Common Water Heater Problems

While a water heater is probably the most costly component in your home’s plumbing system, most problems with it are usually fairly easy to figure out and fix. Some of the common water heater problems you can run into and fix are – not enough hot water, water that’s too hot or too cold, smelly water (rotten eggs smell) or the tank is making noises. The worst water heater problem you can run into is a leaking tank. Unfortunately, once that happens, that tank is done. There are no fixes for a leaking water heater.

Understanding how water heaters work

Water heaters are fairly simple devices. Basically it’s a 30, 40 50 or 60 gallon holding tank with a cold water intake, a hot water outlet and a drain valve. Inside there are a few other components – a heating element, a dip tube (that guides cold water coming into the tank down to the bottom so the hot water on top will be used first) and a ‘sacrificial rod or anode’, to help prevent corrosion inside the tank.

Draining a hot water heater

If you’re going to be attempting to fix your water heater, the first thing you need to know is how to drain the water heater itself. Start by turning off the heater (at the electric panel or the gas supply), then give the water inside some time to cool. Close the cold water intake and attach a hose to the drain valve located near the bottom of the tank. Before opening the drain valve, be sure to open a hot water tap somewhere in your home (this will allow air to get into the tank while it’s draining). Drain the water in the tank outside, down a basement drain or into a series of buckets. (Be careful the water may still be quite hot).

Flushing out the tank will eliminate a number of problems

After all the hot water has drained out, close the tank drain and open the cold water intake valve. Half fill the tank, then shut off the cold water and open the drain to flush out any sediment or ‘crud’ built up inside the tank. Repeat this process a few times or until the water coming out of the tank runs clear. Flushing the tank annually is standard maintenance recommended by all water heater manufacturers and will eliminate lots of water heater problems such as not enough hot water and smelly water. Sediment inside the tank is often the source of the rotten egg smell and getting rid of a build up of sediment means more room for water inside the tank.

Water temperature problems

If you have absolutely no hot water – the heating element (electric) or gas thermocouple is probably not working. These are replaceable components you can do yourself and replacing them will give you back your normal hot water supply. The thermostat on the tank being changed usually causes water that’s too hot or too cold. It’s a simple matter to raise or lower the temperature a few degrees to get your tank back to functioning properly once again.

Noises coming from inside the tank

Noises may be caused a sediment build up inside the tank and the heating element is literally burning it. Alternatively, the noise could be caused by the heating element slowly burning out and the noise is giving you some warning that it might be time to replace the element. Your water heater spends it life hiding out of sight in your home and like most of us, you don’t think about it until it stops working properly. However, taking just a little time to give your tank the annual maintenance the manufacturers recommend will extend it’s life and save you a bunch of money on plumbers bills.

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