Nothing screams, “I have a problem,” like jumping into a hot shower only to find out that the water is ice cold. Hot water heaters — both electric and gas — can have an array of problems. Here’s how you know if your water heater is in trouble.
When a water heater does not retain heat and the water cools, there could be a few issues going on. First, water heaters have a thermostat that tells the heater when to turn on and off. If the thermostat is faulty, the water heater will not know when to turn on the heater. The flip side of thermostat problems can result in water that is too hot to be safe.
Another problem that causes lukewarm or cold water is a faulty main burner. In this case, when the thermostat tells the main burner (on gas water heaters) to ignite, it fails. The cause could be a blockage, such as dust or rust, that prevents the main burner from staying lit. Either way, you should call a plumber.
Sometimes there are loud banging noises that come from inside the water heater. Rest assured, it’s not a gremlin. Most likely it’s sediment caused by hard water deposits. One solution could be to flush the water heater and remove the sedimentation. If instead the problem is rusty pieces of metal floating around in there, you probably need a new water heater.
When you have heavy rain or storms your water might have a slightly brownish tint to it if the water source is upset enough to raise turbidity. If the problem is constant, though, the likely culprit is the anode rod(s) inside of the water heater. These erode over time and can stain the water in the tank dark brown. Replacement of these rods is doable, but the cost is usually around $300 and requires a plumber.
It pays to have someone qualified come out and clean your water heater. A lot of debris and dust can gather under the water heater and cause problems. One of the main reasons that the main burner fails to light or stay lit is due to debris clogging the gas emitter. Simple and routine cleaning helps keep dust and debris away from the main burner so that heating issues are minimal. Another chore you should add to your list is to inspect the burner to make sure it’s working correctly. You also should flush the unit at least annually to get rid of any debris that has accumulated in the tank.
Annual cleanings also help you understand how much life your water heater has left in it. The gas ones typically last for about 10 years. Staying informed about the life-expectancy of your water heater allows you to avoid emergency plumbing calls. Plus, you can make a more informed decision about when to replace the water heating unit.
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