Troubleshooting water heater problems

Troubleshooting water heater problems

Your water heater is the unsung hero of home comfort, working hard behind the scenes to keep hot water coming to your faucets, showers, washing machine and dishwasher. But sometimes it works a little too hard, and symptoms with water temperature, leaks, discoloration, odor and noise will show it.

Here are some troubleshooting tips for common water heater problems in your home –just remember to shut the power at the circuit breaker before doing any detective work!

  1. Water temperature issues – Issues with reaching and maintaining water temperature are among the most common issues you’ll find with water heaters – especially storage-type water heaters (models with a tank). Here are three water temperature issues and their likely causes:
    • Water is cold – When you’re not getting any hot water, the problem is usually caused by one of three things: a lack of power, a faulty thermostat or a faulty heating element. Start by eliminating power as a suspect by resetting tripped circuit breakers and replacing blown fuses. Next, be sure power is reaching the unit by ensuring that switches are turned on and power indicators are lit. Next, check the thermostat to make sure it’s receiving power.
    • Water isn’t hot enough – If the water isn’t hot enough, the problem again is usually due to one of three causes: an undersized water heater, crossed hot and cold connections, or a faulty heating element or thermostat. You can rule out a crossed connection by turning off the water supply and turning on a hot water faucet; if the water still flows, you could have a crossed connection. Beyond this, we recommend contacting a professional to check the water heater’s heating elements thermostat, and to assess whether your water heater is properly sized for its load.
    • Water is too hot – When water is running too hot, it usually means the thermostat is set too high. See your water heater’s owner’s manual for adjusting water heater temperature – the U.S. Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120° F for the best balance of heat and efficiency.
  2. Leaks – Water leaks can be attributed to multiple cause, including:
    • a faulty temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve
    • excessive pressure
    • overheating
    • a stuck valve
    • a leak from nearby plumbing connection
    • loose heating element bolts
    • a bad gasket
    • a leaking water tank

    To check the T&P valve, place a bucket under the overhead pipe, open the valve and flush it clear of debris; if it still leaks, have it repaired or replaced by a professional. To reduce pressure or heat, lower the thermostat setting, then check for loose pipe connections and adjust them use a wrench.

    Next, check the loose heating element bolts, tightening them if needed. If the heating element is still leaking, you will probably need to replace the gasket (we recommend hiring a professional to do this). Finally, check for leaks on or around the storage tank – since storage tanks typically corrode from the inside-out, you are probably seeing the beginning of the end for your water heater.

    Of course, there is a simple way to avoid many leak issues with your water heater: switch to a tankless water heater, which stores no water at all. The equipment lasts about twice as long, too, and takes up about one-quarter of the space in your basement.

  3. Discolored water – Rust-colored water can be caused by tank corrosion or a failing anode rod. If the tank is corroding, you will probably need a new water heater. If the anode rod is the problem, have it replaced; contact a water heater professional for a water heater inspection to determine if the anode rod is the culprit and whether replacing it is an option. Side note: a corroded anode rod will often make your water smell like rotten eggs, but a rotten egg smell can also mean other problems exist in your water heating system. Learn more about the rotten egg-smelling water in this video.
  4. Odd noises – A low, rumbling noise can indicate boiling water caused by overheating due to sediment build-up. Treat this by flushing the water heater – see this video for tips about how to do that. A high-pitched, whining noise can be caused by build-up of scale on the water heater’s heating elements – another problem that you can address by flushing the water heater. If you flush your water heater and the problem persists, or if the sediment build-up has hardened making it impossible to remove, contact us – you may need a water heater replacement.

Need a water heater replacement for your Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming home? Trust the pros at Fall River Propane. We feature the full line of top quality, super-efficient tankless water heaters from Rinnai – the state of the art in hot water home comfort systems today. Contact us today to learn more, or to get a FREE, no-obligation estimates on a water heater upgrade for your home.