It’s time to take a look at that hot water heater most homeowners would rather ignore.
First, and most importantly: If you smell gas, a gas leak could be the problem. Evacuate your home and call your local propane or natural gas company immediately. Do not return to the building until it has been cleared.
If you don’t detect any gas present, you can try to troubleshoot the issue yourself, saving an expensive call to a plumber, electrician, or other professional.
Here’s how to troubleshoot your hot water supply issue.
Want to do some DIY troubleshooting? First, do a quick visual inspection to check for common reasons your water heater may have stopped working:
- If there is water leaking, try to locate where the water is coming from, a lot of times there may be a condensate or something nearby that is leaking and not the water heater itself. If you think it is the water heater, wrap towels around its base to verify the water is coming from the inside not the outside of the towels. Knowing where the leak is coming from will help determine if you need a new water tank. If the tank itself is leaking, better call a service technician.
- Is there water running to the unit? Make sure water supply is on – this usually means the valve is running parallel to the pipe. If it’s really cold outside, check for frozen pipes. If cold water can’t get into the unit, it can’t heat it.
- Check the water heater thermostat – is it turned up enough? We recommend between 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make sure the water heater exhaust pipe exiting your home is clear and unplugged. If your exhaust vents out the side of your house, deep snow can block the exhaust exit and cause the water heater to shut off as a safety measure. Check that there’s no animal nests or leaf build-up in the way.
- Does your water heater have a display with error codes showing? If so, looking it up could also help you diagnose the issue.
Once the easy stuff is eliminated and still you have no hot water, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Gas water heater not working?
Check the pilot light. Is it on and burning? If not, you’ll need to relight it. The instructions for your specific water heater should be posted on the water heater tank itself, or inside the access panel. You can also search your specific model and likely find a video on YouTube showing you exactly how to relight the pilot on your exact water heater, or follow these basic instructions to relight your pilot light.
Here’s how to relight a pilot light on a gas water heater:
- Remove the access cover at the base of the water heater.
- Get close to your water heater and smell for gas – it’ll smell like rotten eggs – or listen for a hissing sound that might indicate a gas leak. If it’s all clear, go ahead and try to relight it.
- Turn the On/Off/Pilot dial to OFF, if it isn’t already. Let it sit for ten minutes to clear any gas buildup that may have occurred while the pilot was unlit. After ten minutes, proceed.
- Make sure the gas supply line is turned on – most often, this means that the gas valve is running parallel to the pipe. If anything seems wrong with the gas line, stop and call a professional right away.
- Set the thermostat or temperature control to the lowest setting.
- Turn the On/Off/Pilot on the water heater to PILOT, and then push down on the button to start the flow of gas. Note: some water heaters may have a separate gas supply button to compress for this step.
- If your water heater is newer, it will have a built-in ignition switch. Press it until you hear a clicking sound, and see if the pilot light is on. If your water heater is older, you may have to manually relight the pilot with a match or lighter. We recommend a longer lighter with a handle to keep your fingers away from the pilot light itself.
- Continue holding the gas supply button down for one minute to thoroughly heat the thermocouple.
- Let go of the gas supply and if the pilot remains lit after a moment, turn the On/Off/Pilot light to the ON position, then adjust your thermostat to your desired setting.
- Replace your access panel and get ready to enjoy your hot water!
For an electric water heater:
If it’s an electric water heater, one of the most common causes is a lack of electricity. You need to make sure there is power to the unit. Is it plugged in? Has the circuit breaker tripped? Give both of those a quick look for an easy fix.
If none of the above seems to be the issue, it could be that the lower or upper thermostat is broken, or that a heating element has gone out. It’s best to get an expert in to assess the damage there.
For a tankless water heater:
In addition to making sure your exhaust pipes are clear, there’s gas and/or power to the unit, and there are no leaks, there are a few other common reasons a tankless water heater isn’t working:
- First, assess if you are running everything in your house at once. Are you washing laundry and running the dishwasher and giving kids baths? Might be just too much for your current unit.
- Check the thermostat and make sure it’s turned up enough.
- There could be dust or dirt buildup on the burners, or the unit could need flushed to remove any sediment buildup in the pipes.
- Clean the fresh air intake filter – it keeps out debris and bugs, but also means it can clog over time.
- An annual inspection and maintenance can help avoid these problems in the future. Here’s how to do it yourself and see if it kicks your unit back into shape.
If your tankless water heater is still not putting out hot water after taking a look at these common problems, it may be time to bring in a tankless water heater expert.
Not enough hot water?
If you’ve got hot water – just not enough, it’s likely time for an upgrade. Your hot water tank could be too small, especially if your family has grown or you’re spending more time at home than you used to. Upgrading to a larger tank water heater or checking to see if a tankless water heater is right for you could be the next best step for keeping your hot shower routine a guarantee.
You can also ask yourself the question: when is the last time you flushed your water heater? If the answer is “never” – it may be time to call in a pro – there may be enough sediment buildup to keep the water heater from working for a variety of reasons, and it may have reached the end of it’s lifespan and ability to heat water.
If you’ve flushed your water heater within the last 5 years, you can probably tackle the task yourself and see if a fresh flush can get your water heater working again. Here’s our step-by-step instructions on how to flush your tank water heater. Keeping up on this annual maintenance can help you avoid the shock of a cold shower in the future.
Still got hot water problems?
If all of those things check out and there’s still no hot water – or insufficiently hot water – pouring out of your faucets, it’s probably time to call a professional. If you’re in our service area, please give us a call. We are the water heater repair and install experts – it’s all we do.