric tank water heater)

Why does the red button on my water heater keep tripping? ›

If your water heater reset button keeps tripping, one of your heating elements may be broken or worn out. As this component is used to heat water, your hot water heater won't work without it. When the reset button on a water heater thermostat keeps tripping, the metal casing of the heating element may have cracks.

What troubleshooting techniques are best to apply in heater related problem? ›

Best Troubleshooting Tips for Your Heating and Cooling System
  • Check Your Thermostat. Is your home too hot or too cold? ...
  • Inspect the Outdoor Unit. Head outside and check the exterior unit for your heating and cooling system. ...
  • Check Your Maintenance Schedule. ...
  • Change the Air Filter. ...
  • Examine Your Air Registers.
25 May 2017

What to check when heater is not working? ›

Look at Your Fuse Box That Powers Your Heater

If checking your heater's power button doesn't solve the problem, check the power supply and see if any of your electrical breakers for your furnace have tripped. Occasionally resetting a tripped breaker can get your heater going again.

What kind of harm can air cause to a hot water heating system? ›

Occasionally, air will get into the heating system, which will cause noises such as bubbling or gurgling; if there's enough air, it could prevent the water from circulating throughout the house. You can fix this problem by bleeding your heating system.

What temperature should my hot water heater be set on? ›

120 degrees Fahrenheit is the safety recommendation against scalding, but 140° is the common default setting. Most experts agree that anything below 120 degrees creates a risk for bacteria to develop inside your water heater from stagnant water, such as legionella that causes Legionnaire's disease.

How often should you replace your water heater? ›

Many homeowners wonder “How often should a hot water heater be replaced?” In a typical situation, you should expect your water heater to last about ten years.

Should I replace my 15 year old water heater? ›

Water Heater Lifespan

If your tank water heater is more than 10 years old, it may be time to consider replacing it. With proper maintenance, a tank water heater tank should last six to 12 years. A tankless water heater can last for more than 20 years. Check your water heater's warranty for the most accurate timelines.

What does it mean if you have no hot water? ›

The lack of hot water is a common problem that can be resolved by looking for loose connections to the water heater and resetting any fuses in the circuit breaker box that may have tripped, causing a lack of hot water. After about an hour, your home will be supplied with warm water again if the breaker tripped.

How do you test a thermostat on a water heater? ›

Test the lower portion of the thermostat, by touching one lead to the common terminal (next to the temperature setting) and the second lead to the left heating element terminal. If the water in the tank is below the thermostat's set temperature, the multimeter should read close to zero ohms of resistance.

What does it mean when your hot water is cold? ›

Hot Water Goes Cold Quickly Because Of A Burned out heating element. Faulty or burned out heating elements is one of the main reasons why your hot water goes cold quickly. Old or burned out elements account for the reduction of hot water and will cause your hot water to go cold quickly or not have any hot water at all.

How many showers can you take with a 50 gallon water heater? ›

50 gallon water heater

It is such a common size because it can supply hot water for 3 – 5 people. Considering an average shower uses 17.2 gallons of water you can typically have enough hot water for up to five people to take a shower within an hour.

Should I replace my 20 year old water heater? ›

A professional can sometimes repair these issues, but if your water heater is older, you'll need replacement. For example, a 20-year-old water heater is nearing the end of its service life and will need to be replaced even if repairs are possible.

Can a water heater last 30 years? ›

These heaters have an average lifespan of 20 years. However, some can last for up to 30 years when maintained properly.

How do you know a thermostat is bad? ›

7 Ways to Tell Your Thermostat Is Broken
  1. Thermostat Has No Power. ...
  2. AC or Furnace Won't Turn On. ...
  3. Heater or AC Won't Turn Off. ...
  4. Thermostat Doesn't Match Room Temperature. ...
  5. Thermostat Doesn't Respond. ...
  6. Short Cycling. ...
  7. Thermostat Forgets Programmed Settings.

How do you calibrate a thermostat? ›

Filtrete 3M22 How to calibrate the thermostat - YouTube

How do you reset thermostat after changing filter? ›

Why Does Thermostat Say Filter? - YouTube

How long should a 40 gallon water heater stay hot? ›

Generally speaking, a 40-gallon water heater that is being used continuously should stay hot for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. However, this number will depend on several factors including your tank's insulation and whether it runs on gas or electricity.

How long should I have hot water with a 50 gallon tank? ›

Gas Hot Water Heater Recovery

For 60-degree water entering the tank, calculate about 40 minutes needed for the water to reach the 120-degree temperature.

How much hot water does a shower use? ›

An average shower uses 56 litres (15 gallons) of hot water based on a water saving shower head using 7 litres/min (1.8 gallons/min) and a shower duration of 8 minutes. Assuming an average 8 minute hot water shower, consumption is 56 litres (15 gallons) of hot water to take a shower.

Can a water heater turn itself down? ›

If the heater isn't getting enough fuel, it could be due to a problematic gas valve or a leak, or dirty air inlets might be preventing oxygen from getting to the main burners, causing a shutdown.

How do I troubleshoot my water heater thermostat? ›

Water Heater Not Heating? Thermostat Testing - YouTube

How do I check my water heater? ›

How to Test Your Water Heater Element - YouTube

Why is my water only hot sometimes? ›

Sediment Build-Up

As water collects inside your hot water heater to be heated, it's common for debris in the water—like sand, dirt, and minerals—to settle at the bottom of the tank. As the particles collect on the bottom of the tank, the water heater can't effectively heat your water, resulting in lukewarm water only.

What trips the reset button on a hot water heater? ›

The high resistance caused by a loose wire produces a substantial amount of heat that can eventually cause fires. If there is a loose electrical connection within your water heater's system, your reset button's thermometer can trip (regardless of the water's temperature) if it picks up the heat from that loose wire.

What should my hot water tank thermostat be set at? ›

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) recommends water heaters be set to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) to minimize the growth of Legionella and other microorganisms.

How do I test my thermostat? ›

How to Test a Thermostat with a Multimeter! - YouTube

What causes a heating element to burn out in a water heater? ›

Water heater elements burn out because of sediment buildup on the heating elements. It can also burn out due to a power surge, air pockets inside the tank, or wiring or electrical faults.

How long do water heater elements last? ›

Replacing a Hot Water Heater Element

Water heaters typically have a life span of 6 to 10 years, so if your heater is older, you can expect that it'll be experiencing problems sooner than later.

How long do electric water heaters last? ›

How Long Do Water Heaters Last? Based on the manufacturer's suggested service life, the life expectancy of a water heater is about eight to 12 years. That varies with the location and design of the unit, quality of installation, maintenance schedule and water quality.

Why does my shower go cold after 10 minutes? ›

The Showerhead Mixer Valve Is Broken

If your showerhead mixer valve is broken, you may regularly experience a cold shower. The mixer valve is responsible for mixing hot and cold water to ensure it delivers the temperature you've selected.

Why do I suddenly have less hot water? ›

If you have recently noticed that your water heater suddenly seems to supply less hot water, or runs out suddenly, it could be that your water heater tank is too small to keep up with demand. Installing a larger tank or tankless water heater will ensure that you have all the water your household needs.

How often should I flush my water heater? ›

It is recommended that you flush your water heater at least once per year. Doing so will help to prevent the potential problems that sediment can bring over time.


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