Troubleshooting Hot Water Heaters | Water Heaters | Plumbing (2022)

Troubleshooting Hot Water Heaters | Water Heaters | Plumbing (1)Troubleshooting hot water heaters is needed when you start having trouble with your water heater. There are numerous problems that you may be having. Usually the one that gets your attention is No Hot Water or Not Enough Hot Water. When this happens, cool or cold showers start to be a real problem. What can you do? Is this something you can take care of? This depends largely on the problem you are having.

To make things more complicated there are different types of hot water heaters. In homes that have natural gas you will likely have a gas hot water tank. Gas water heaters heat the water by burning natural or LP gas. Burner issues, pilot light issues andthe famous thermocouple are among the things you might be faced with.

Electric hot water heaters use electricity to heat the water. A heavy duty electrical circuit is installed for this purpose. Heating elements and thermostats are the leading causes of problems.

Troubleshooting Hot Water Heaters - Issues Involved

How much can you save? That is a question that has a broad answer. A service call may start out at $100. Being sold a new hot water heater could run as high as $3,500 for a top of the line high efficiency model. Most parts for a hot water heater are less than $25.

For an electric water heater checking the breaker would be the place to start. The thermostats also have reset buttons on them. A gas hot water heater needs to have the pilot light checked. Has it gone out for some reason.

Electric water heaters have strong current that heats the water. Make sure the power is off before even attempting a test. Gas hot water heaters use natural or LP gas and gas can explode. Make sure the gas is off before you take anything apart. Both types have very hot water in them and burns or scalding are possible. Being without a hot water heater is a serious inconvenience. Your family will likely be unhappy.

(Video) How to Diagnose Problems with a Hot Water Heating System | Ask This Old House

Troubleshooting Hot Water Heaters - Finding Information

Troubleshooting water heaters has to split into two categories at this point. In order to solve your water heater problem you need to veer off into one of two directions. You either have an electric water heater or a gas one. The problems and things to look for are different. There is some general information about each type. In addition there is a link to the troubleshooting articles for each type.

Are you looking for some information on tankless water heaters? Try Plumbing Help - Tankless Water Heaters for some information on this type of unit.

Gas Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

Gas hot water heaters are an ecomomical way to heat water. However, they use a combustible fuel and have safety features built into them to prevent explosions. With that said, it sometimes these safety features that prevent the unit from working.

Troubleshooting water heaters that use natural gas will often focus on the gas valve and burner assembly. This article uses descriptive language to help you to narrow down your problem.

The water heater gas valve is able to interpret this electrical current and tell whether or not the pilot light is lit. A defective thermocouple will not send the proper signal. The gas valve will not allow gas to go to he pilot light or burner if it does not get the right signal.

The thermocouple is not the only problem you can have. However it is often the culprit when the pilot light or the burner will not stay lit. The above link takes you to an article that discusses majority of possible problems you could have with your gas water heater.

(Video) No Hot Water: Water Heater Troubleshooting

Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

An electric water heater normally uses a 230 volt 30 amp circuit to operate. This is some serious electricity. Extra care an caution needs to be exercised when working on this type of unit. If you uncomfortable around electricity or unwilling to take precautions, it may be better to call a professional. Willing to be careful? Then you probably can fix it.

For electric heater, water heater troubleshooting involves dealing with electrical devices. An important one is the heating element. These can burn out over time. A burned out element can cause you to have 'no hot water' or 'very little hot water'. Elements can be changed but there is some work involved.

Another trouble maker is the thermostats. Unlike a gas water heater and electric one has two. The upper thermostat controls the lower one. So any issues with the upper thermostat or element and you will have 'no hot water'. Testing is involved in troubleshooting water heaters that are electric. Don't be afraid, the tests are pretty simple.

Of course there are other problems with electric water heaters. The above link takes you to an article that discusses all of them. Follow the link to get the information you need.

Problems Common to All Water Heaters

Water Heater Sediment Build Up

Sediment can build up in the bottom of your hot water tank over time. This affects the amount of hot water that the tank can produce. In addition, it can cause damage to other parts of the water heater.

This is especially true of electric water heaters. The lower elements of electric hot water heaters can burn out due to sediment. There are steps you can take to remove the sediment. Learn what they are by following this link.

(Video) A.O. Smith - Residential Electric Water Heaters | HD Supply

Flushing a Hot Water Tank

Sediment build up in a hot water tank is a bad thing at several levels. First, it reduces the amount of available hot water. If you have twenty percent of your tank filled with sediment, you will have twenty percent less hot water to use. A related problem is that, you will have to pay to keep the sediment hot. This is a waste of energy and money.

Electric water heaters can be further damaged by sediment build up. Heating elements can be damaged from sediment build up. This will cause the lower heating element to fail, dramatically reducing the amount of hot water the tank can produce.

Regular flushing of the tank can prevent or eliminate problems.

This is the process that will remove the sediment inside your hot water tank. It is a bit of work and you will need to take precautions to keep from making too much of a mess. A garden hose and a pair of pliers is all you need. Click on the link above to get to the information.

Fixing a Leaking Hot Water Heater

How serious is it when a hot water heater is leaking? That depends a lot on where it is leaking and how much. Some things can be tightened to stop the leaks.

When the tank itself starts to leak, it means that the water heater needs to be replaced.

(Video) How To Replace Your Electric Hot Water Heater | Full Install DIY

Find out if you need to look through your papers for the warranty. See if this is something you can fix. Click this link to get the good or not so good news.

Repairing a Water Heater Dip Tube

What's a dip tube anyway? Believe it or not, it is an important feature of your hot water tank. Find out what can go wrong with this part and what you need to do to fix it.

Just take my word for it, it is important. The amount of hot water you have will be affected by it, when it is broken. Follow this link for information.

Repairing a Water Heater Pressure Relief Valve

A pressure and temperature relief valve is a safety feature on a water heater. When pressure builds up, to an unsafe level, inside your hot water tank, this valve releases. A defective valve will release when the pressure is still within safe limits. How to you know when it is bad? How hard is it to fix?


(Video) Gas Water Heaters In Series

Click on the link above to find answers to these questions. Can you replace this valve if you need to? How hard is it? More questions that this article answers.

Troubleshooting Hot Water Heaters - Summary

Water heaters are an important feature in your home. They are sorely missed when the don't work. Finding and solving the problem quickly is important. The links above should have pointed you in the proper direction. Hopefully you will be able to track down your problem and fix it.

After your troubleshooting water heaters project is complete you may decide to call a professional. Knowing what the problem is, will save you money when you talk to them. When you understand the problem you will not be sold on things you don't need.


Why is my hot water tank not producing enough hot water? ›

Generally as a water heater ages and nears the end of it's useful life, it will produce less and less hot water. Most often this is caused by sediment building up inside the tank. Sediment build-up will decrease the amount of hot water your water heater can produce.

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.

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.

Why do I only have lukewarm water? ›

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.

Why do I have very little 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.

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.

Where is reset button on 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 do you check the reset button on a hot water heater? ›

As long as you can find the water heater and identify the reset button, the process is simple. All you need to do is open the heater, press the button, and close the heater again. In most cases, your water should be back to normal within a few hours.

How do I know if my hot water heater element is bad? ›

Signs of a Bad Water Heater Element
  1. Lukewarm water.
  2. Small amount of hot water.
  3. No hot water.
  4. Hot water runs out faster than usual.
  5. Water heater's circuit breaker constantly trips.
4 Jun 2021

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

Why is my pilot light on but no hot water? ›

Gas Water Heater Thermocouple Issues

If you can see that the pilot light is on, but your water heater is not able to deliver any hot water, then there might be an issue with the thermocouple. This element is, basically, a probe with a copper tube that is screwed into the gas valve.

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.

How do you check a water heater element? ›

Water Heater Not Heating? Heating Element Testing - YouTube

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.

How do you clean sediment out of a water heater? ›

4 Ways to Remove Sediment from Your Water Heater
  1. Flushing Your Unit. This technique is good for your unit twice a year to prevent water heater sediment build up. ...
  2. Vinegar Soak. ...
  3. Maintain Temperature. ...
  4. Water Softener Installation.

How do I make my hot water hotter? ›

How To Make Your Hot Water HOTTER - YouTube

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.

How much does it cost to replace a hot water heater thermostat? ›

Thermostat. You may also run into problems with the thermostat on your unit. The cost to repair or replace one is usually $150 to $200.

Do all hot water heaters have a reset button? ›

Yes, all water heaters should have a reset button. They can also be known as the “emergency limit switch”, “emergency cut off (ECO)”, “high-limit safety thermostat switch”, or “electric water heater reset button”.

How do you reset the thermal switch on a water heater? ›

Water Heater - Thermal Cutoff Switch | Repair and Replace - YouTube

Do water heaters have a fuse? ›

The heater is usually fused in the main electrical panel but some electric water heaters may be fed from a separate fuse or circuit breaker box. If the fuse is blown or breaker is tripped, replace the fuse or re-set the circuit breaker.

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 do I make my hot water hotter? ›

How To Make Your Hot Water HOTTER - YouTube

How do you get enough hot water? ›

To get more hot water in your home, try these steps:
  1. Don't run so many hot water appliances at the same time. ...
  2. Set your water heater to 120-140 degrees. ...
  3. Take an inventory of your hot water usage. ...
  4. Check the flow rates of your faucets and shower heads.

How do you remove sediment from a water heater? ›

4 Ways to Remove Sediment from Your Water Heater
  1. Flushing Your Unit. This technique is good for your unit twice a year to prevent water heater sediment build up. ...
  2. Vinegar Soak. ...
  3. Maintain Temperature. ...
  4. Water Softener Installation.

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 should my hot water tank thermostat be set at? ›

A domestic hot water cylinder thermostat should be set at 60-65ºC. This is high enough to kill off harmful bacteria such as Legionella. If you set the thermostat much higher than this the water that comes out of the taps will be too hot and there'll be a risk of scalding.

Is 130 too hot for water heater? ›

Professionals recommend keeping your water heater set at a temperature between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher, or lower, could actually be dangerous for you and your family. While turning the temperature up higher can result in burns, turning it lower than the recommended setting can also be dangerous.

Should I flush a water heater that has never been flushed? ›

Lead to other water heater & home damage

If not regularly flushed, your water heater can corrode more quickly. The sediment can also block or clog the pressure and relief valve (which helps keep your water heater from exploding).

Can I flush my water heater myself? ›

To flush your hot water tank, simply turn on the cold water spigot leading into your hot water tank. Let it run for a few minutes until the water exiting your hose runs clear. This may take a bit. While the water might be running clear and isn't brown, you may still have some sediment.

How do I know if my water heater needs to be flushed? ›

3 Signs it is Time to Drain your Water Heater
  1. #1. Your water isn't as hot as it should be. If you are getting lukewarm water, the problem could be lime buildup around your heating elements. ...
  2. #2. You've noticed sludge in your water. ...
  3. #3. It's been more than 12 months since you last drained it.
29 Sept 2019

Does turning up your water heater give you more hot water? ›

Turning up the water heater temperature makes hot water last longer as the desired temperature is reached by using less hot water and more cold water. The recommended maximum temperature should be 120 °F. Hotter water poses risks to users and the water heater and increases energy bills.

Why does my hot water only last a few minutes? ›

If you are getting less than a full tank of hot water, the most likely cause is the bottom element burning out. Less likely, either of the thermostats could be faulty, which could be keeping the lower element from turning on.

Will vinegar dissolve water heater sediment? ›

Let the tank sit with this vinegar-infused water for a full 24 hours. During that time, the vinegar's acidity will work to eat away at the sediment.

What is the white stuff in the bottom of my water heater? ›

Scale is a buildup of minerals inside of your hot water heater, mostly calcium and magnesium, which looks like white particles or pieces of paper in plumbing fixtures.

Can I put CLR in my water heater? ›

CLR cleaner is a great way to clean your water heater, because it eats away at the minerals at the bottom of the heater without scrubbing. Although CLR often comes in small spray bottles, it is also sold in gallon-sized containers, the perfect size for cleaning a hot water heater.


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