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How To Troubleshoot A Broken Water Heater

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, however, you notice a problem: no hot water! Your hot water heater is not working, and you’re up a creek.

While this scenario can definitely throw a monkey wrench into your relaxation plans, there's no need to panic. Many people ask themselves “Is my water heater broken?” and immediately presume that they are in need of a hot water heater replacement. In many cases, however, it’s only a minor problem causing your water heater to not heat (especially if you haven't had it for 10 to 13 years).

To help get to the roof of the problem of why your hot water heater might not be working, follow these simple steps to determine what action you need to take.

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

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 mean 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: Determine Your Situation

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 crossing paths with and mixing with your hot water, cooling it down.
  • 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 the water heater to not heat), you're best off calling the professionals for a fix or a replacement.

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.

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 a total hot water heater replacement if corrosion is too severe.

If you notice the water from the heater begins to smell bad, the reason is most likely a bacterial 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.

Step 4: Call the Professionals from There

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

When Your Hot Water Heater is Not Working, Schedule a Hot Water Heater Repair with John C. Flood

To have warm water whenever you need it, it's important to keep up with regular water heater maintenance. As part of our Service Partner Program Gold Status, you’ll receive an annual plumping inspection, so you’ll always know that hot water will never be in short supply.

If you ever start to wonder if your water heater is broken, John C. Flood is here to help. We provide comprehensive water heater repairs and installations to make sure you're not stuck in the cold. Give us a call at (703) 752-1266 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with a water heater expert and get back to hot showers!