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Common Troubleshooting for Water Heaters

Common Troubleshooting for Water Heaters

As any rational human, it is always a concern that one day you are going to step into the shower, turn on the tap, and expect to be soothed by warm water, only to be rudely awakened by a blast of cold water.

Based on the suggested service life of most manufacturers, you can expect to get 8 to 12 years out of your water heater. However, that changes depending on where the unit is located, the quality of its design and installation, its maintenance history, and the water quality in your home.

If you know your water heater is getting to be around ten years old, or if you’re already running into trouble with a heater of any age, you’re already asking yourself if you’re looking at a repair or a replacement.

But there are a few common problems that are worth looking into before you consider taking any plunges — you could, after all, just have a problem with a fuse. But it could also be a faulty thermostat or failed heating element.

Depending on whether you’ve got a gas or electric heater, the basic steps and fixes leading up to a potential replacement situation are a little different, so we’ll address them separately.

For an electric water heater you should:

  • Make sure that the power is connected
  • Try resetting the thermostat
  • Flush the heater to remove sediment from the tank
  • Check and re-insulate the hot water pipes
  • Replace the heating element or thermostat
  • Raise the temperature setting on the thermostat

For a gas water heater you should:

  • Make sure that the gas is connected and the pilot light is lit
  • Flush the heater to remove sediment from the tank
  • Check and re-insulate the hot water pipes
  • Clean the gas burner and replace the thermocoupler
  • Raise the temperature setting on the thermostat

Troubleshooting Your Water Heater

The first step is to make sure you know what you’re looking at. You should probably already know the basic type of the water heater, but make sure you check the model number to find out exactly what parts you might need to order if you find that you need them.

If you hear hissing or sizzling sounds, sediment may have collected in the tank. It’s not a terribly uncommon problem for tank heaters, and this sediment can end up trying to cook off against the heating elements, resulting in the noise. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, go ahead and shut off the power to the water heater and get those sleeves rolled up. Then drain the tank until the water clears, disconnect and remove the heating elements, and soak them in a pan filled with white vinegar for about an hour, scraping off any collected residue.

Troubleshooting for Water Heaters

Supply pipes to the heater unit or from it back into the home can wear or leak. This is generally a pretty minor issue — many times it’s a loose fitting that you can tighten without too much trouble. Occasionally, you may find that you need to replace a fitting, or even a length of pipe. If it’s easy to get to and you find yourself so inclined, it’s not a difficult or particularly expensive repair.

If you’ve noticed a small bit of piping coming out of your heater with a continuous drip, what you’re probably looking at is your pressure relief valve and line. You might even hear a high-pitched whistle from this valve. This potentially unassuming nuisance is probably your pressure relief valve trying to tell you one of two things: either it is failing and simply needs to be replaced, or for some reason the pressure in your water heater is excessive. The former isn’t so bad — it’s designed to be pretty easy to replace. But the latter could be indicating a risk of a pressure explosion. Even for a DIY homeowner, this is a good time to call in a professional like A1 Plumbing Service in Central Florida.

In terms of not getting enough hot water, or not getting any at all, there are two basic parts that can fail. In electric models, assuming they are getting the power from your electrical system that they need in order to function, the culprits are the heating elements themselves and the thermostat. If more basic maintenance doesn’t help, and one or the other is clearly not doing the job, these are also parts that are designed to be relatively painless to replace. In gas models, however, again assuming that the gas is flowing to the heater properly, you’re best-case scenario will be the burner itself. But if you aren’t so lucky, it could be the thermocoupler, an important safety feature for gas heaters that controls whether gas is sent to the burner. While they are designed not to allow any gas flow if they do not receive the proper electrical signal that the pilot light is functioning properly, this is an important safety issue that should be addressed, not just for the risk of cold water.

Care and Maintenance

Even though today’s newer models are made to need very little or no maintenance, we’ll give you a few maintenance tips can prolong the life of your water heater.

Twice a year you should drain your water heater to get rid it of the collected sediment that causes corrosion and this will also help you water heater to run more efficiently. You should also test the pressure-relief valve by lifting the valve’s handle and letting it snap back — this should release a burst of water into the overflow drainpipe. Try not to set the thermostat any higher than you need to — this will decrease the amount of wear over time.

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