Hot water is one of those modern conveniences nobody wants to go without. Unfortunately, while quality water heaters can usually last many years, they can malfunction or break -- often when it's least convenient. Before calling a repair service and getting a hefty bill, consider troubleshooting and possibly repairing your water heater yourself. These are some of the most common water heater issues -- and some solutions.
No hot water or not enough hot water
Lack of hot water could be caused by a number of things. For both gas and electric water heaters, your first troubleshooting step should be to check that it has power, typically by checking for tripped breakers. Gas water heaters also have a pilot light that could have gone out. If your water heater has power (and a bright pilot light), it's likely that some other parts have failed.
For electric water heaters, this could mean that the heating elements need to be replaced or that the limit/reset switch has tripped and may need cleaned or swapped out. A gas water heater could need a new thermocouple wire, which is what ignites the gas after sensing the pilot light. A handy homeowner can do the replacement, but it would be best left to a professional if you're not comfortable poking around inside your water heater.
If your water heater simply doesn't make enough hot water, it probably isn't big enough to suit your needs. The thermostat could also be set too low, especially in cold weather, when the water cools faster on its way to the tap.
Leaks, drips, or puddles
Coming home to a basement flooded by a broken water heater is not fun at all, but it isn't necessarily a reason to panic. There are two main areas that water heaters leak from, and each has its own set of causes and repairs.
If water is leaking from the top, the first thing to check is that the inlet and outlet pipes are all secure. If there are any visible drips, tightening the connections will likely fix the problem. If the pipes are fine, the issue is likely caused by failing valves, which are typically easy to replace.
Leaks originating at the bottom of a water heater could just be pools of condensation. Adjusting the thermostat may help with this. It could also be due to leaking valves or overpressurization. The worst-case scenario for this type of water heater leak is corrosion in the tank itself, which usually means that the whole water heater will need to be replaced.
Other issues: Noises, smells, or discoloration
Even water-tight and properly-functioning water heaters can still raise concerns. Noises coming from a water heater are usually nothing to worry about and could be caused by normal expansion and contracting scale or sediment buildup, or an impending leak. It's sometimes best to check out these noises for peace of mind, especially if there are any other signs that your water heater is on its way out.
If water comes hot from the tap but isn't crystal clear, it's likely due to a buildup of sediment or scale or corrosion of the anode rod or tank. Don't ignore rusty water -- if the corrosion gets worse, it could mean a serious leak and a dead water heater. Replacing an anode rod is pretty simple and could extend the life of your water heater by a few years.
Bacteria are typically to blame for stinky hot water. Raising the thermostat or flushing the tank will usually kill the bacteria and provide a temporary solution, but replacing the anode rod might also be necessary.
There are a lot of reasons that a water heater can fail. Whether you're going to DIY or consult a professional, understanding basic water heater problems and solutions can save time, money, and a lot of frustration. For more information, contact a company like Denton Gas Co., Inc.