How to Troubleshoot the Most Common Water Heater Problems

How to Troubleshoot the Most Common Water Heater Problems

Few things are worse than the bone-jarring cold you experience as you step inside a freezing shower first thing in the morning. Your water heater is absolutely vital to the functionality of your household. So what happens when it stops working?

Keep reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to diagnose and potentially fix any water heater problems.

Useful Guide to the Most Common Water Heater Problems

Zero Hot Water

If you’re suddenly experiencing no production of hot water, there’s most likely an obvious reason. Zero hot water means there is a critical aspect to your water heater that is simply not working or not turned on.

Usually, this occurs in one of three areas:

  1. Lack of power
  2. Faulty Thermostat
  3. The inability of the heating element of the gas burner to work properly

You can quickly diagnose the initial problem by looking in these directions, and it should be very apparent what the issue is.


A plumber is performing maintenance on a residential water heater.

Electric Water Heaters

In the case of electric water heaters, you always start with the power supply. Check your breaker box for a tripped breaker or a blown fuse.

If these appear to be in working order, use a multi-meter to test for the proper voltage (found on the side of your tank) from the wall. You can also test for continuity in your heating element.

Next, try turning off your hot water supply and go to a faucet in your house. Turn on just the hot water and see if any water flows. If it does, you probably have a crossed connection, meaning that the hot and cold supplies have been switched on accident (typically resulting after an install or maintenance).

And finally, if your water is too hot, you most likely have the thermostat set too high. Make sure it stays between 110-140 degrees F.

Gas Water Heaters

Gas water heaters function with the use of an ever-burning pilot light that ignites a larger burner when the thermostat dictates that it’s time to apply heat.

To check if your gas water heater is working, make sure your gas line is turned on. Next, remove the access panel and switch your control valve to “Pilot,” as not to have the burner ignite during your diagnosis.

Also, check to see if your pilot light has gone out. When the pilot light goes out, follow the instructions on the side of your tank to re-light it. If that doesn’t work, your thermocouple could have failed, and you’ll need to contact a professional to address the issue.

If your pilot does come on after you complete the procedure, lower the temp on your thermostat and then raise the temp to activate the burner. However, if the burner never ignites, a professional will be required to replace it.

Above all, the smell of gas should immediately be addressed too. Turn the gas control valve off and let the smell dissipate. If the smell persists, call the gas company.

Not Enough Hot Water

Inadequate hot water is an irritating problem. You may need to check if your unit is undersized. Large soaker tubs and high-flow rain shower heads can be hard for a smaller unit to keep up with.

A family of 4 requires as much as an 80 gallon capacity for electric water heaters and 75 gallons for gas.

The colder months may also require you to adjust your thermostat to account for the loss of heat.


Leaks will be noticeable around and under the unit. They can come from several areas.

The water inlet valve, temperature & pressure relief valve (T&P), and hot water outlet valve are located on top of the tank. Check all connections and tighten snugly. Sometimes a T&P valve may need replacing.

Heating elements are on the bottom of the tank and usually leak due to faulty gaskets. Your tank can also leak from the bottom due to o-rings or corrosion. Keeping a set of o-rings or an extra gasket will be an easy fix for these issues.

Odor and Discoloration

Corrosion inside your tank is common with age. Anode rods are a sacrificial part that releases hydrogen and cause a rotten egg smell.

When you smell an odor or see a rust color, clear the tank. Use 2 pints of hydrogen peroxide and 40 gallons of water. Then let it sit for 2 hours.

If the problem persists, you might need to replace your anode rods with a flexible one made of magnesium or zinc-alloy. As a last resort, you might also have to replace your tank with a new, plastic-lined unit.

Water Heater Problems Are a Nuisance

Now that you know the signs to look for, you can identify if an issue requires a simple fix or the knowledge of a professional. Turn to us for any of your water heater problems or plumbing needs.

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