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Top 10 Water Heater Problems

Here are the Top 10 Water Heater Problems customers experience. Some are quick and easy to resolve, others may indicate a bigger problem that needs to be addressed before costly damage occurs.

When you experience a problem with your water heater, we recommend that you contact a plumbing professional. While there might be some troubleshooting and repairs you can handle, there is substantial risk involved in any service or repair on electric and gas appliances.

1.How long will a water heater last?

That depends. Tank water heaters last between five and ten years. As a rule, an electric water heater has a maximum life expectancy of 10 years, less for a gas unit. The standard warranty offered by most tank water heater manufactures is 5 years.

Tankless water heaters last much longer than tank units, which is why they represent a sound investment when it’s time to replace your current unit. 

An older water heater may still do it’s job, but we find that many water heater problems are more frequent with older units. If your tank water heater is near the end of it’s useful life, consider replacing it.

2. Why is my hot water rusty in color?

Because water heaters are constructed with metal components, they will rust over time.

Tank water heaters have a device called an anode rod that will rust out and need to be replaced every few years.  If the anode rod needs to be replaced, that might fix the problem. If not, then there could be rust in your water heater or in your pipes.

Draining and flushing the water heater will help determine if there is rust inside the water heater. Periodic flushing of the water heater is part of good water heater maintenance because it removes the sediment that typically builds up with normal use. 

 If your water heater tank is rusted, you will need to replace your water heater.

3. What causes the strange noises, like popping and crackling, coming from the water heater?

This is a sound we dread to hear, because it means that a layer of sediment has built up in the tank. Don’t ignore it! You need to schedule a maintenance call to drain the tank and remove the sediment. Over time, sediment build up leads to problems like a worn-out heating element or a leak in the tank.

4. Why do we always run out of hot water?

This is usually a sign that you need a larger unit because of the changing needs in your household. As families grow, you will most likely find that water usage patterns change. When you have mom, dad and the kids getting ready for school and work in a two-hour time window, you might need to add water heater capacity.

There are a range of choices to solve this water heater problem, from upgrading to a large tank, adding a second water heater or converting to a tankless system that provides limitless hot water.

5. Why is there dampness and evidence of leaking at the top of my water heater?

Leaks at the top of your water heater can be caused by leaking around an intake valve or pipe, because the anode rod is damaged or a device called the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR) is malfunctioning.

These items all need prompt attention, particularly the TPR (temperature and pressure relief) valve. A faulty temperature and pressure relief valve can lead to a water heater explosion if ignored. None of these issues – leaking intake valve or pipe, anode rod or faulty TPR valve – are expensive to repair, so don’t put it off!

6. What’s causing water to leak around the bottom of my water heater?

When your water heater starts to leak from the bottom, it usually indicates more serious issues than leaks around the top. However, there are some minor issues that cause water to leak out of and around the bottom of the tank.

Sometimes you will see water at the bottom of the tank that is leaking from the top, then running or seeping down the side.  In fact, some TPR valves are designed with a pipe that directs the water down the side of the tank onto the floor.

Another cause of water at the bottom of the tank is condensation, that may indicate a poorly insulated unit. If the water heater near the end of it’s expected useful life, replacing it with a newer, more efficient model could save you money.

The most serious cause of a water leak at the bottom of your water heater is damage such as a crack or small hole that is allowing water to seep out. If that’s the case, then replacement is the recommend course of action.

7. Why is there no hot water?

You will want to start by checking the power source. For an electric unit, you may have a blown fuse or a circuit breaker that has tripped. After power is restored, the water heater should return to normal operation. If not, then you could have a faulty heating element or a thermostat that’s malfunctioning.

When a gas water heater isn’t producing hot water, check the pilot light. If it’s out, you want to reignite it. If that doesn’t work, the most likely problem is that the thermocouple, one of the most important parts of your gas water heater, needs to be replaced.

8. Is a water heater problem causing low water pressure when we turn on the faucet or shower?

The easiest way to narrow down the scope of the problem is to go to a sink and turn on the cold water. If the cold water spigot has adequate flow, turn it off, then turn on the hot water. This will let you know if the low water pressure is related to your hot water supply or not.

 If it is, then the most likely cause is a valve that is partially closed and reducing the flow of hot water.

If you are experiencing low water pressure in general, it could be caused by a problem, such as a blockage, or  accumulated sediment in the pipes inside or even outside your home.

9. Why is the “hot water” only lukewarm?

 No one wants to be doused in cool water instead of the luxurious hot shower you were looking forward to!

For both electric and gas water heaters, lukewarm water can have several causes. Recent loss of electricity or an extinguished pilot light could be the reason your water heater is dispensing warm, rather than hot, water. Other possible causes are failed safety shut-off valves, dip tubes that need to be replaced, clogged pipes or a damaged or malfunctioning thermostat.

10. Why does the hot water stink?

Smelly hot water is usually caused by a faulty anode rod. It’s the anode rod’s job to attract corrosive chemicals and keep them out of your water heater. As a result, the anode rod corrodes and needs to be replaced frequently, usually every five years or so.

There are other causes of smelly water, such as bacteria that produces gases with a sulphur odor. Information about water quality in Dallas County is available through the Dallas Water Utility website.