Water heaters can be prone to experiencing a variety of issues, which is part of the reason why annual maintenance is so important. Maintenance will always help keep a water heater working more effectively and can also prevent many issues and extend the unit’s lifespan. However, even with regular maintenance, your water heater could still develop any of these issues that will require you to have it repaired or possibly replaced.

Water Is Cold or Doesn’t Get Hot Enough

If you turn on the hot water at a sink or shower and find that only cold water comes out, it obviously means that your water heater isn’t heating for some reason. With an electric unit, this issue usually means that the water heater isn’t getting power. The one thing to check in this situation is to make sure that the water heater didn’t trip the circuit breaker. If the breaker is still on, your only option is to have a plumber and/or electrician inspect your water heater for electrical issues. Some electrical issues are fairly easy to fix, but some can be fatal and force you to install a new unit.

If you have a gas water heater that isn’t heating, you should check that the valve on the gas line feeding the unit is fully open. On a unit that has a traditional standing pilot light, you also need to make sure that the pilot light is still on. If the pilot light is out, relighting it may be all that it takes to fix the issue and get the unit running again. If the pilot is lit and the unit still won’t run, there is likely an issue with the burner or the temperature control could be bad and need to be replaced.

If you can’t get the pilot to relight, you should check to see if there is still gas flowing to any other gas-burning appliances in your home since there could be an issue with your gas supply. If you confirm that your gas is still on, it means that there is an issue with one of the pilot light components, such as the gas tube or thermocouple. The gas tube can sometimes become clogged and prevent gas from flowing to the pilot so that it goes out and won’t relight. If the pilot lights but won’t stay lit, it usually indicates that the thermocouple is worn out or too dirty to register that the pilot is lit. The thermocouple is a safety feature that detects the flame from the pilot light and will prevent gas from continuing to flow if the flame goes out.

If your water is warm but never gets as hot as it should, the problem usually lies with the gas burner or the electrical heating elements. A worn-out burner will normally require you to replace your water heater. If you have an electric unit and one or both of the heating elements are bad, you can easily have them replaced and get your water heater working again.

Water Is Too Hot

The temperature of your hot water should always remain consistent except in situations where you use up most of the hot water. If you find that the water is suddenly much hotter than normal, you should check to see what temperature the unit is set to. In this situation, we recommend turning the temperature to 120 degrees and then letting the hot water run until it starts to go cold. You should then wait for an hour or two so that the unit can bring the water back up to temperature. The last step is then to use a kitchen thermometer to measure the temperature of your hot water. If the temperature is more than a little above 120 degrees, you’ll want to have your water heater inspected since this typically indicates that there is an issue with the temperature control.

Water Heater Is Leaking

Tank water heaters can be somewhat prone to leaking in various places and for various reasons. If you see water dripping down the side of the unit or pooling around it, you should first check to see if you can determine where it is leaking from. The water could be leaking out of the cold water inlet or hot water outlet pipe on top of the tank, the temperature-and-pressure (T&P) relief valve, the drain valve or the tank itself.

If the inlet or outlet pipe is leaking, you may be able to fix the problem by trying to gently tighten the fitting where the pipe connects to the unit. If the drain valve near the bottom of the tank is leaking, you’ll need to have a plumber replace it. Water leaking out of the tank itself means that the tank is corroded and you’ll need to replace your water heater since this issue cannot be fixed.

The T&P valve is located near the top of the tank and is a safety mechanism that ensures that the tank can’t explode if the pressure and temperature of the water get too high. When the pressure rises above a certain point, the valve will automatically open and allow some water out so that the pressure decreases. This valve can sometimes fail to where it doesn’t fully seal and starts leaking, in which case it will need to be replaced. However, you’ll still need to have a plumber perform a complete inspection since a leaky T&P valve can also indicate there is an issue with the temperature control that is causing the unit to heat the water more than it should.

Hot Water Is Discolored or Smells Bad

Hot water that is discolored or looks rusty usually indicates that the tank is beginning to corrode because the anode rod is worn out and needs to be replaced. When water is heated, the dissolved minerals it contains start to react with any type of metal including the steel tank. The anode rod prevents the tank from corroding by sacrificing itself so that the minerals react with and corrode its metal coating instead of the tank. Over time, the coating on the rod gets completely eaten away to where the rod stops working, which is why you usually need to replace the rod every five years or so.

If your hot water smells like sulfur or has an unpleasant odor, it normally means that bacteria is growing inside the tank. You can sometimes fix this issue by turning the heat all the way up for a few hours to kill all of the bacteria. However, you’re usually better off just having a plumber flush the tank to eliminate any bacteria. Flushing will also remove all of the sediment and is an important preventative maintenance measure that should be done once or twice a year.

Water Heater Makes Unusual Noises

If you notice that your water heater starts making a loud banging or knocking sound, it almost always means that there is lots of sediment in the tank and you need to flush the unit. The knocking or banging sound occurs because some of the sediment gets disturbed when the water heater is running and starts hitting against the side of the tank. Flushing your water heater regularly will help to avoid this problem and is also important for keeping your water heater working effectively and protecting its lifespan.

Ribbs Plumbing Services has been serving the San Jose area for more than 15 years, and our team is ready to help with all of your water heater, plumbing and sewer needs. We specialize in installing, repairing and maintaining tank and tankless water heaters as well as a full range of plumbing repair and installation services. If you’re experiencing any issues with your water heater, contact us today to get the professional help you need.

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