Tips for Trouble Shooting a Hot Water Heater

Sometimes your hot water heater can stop working and cause you lots of frustration and wasted energy. Here are some tips for trouble shooting a hot water heater when you’re in a bind.

Hot water heaters are one of the essential appliances in our homes because they provide us with hot water which allows us to take a shower or wash dishes comfortably. They also save energy by heating water only when required. As such, these units have become common in many peoples’ homes. According to, the market size for electric water heaters amounted to $23.6 billion in 2021. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 4.9% by 2030. By 2030, the annual industrial product installation will surpass 150 million units. Increased urban migration and product demand in the real estate industry contributed to the market expansion.

Every year, millions of people replace their old hot water heaters with new models. The problem is that most of these models aren’t standardized, and finding a faulty unit can be tricky. Hot water heaters come in various designs and sizes, and serve different purposes depending on their size and intended usage. The most common types are electric and gas hot water heaters.

Gas and Electric Hot Water Heaters

Gas and electric heating systems differ significantly from each other. Although both can provide hot water, gas systems generate heat via burning fuel (gas). In contrast, electric heaters rely on electric resistance coils.

Some homeowners prefer gas hot water heaters because they don’t use electricity. Others choose electric hot water heaters because of their energy efficiency. Understanding the differences between gas and electric hot water systems is essential before buying a new unit. This information can also be helpful when replacing or trouble shooting a hot water heater. Here are a few tips for trouble shooting a hot water heater.

No Hot Water

Losing hot water in your home is perhaps the most obvious sign that your unit needs water heater repair. If a water heater cannot produce hot water, the problem may come from a lack of power, a faulty limit switch, or a failed heating element. Before calling residential plumbing services to fix this problem, start by checking the circuit breaker. Ensure the device hasn’t tripped and if it has tripped, try switching it on and off.

If your hot water heater has a thermostat, check the settings. Turn the thermostat off if there isn’t any hot water from the faucet. Make sure the pressure switch is open. You should hear a slight clicking noise when you press down on the button to test it. If you hear nothing, try opening and closing the valve in the cold water pipe. Make sure the valve is open and replace the pilot light if you still haven’t gotten hot water after testing pressure switches and valves. You can find the pilot light where the flame comes out at the top of the heater. The pilot light may be burnt out or needs to be cleaned. A residential plumbing service can help you with this issue.

Insufficient Hot Water

Apart from not producing hot water, your water heater can provide inadequate hot water. The leading cause is if the unit is small and can’t cope with the household’s needs. When trouble shooting a hot water heater with a similar problem, ensure the home needs corresponds with the heater capacity. Hot water should account for about 75% of the water heater’s capacity. Sometimes, the demand may exceed the heater’s capacity. In that case, consider shortening showers or spreading laundry and dishwashing to different times instead of doing them all at once.

But suppose your water heater abruptly generates less hot water than normal despite not being small, as mentioned earlier. In that case, your heating elements may have failed and need replacement by a water heater installation service. When there’s a steady supply of cool water when showering, it shows a faulty top heating element. Hot water running out rapidly during a shower shows a faulty bottom heating element.


When hot water appears brown or rusty, many homeowners will presume that their heater has rusted. So, does the rusty fluid originate from the rusted tank, or is there another cause? Discolored water can occur because of many reasons. In one instance, there maybe a sediment build-up in your hot water tank that causes it to turn yellowish. In other scenarios, iron bacteria, rusty pipes, tank corrosion, and burst water mains may cause the problem.

Regardless of the problem, it will require plumbing services to unclog the pipe. When trouble shooting a hot water heater with this problem, open or drain the tank thoroughly via the drain valve. If bacteria infect the heater tank, apply chlorine to clear it. Once you remove the clog, you should be able to restore the proper functioning of your water heater and prevent future problems.

Plumbing Crossover

Plumbing crossover occurs when water enters and mixes with the hot water system, making it lukewarm. In most cases, plumbing crossovers are located at the faucets or faulty mixing valves. Inspect the dip tube when trouble shooting a hot water heater with a plumbing crossover problem. When plumbers install the long dip tube, it barely touches the tank bottom. In that case, the bottom part of the tank receives direct access to cold water from the plumbing.

Cold water can enter the tank’s top section when the tip tube breaks or becomes short. That’s why the incoming cold water enters the hot water section directly instead of mixing in the tank. In that case, identify the shut-off valve and close it.

Roten Egg Smell

If you have an odor from your hot water heater tank, it could be because of ‘rotten eggs’. Anaerobic bacteria and a mixture of gases in the tank, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gas, cause this problem. The water smells bad because the ‘Divibrio Sulfurcans’ bacterium within the heater’s tank turns the sulfate into hydrogen sulfide. The bacterium can alter the flavor and odor of water, but it is not dangerous (unless at very high doses).

Even if the incoming water is treated, the sulfur odor can still emerge in rusty iron pipes, except for the water heating system. This happens because of water being held for several days without being used, low chlorine and high sulfate content. Trouble shooting a hot water heater with a rotten egg smell is easy. To do that, smell the water from the hot and cold tap. If only the hot water is smelling, the water heater is the problem.

Hissing Sounds and Noises

A noisy, hot water heater is annoying and uncomfortable. This problem occurs when sediment that collects at the tank’s bottom traps air. The noise from the water heater happens when the water warms and releases bubbles. Although these noises aren’t harmful, it’s a sign that the sediment needs to be removed from the water by flushing. If that’s not done, the system’s performance may be affected, resulting in increased energy costs.

Since sediment comprises a mixture of tiny rusted metal and hard water, flushing the tank or using water softeners may resolve the problem. While troubleshooting a hot water heater with this issue, use vinegar to dissolve rust. But if the situation gets complicated, you may call a plumbing contractor to do the job.

Water Leaks

Water leaks can be associated with tank issues. But, failing valves and faulty piping connections are the leading cause of water leaks. They can seriously damage a house, so it’s crucial to stop them when they occur. Tank corrosion and loose heating elements can cause water heater leaks. Thus, when trouble shooting a hot water heater, check the elements for slackness and, if required, use an element wrench to do a small plumbing repair by tightening them. But you will need to replace a rusted tank since it cannot be fixed. To halt the leakage, turn off the water heater’s electricity and water supply and drain the tank to prevent the leakage.

High Water Temperature

An incorrect thermostat setting is the most frequent cause of excessively high water temperature. However, a thermostat is often accessible and straightforward to adjust in tankless or gas water heaters. In electric heaters, they are harder to adjust because you’ll need to remove the insulation to change it. A gas heater’s base may accumulate a substantial layer of silt and sludge over time, making it more challenging to heat the water to the right temperature. As a result, the water may get too hot.

Turn down the thermostat when tap water is too hot and doesn’t cool down over time. If that happens, the thermostat setting may be too high. The heating elements of electric heaters attract minerals from the water supply, which stick to the heating elements. The elements overheat if this calcification layer hardens and accumulates without routine cleaning. As such, they become less effective because of the mineral covering.

Water Fills the Floor

Finding water on the ground near a water heater is a bad sign. That’s because it might cause many problems, some of which may be more serious than others. To fix the leak, tighten the plumbing connection if you can locate it. But if the unit leaks, it’s time to get a new one.

Sometimes, you can see water at the tube’s base leading from the pressure and temperature relief valve on top of the tank. If that happens, it shows the valve has been opening. In that case, trouble shooting a hot water heater requires adjusting the temperature control because it’s set too high. However, consider consulting a plumber to install an expansion tank along the side of the water heater with safe temperature settings.

Pilot Light Problem

An electric water heater comes with a pilot light that ignites the burner. Sometimes, the water heater’s temperature can dip below the temperature set on the thermostat. In that case, the pilot light sparks the gas flowing via the regulator valve to ignite the burner. As a result, the element at the tank’s base gets hot, and it heats the water in the tank. However, this scenario may also show that the unit cannot work correctly in case of a faulty pilot light.

The pilot light can get clogged or damaged over time and need replacement if it doesn’t ignite or frequently goes out. A defective thermostat, an unsafe gas valve, or air in the gas system could also cause the problem. Trouble shooting a hot water heater with this problem can be tricky. In that case, it’s best to call a professional water heater service provider to check the unit.

Faulty Valves

Most appliances used with water will have one or more valves, and water heaters aren’t an exception. They usually come equipped with a pressure release valve and an outlet pipe cap at the bottom of the unit. The water heater also includes an inlet and outlet pipetop of the unit. Both pipes are prone to leaking, so it’s essential to check them regularly to identify any problems and fix them promptly. Skilled homeowners can fix the valves on a water heating system. Still, those not confident about their abilities may want to call a professional plumber instead.

If the internal pressure reaches a certain level, the pressure release valve opens and releases steam and water to prevent valve rupture. If it sprays water, the tank’s pressure has reached an unsafe level. In that case, turn the unit’s gas and water supply off and call a plumber to check your water heater condition.

Hot water heaters don’t last forever and may fail to work. If this happens to your unit, you must repair it immediately. It could be too late if you wait until something terrible happens. Contact us today for all your plumbing and heating problems at cheap rates. We have highly trained technicians experienced in resolving hot water issues efficiently.






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