Common Hot Water Heater Problems

Water heater problems can be troublesome and frustrating especially when they occur at the most inopportune time – when you are wrapped in soap bubbles and it’s shivering cold! Know several common problems and troubleshooting solutions so you are primed and ready to fix them.
When your hot water tank fails to deliver, there are several reasons behind the failure. Don’t head to the nearest store right away to look for a replacement.  Replacing your water heater is a huge investment and you might be spending a large amount for something you needn’t have replaced in the first place. In this crisis crunch economy, we all need to spend wisely: recycle, reuse and, this time, troubleshoot before deciding to get a new one.

Assuming that hot water tank was installed properly and were operating correctly before problems developed, this post lists some common problems you might encounter within the lifetime of your heating device. A comprehensive guide to troubleshooting your heater applicable to most brands such as Takagi, Rudd, RV, GE, Rinnai and Bosch will soon follow this post.

Guide to Common Hot Water Heater Problems and Troubleshooting

Warning: Electric heater operates in 240 volts which is EXTREMELY FATAL when shock is produced. Remember to turn off the power before starting to troubleshoot. Label the service panel with tape or any warning signs that will alert family members that you are working on an electrical device.

·       Irregular Water Temperature – Too Hot or Not Hot Enough

Thermostat may have been set either too high or too low. Set thermostat correctly by adjusting the temperature to desired level. If it doesn’t work, something could be wrong with your thermostat or sediment has formed at the bottom of the tank. Try draining it. If no sediment is found and condition still persists, you may need to replace the thermostat or the heating element. Have both checked by a specialist.

·       No Hot Water Produced

The circuit breaker or fuse box might be the problem. High Temperature limit switch (Energy Cut-Off) may have failed. Try to reset the switch to determine if the problem exists. Either the thermostat or the heating elements require repair or replacement.

·       Hot water tank leaking

Check if the leak comes from the pipes or relief valves. Some water heaters use cheap quality valve that are difficult to close tightly. You can try closing valve tightly but gently using slip joint pliers. Valves can snap with too much force.

·       Popping High Pitch Noises

Once scale builds up on the heating elements, all sorts of noises and high pitch whining come out while heating. You can either try to remove the heating elements or clean them. If nothing works, replace them altogether. Low pressure in the water also causes spot boiling or voltage to exceed heating element’s rating.

·       Low Water Pressure

Low water pressure can be one of the most annoying problems since it will require you to clean the shower head from sediment and other hard water deposits. Inserting a fine needle in the holes of the shower head will help you accomplish the task efficiently. Or you replace it if you like. You can also try pressing the “reset” button of your heater. If nothing changed, you might have a faulty thermostat or worse. A specialist is your last recourse.

·       Rust-colored and Dirty Water

Hot water heaters generally contain “anode rod”, sometimes called “sacrificial rod” that works to prevent rust from collecting inside the hot water tank. When anode rod fails to dissolve, rusts start to show in the water. Replacing the anode rod will fix the issue. You can also drain and flush the tank regularly to avoid future problems.

·       Foul-smelling Water

If water coming from your heater starts to smell like rotten eggs, a bacterial infection may be causing this. The anode rod emits hydrogen gas and bacteria feed from this element. To fix this problem, flush out all the water from the tank then fill it with 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (for 40 gallon tank ratio) and let it sit for about 2 hours before refilling the tank with water. If smell is not eliminated, a zinc alloy anode rod will fix this issue.

Warning: If air stenches of gas odor, immediately close gas-shutoff valve and open doors or windows to ventilate the room. Seek assistance from the gas company.

·       Gas Water Heater Pilot Light Suddenly Goes Off

Determine if thermostat is screwed securely into the assembly. If it failed, then replace thermostat immediately. Air or dirt could also clog the gas line so make sure the orifice is clean. Water heater could automatically shut down for safety reasons if there is inadequate air combustion.


Simple water heater problems could make your device go bonkers. Learning the basics of water heater repair will help you avoid larger problems such as a leaking water heater. Regular maintenance  is still the best method to avoid unforeseen problems with your heating device.

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