Do you avoid contact with your water heater?
Maybe it’s the gurgling and crackling noises. Or is it the story you heard about an old water heater that blew a hole through the ceiling and landed in a neighbor’s yard?
Some homeowners just prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. They don’t want to think about the day when their water heater breaks down and needs replacing. If that’s you, what’s your plan when the dog wakes up?
Water heaters do make noise, and while it’s unlikely yours will turn into a projectile, it might eventually fail and need repair. Yes, we said repair!
The good news is you may not need to spend hundreds of dollars on a new appliance. Read on and explore how you can fix a broken water heater.
Gas or Electric Water Heater?
Before you try the DIY path to repairing a water heater, you’ll need to know whether you have a gas or electric appliance. For some repairs, it does make a difference. Here are things to look for:
- Pilot Light
- Black Pipe
- Copper Pipe
- Vent Pipe
Newer water heaters don’t have pilot lights. Instead, they’re designed with electronic ignition, meaning you won’t see the blue flame when you open the access panel.
Identifying an electric water heater is easy. Just look for the cord. Electric water heaters have a thick black or gray cord going into the top or side of the appliance.
Now that you know the difference and have identified your water heater let’s look at a few common issues and their repairs.
Gas Water Heaters and Pilot Lights
Whether you have a gas or electric water heater, one of the most common complaints you’ll run into is no hot water in the house. For the gas water heater, start troubleshooting with the pilot light.
If the pilot light goes out and you can’t re-light it, you could have a clogged orifice. It’s time to call for water heater repair.
When the pilot lights but won’t stay lit, you might have a bad thermocouple. It’s always possible you have a loose thermocouple, which you can tighten. Sometimes a faulty gas control valve causes pilot light problems too.
It’s not uncommon to see the familiar blue flame of the pilot light and still have no hot water. First, check the control knob for the thermostat and make sure it’s not set in the pilot position. If the knob is set correctly and your burner still won’t light, you may have a faulty thermostat.
Electric Water Heaters with No Hot Water
The first thing to check when your electric water heater isn’t heating water is the breakers. If they’re on, you likely have a bad thermostat or upper element.
Also, check the safety switch on the upper thermostat. If it’s popped out, try resetting it.
Tip: Before you tinker with anything on an electric water heater, turn off the power! You’re dealing with high voltage connections, and if you’re not used to working with electrical connections, it’s best to let a professional plumber take a look.
Not Enough Hot Water?
When you look forward to a relaxing hot bath and run out of hot water before you fill the tub, it’s almost as frustrating as not having any hot water at all.
You run down to the basement and check the thermostat, hoping someone bumped it, and it’s set too low. If that’s not the problem, you could have one of the following issues:
- Broken Dip Tube
- Clogged Burners
- Low Gas Pressure
All of these are repairable, but you’ll want a plumber’s help.
When It Takes Forever to Replenish Hot Water
If your water heater is slow to recover after you shower or wash dishes, check for sediment on the bottom of the water heater tank. Either you or your plumber can flush the tank and get rid of sediment.
If sediment buildup isn’t the problem, you may need to repair or replace one of the following parts:
- Circulator Relay
Sometimes insufficient combustion air can cause this problem, and you’ll need to schedule a service call with a professional plumber.
Temperature and Pressure Relief Valves
Your water heater has a relief valve designed to open when the water temperature gets too hot, or the pressure gets too high. Called the T&P or TPR valve, its primary role is safety.
Most homeowners never give it much thought since the T&P valve doesn’t get much use. You or your plumber may test it during routine maintenance.
T&P valves sometimes stick—they don’t open and close correctly. You could also have a valve that continually drips.
The T&P valve is one reason you don’t want to avoid contact with your water heater. Remember, earlier when we mentioned the water tank shooting through the ceiling?
A properly functioning T&P valve can prevent an explosion in your water heater. Make contact with your plumber at least once a year so that they can inspect the valve, and if necessary, repair or replace it.
Noises and Smells
Now, about those noises coming from the water heater. Water heaters gurgle—you can’t get away from that! Popping and banging, on the other hand, could mean sediment buildup on the bottom of the tank. You can eliminate the noise by flushing the tank.
Ever noticed your water smells like rotten eggs? Bacteria reacting with the anode rod can result in a nasty odor. You can clean the tank with bleach, but you can also swap out the anode rod for one made from aluminum.
If you’re not comfortable flushing or cleaning the tank, or you prefer not to get into the nitty-gritty of the parts inside the tank, call your plumber.
Ready to Get to Know Your Water Heater?
As you can see, your water heater isn’t so intimidating. Most issues have simple solutions, and you can have your plumber make the repairs. We hope you feel comfortable enough knowing a little more about common issues that you’ll stop avoiding your gas or electric water heater.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and would like more like it, check out the rest of our blog. Our archives are full of articles designed to make home improvement and maintenance feel less intimidating.