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6 Most Common Water Heater Problems and Their Solutions

Of all the appliances in your home, the water heater is arguably the most important. Right up there with the furnace, it’s one of the things we rely on most for the running of a smooth household. 

No one wants to start their day off with a shower that suddenly goes cold. And certainly, no one wants to turn on a tap to find rusty, smelly water spouting out. 

In some cases, water heater problems mean the tank has run its course and needs replacing. In others, all that’s needed is a simple fix. Keep reading to learn about the 6 most common water heater problems and their solutions. 

1. Water Heating Problems 101: Power Issues

Before we dive in, the first step when troubleshooting any appliance is to turn off the power. If you aren’t sure how it’s best to go directly to the source and turn off the switch at the breaker that’s connected to the unit. 

You want to turn off the power for safety reasons, of course, but it’s also the first step in troubleshooting. Many water heater problems can be traced back to power problems. 

In this case, the magical IT solution of turning it off and back on again could solve the problem quickly. Reset the circuit breaker, wait a few minutes, and try a water faucet again. Also, check for signs of a blown fuse.

If the fuse is blown. It needs replacing. If you’re a handyman or DIY savvy, this can be done easily enough. If you’re not, there’s no shame in hiring a professional to do the replacement for you.

2. Water Temperature Too Hot or Too Cold

If your water heater has Goldilocks syndrome, it could be for a variety of reasons. It could be an extension of the power problems mentioned above.

If the water is coming out too hot, the thermostat connected to the unit might be set too high. The sweet spot for the upper and lower thermostats should be between 110 and 140 degrees – no higher.

Water that’s not hot enough could be attributed to the tank being too small for the household demands. Or, it could be because of a faulty or damaged heating element. 

In the case of a faulty element or faulty thermostat, a simple replacement of the specific faulty part could be all it takes to fix the problem. 

The third reason water isn’t running hot enough might be because of a crossed connection. To rule this out, disconnect the hot water supply at the unit and try a hot water faucet.

If the tap still flows, the connection could be crossed. Switch the hot and cold water connections and you should be good to go. 

3. No Hot Water at All

If you’re finding that there’s no hot water at all, try the circuit breaker reset first. Then, check the heating elements. If neither of those things are the problem, it could be an issue with the high-temperature limit of the unit. 

To check this, first, turn off the breaker to kill all power to the unit. Then, carefully remove the access panel, the insulation, and the safety guard. 

Press the high-temperature reset button (usually a big red button) and carefully replace the safety guard, insulation and access panel and turn the circuit breaker back on. 

If none of these troubleshooting steps solve the problem, it’s best to call in the pros to diagnose the problem. You might need to replace the unit

4. Water Leaks

Water leaking from the unit is not only an inconvenience, but it’s also dangerous. Water can cause a lot of damage to a home, and can also result in shorted circuits. 

Leaks can be caused by a number of things. A faulty temperature and pressure valve is the most common culprit. It could also be due to too much pressure, excessive heating, loose bolts, tank corrosion, a faulty gasket or a wedged valve. 

The first step in troubleshooting a leak is to check the temperature and pressure valve. To do this, open the valve in question and drain it into a bucket. If it still leaks after the flush is complete, it needs replacement. 

If that’s not the problem, check for signs of high pressure or excessive heating by checking for loose pipe connections. If you find any, use a wrench to tighten them. Be careful, however, not to overtighten.

The industry advice is to tighten a loose bolt “finger-tight”, and then tighten it a quarter of a turn at a time until it is firm enough. 

Once you’ve checked for loose connections of the pipes and tightened the bolts of the heating elements, and you still haven’t found the reason for the leak, it might be a problem with the gasket.

If so, replace the gasket. If the problem continues to persist, check the tank itself. If the tank is what’s leaking, it could be due to corrosion. In this case, it will need replacing.

5. Water Discoloration or Odor

If water is rusty-colored or has a bad odor, it could be another sign of corrosion. It could also be due to decay in the sacrificial anode rod, which can give off a smell like sulfur or rotten eggs. 

If you’re savvy, you can DIY a replacement of the sacrificial rod with a magnesium one and flush the unit. Once the unit has been flushed, clean it out by adding 3% hydrogen peroxide to roughly 40 gallons of water.

This should solve the problem of odor or discoloration. If it doesn’t, your water heater needs replacing.

And you might want to consider a tank with plastic lining to avoid this problem in the future. Read more here to find out if your water heater needs repairs or replacement. 

6. Weird Noises

If your water heater is making weird noises, it is likely due to boiling water caused sediment buildup. Luckily, this is easy to diagnose. Unfortunately, it’s either an easy fix or a cause for replacement.

Try draining the tank to eliminate the excess sediment. If this doesn’t solve the problem, your tank needs replacing. 

The Takeaway on Water Heater Problems

There are many water heater problems that can be fixed easily and can be done yourself if you’re a savvy DIY-er. If you’re not confident troubleshooting or doing repairs yourself, call in a reputable company to help.

A shady company might try to tell you that you need to buy a new water heater when really it’s a simple fix. Troubleshoot on your own as much as you can. Now you know what could be a simple fix and when you might actually require a replacement. 

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