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Troubleshooting: How to Fix a Water Heater

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Picture this scenario: You’re finally getting ready to wind down, relax and enjoy a nice, hot shower. As soon as you turn on your faucet, you notice a problem: no hot water! Now, wouldn't it be nice to know how to fix a water heater?

While this scenario can definitely throw a monkey wrench into your relaxation plans, there's no need to panic. Many people immediately presume that their water heaters have kicked the bucket. In many cases, however, it’s only a minor problem causing your hot water woes (especially if you haven't had it for 10 to 13 years).

Use our simple list of steps on how to fix a water heater to quickly diagnose your current issues.

Note: These steps presume you have a basic knowledge of your home appliances (like being able to distinguish between a gas and electric water heater). If you ever feel too confused or uncomfortable with a diagnostic step, it’s always better to call the professionals.

How to Fix a Water Heater

how to fix a water heater
Image via Scott Akerman

Step 1: Visually Assess Your Water Heater

First thing’s first, head down to visually inspect the water heater itself. If you notice the water heater catastrophically leaking water, you'll immediately know that you’ll need to call a professional. If this isn't the case, you can move on to step two.

Step 2: Cut the Power, Gas and Water Supply

Before you proceed any further, you want to be sure the power is off on your water heater. Water and electricity means big trouble, so don’t put yourself at any unnecessary risk.

Simply turn off the power at your breaker or fuse box. If you have a gas heater, switch the gas pilot control valve to its “pilot” setting. Also be sure to shut off the valve that feeds water into your heater.

Step 3: For Situations with Not Enough Hot Water

If you have some hot water but it seems to run out too quickly, you may have a leak. This can sometimes result from a leaky hot water faucet somewhere in your house, so check for that first. Even a few drips could slowly take all your hot water over time.

If this isn’t the issue, a few other culprits may be to blame:

  • Your water heater size is too small for your home’s hot water demands. It may be time for a heater upgrade or a change in your family's habits.
  • Cold and hot plumbing is cross connected. This means that your cold water is cross paths and infiltrating your hot water.
  • Faulty heating element, electrical components or gas supply issues. If your house's electrical system wasn't installed correctly, this could result in faulty water heater results.

If these are any of the reasons you don’t have enough hot water (or if you can't tell what's causing your problem), you're best off calling the professionals for a fix or a replacement.

how to fix a water heater
Image via Steven Depolo

Step 4: For Situations with NO Hot Water

When you’re getting literally no hot water, you may have an issue with the heating element altogether. Here’s what you can do to diagnose:

  • Electric Heaters: Ensure your breaker isn’t tripped. If it is, that may be all you need to fix the problem. Otherwise, you may have a failed thermostat or heating element which will require a plumber.
  • Gas Heaters: Verify that your heater’s pilot light is lit. Please note that if you smell gas, exercise extreme caution as this can be extremely dangerous! Similar to an electric heater, if this doesn’t resolve the issue you may need a replacement gas thermocouple or control valve.

Step 5: For Situations with Rusty or Discolored Water

Rusty or brown colored water typically occurs because of corrosion with a glass lined tank's anode rod. This will require a replacement of the anode rod or of the entire unit altogether if corrosion is too severe.

If you notice the water from the heater begins to smell bad, the reason is most likely a bacteria infection inside the tank. The bacteria feed on the hydrogen gas that is emitted by the anode rod. To get rid of the bacteria and the smell, begin by flushing all the water out of the tank. Then fill it with a few pints of hydrogen peroxide solution and allow it to sit for at least two hours before refilling the tank with water.

In most of these cases, it’s best advised to consult with a professional for your next step.

Trust us, we know how to fix a water heater.

For best results, it's important to keep up with regular water heater maintenance. If your water heater problem goes beyond something you can fix yourself, John C. Flood is available to help. We provide comprehensive water heater repair and installation to make sure you're not stuck in the cold. Contact us today.