How to Troubleshoot a Water Heater

Hot water is a must-have, but it’s often taken for granted. We rely heavily on hot water. From daily showers to washing the dog or speeding up our cooking time. However, we rarely think about how much we rely on our hot water, until it breaks.

Dealing with a faulty water heater is more than just an inconvenience. It can lead to extensive water damage to your flooring, walls, possessions, and your wallet.

So, what do you do when your water heater isn’t working as it should? We’re here to teach you how to troubleshoot a water heater.

What to Do If You Have No Hot Water (at All)

One of the clearest signs that there’s something wrong with your water heater is having no hot water. After all, the purpose of a water heater is to heat your water.

If it’s coming out freezing, something is broken. In fact, there’s likely a problem with either your power, your thermostat, or the heating elements.

Before you grab your DIY gloves, make sure that your water heater’s circuit breaker hasn’t tripped. You can discover whether there’s been a power trip with your service panel. If it has, simply turning it off and on again should resolve the problem.

If it hasn’t tripped, it’s time to reset the high temperature limit on your water heater. This is not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, you can change the temperature limit on your water heater in just 5 steps:

  1. Use your service panel to switch off the breaker to your water heater’s power. It’s important this is switched off before you move on to the next step.
  2. Remove the access panel, insulation, and safety guard, being careful not to touch any terminals or wires.
  3. Find the high-temperature cutoff reset button. It’s bright red, and you’ll usually find it above your upper thermostat. Once you’ve found it, press it.
  4. Now, reinstall the safety guard, insulation, and the access panel.
  5. Power up your water heater once more.

My Hot Water Is Too Hot

Having water that is too hot is just as frustrating as having no hot water at all. It could also be dangerous, so it’s important you know how to troubleshoot your water heater to solve water that is too hot.

For this, it’s likely that the settings are set too high. Follow the steps to adjust them:

  1. Again, the power will need to be totally off before you start adjusting things.
  2. Remove the access panel, insulation, and safety guards on each set of the water heater. Make sure you don’t touch any wires or terminals.
  3. Double check the power is off with a non-contact voltage tester.
  4. When it’s confirmed that it’s off, take a look at the heat setting on both of your thermostats. They should both be displaying the same temperature.
  5. Take a flathead screwdriver to adjust the temperature on one of the thermostats. It should read between 115 and 125 degrees.
  6. Repeat this step for your other thermostat.
  7. Reinstall safety guards, insulation, and access panel.
  8. Turn on the heater’s circuit breaker.

My Water Heater Is Leaking

Should you be worried if your water heater is leaking? In short: yes.

You’ll need to act quickly if you’ve seen water leaking from either the top or the bottom of your water heater. Ignoring it will not solve the problem whatsoever.

What you need to do will depend on the location of the leak, so you first need to find where it’s coming from.

To do so, turn off your water heater, but don’t switch off the cold water inlet. This is because, if you switch off the cold water inlet, there may not be enough pressure, which could cause your leak to hide. As soon as you switch it all back on, the leak, like a jack-in-the-box, will spring back into action.

Once the heater is off, try to look for the leak. If you can’t find it, run your dry hand over the fittings and pipes, paying attention to any sense of moisture.

If this doesn’t help, use tissue paper to wrap your pipes and fittings. The tissue paper will allow water to seep through, so monitor the material. This should help you locate your leak.

Then, you can move onto the next steps. If your leak is coming from the top, read the next section. If it’s coming from the bottom, skip to the section after.

My Water Heater Is Leaking from the Top

Your water heater is leaking from the top, which suggests that either your hot or cold outlet pipes aren’t fastened tightly enough, or your temperature and pressure (T&P) valve is faulty.

Here’s how to fix both:

How to Fix a Leaky Valve

A leaky valve is easily fixed. It simply requires you to tighten the nut that’s holding the valve. Tighten it as much as you can. If the leak remains, you’ll need to replace the valve altogether.

How to Fix a Leaking T&P Valve

The role of your T&P valve (temperature and pressure relief) is to ensure there’s no excessive build-up of pressure in the pipes of your water heater. For a small component, it’s got a big job. So, when it’s faulty, there’s cause for alarm. It could lead to over pressurization, which causes leaks and breaks thermostats.

You can locate your T&P valve in the center and at the top of your water heater. Once you’ve found it, inspect for any leaks. If there’s water running out of it, you’ll need to replace it.

My Water Heater Is Leaking from the Bottom

Usually, a build-up of condensation, a faulty electric heating element gasket, or an over pressurized T&P valve are the potential problems when you have a leak at the bottom of your water heater.

If you find that it’s not one of these problems, and that it’s the water heater itself that’s leaking, you’ll need to replace it. This can be expensive, so it’s best to check whether it’s one of the above issues first.

How to Fix a Leaking Drain Valve

The drain valve on your water heater is located at the bottom of the mechanism. It’s used during removal or cleaning.

If you can see a leak emerging from the opening of the valve or tap, you’ll need to fix it before the problem escalates and results in water damage. Your entire water heater can break if you don’t act quick enough. (And, as we’ve said, that can be costly).

A simple fix is to make sure the valve is fully closed. It’s often the case that after cleaning, the valve simply wasn’t closed tight enough. So, turn it as tight as you can.

If, after you’ve done this, the leak is still there, you’ll need to replace the valve.

Here’s how you replace your drain valve on your water heater:

  1. Set up your valve to connect to a garden hose, ensuring the other end of the hose is in an outdoor environment for drainage.
  2. Turn off the water inlet for your water heater. You’ll find it at the top of the water heater on the cold water line.
  3. Open the valve, and allow it to drain.
  4. Once it’s empty, remove the valve.
  5. Use Teflon or joint compound and wrap the threads of your replacement drain valve.
  6. Screw it into place, fixing it as tight as you can by hand.
  7. Finish tightening with a wrench. Tighten it around about half a turn.

My Water Is Coming Out Brown

If your water is coming out brown, rusty, and/or dirty, you already know there’s a problem.

Clearly, your running water should be transparent. Allowing it to remain a rusty, brown color could result in water contamination, and be a major health concern.

More often than not, dirty colored water is due to a corroded anode rod. When this happens, you’ll need to remove and replace the anode rod in your water heater.

To replace your anode rod, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off all power to your water. This includes the cold water supply line.
  2. Find your anode rod. On a water heater, the anode rod is usually at the top, situated to the side of the heater.
  3. Use an ordinary garden hose to drain around 10 percent of the water in your tank into an outdoor environment.
  4. Give your tank some time to cool down.
  5. Use a boxed end wrench to remove your anode rod. Refrain from using liquid solutions such as Liquid Wrench, as it could contaminate the water.
  6. Make sure the threads are pointing downwards when you install the new anode rod. Use plumber’s tape or joint compound to wrap them.
  7. Position the new anode rod, and then turn it manually until you feel resistance.
  8. Use a socket wrench to tighten it another half a turn. Make sure the water heater isn’t twisting or turning during this process.

Whether you have water that’s too cold, too hot, springing from the wrong places, or isn’t the right color, you’ll need to act quickly. Remember, you can always contact us for professional repair.