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When Hot Water Runs Cold: Tips for Water Heater Maintenance and Troubleshooting

There’s nothing better to get the day going than a steamy, hot shower in the morning. That is, unless you find there’s no hot water in the shower. Then your day comes to a screeching halt and chaos ensues. Routine water heater maintenance is the best way to ensure that water heater helps your mornings go smoothly.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

When Benjamin Franklin uttered this axiom, he wasn’t necessarily talking about water heaters. But the axiom does apply: it is easier to perform regular, routine maintenance on your water heater than it is to have it repaired or replaced.

A water heater needs routine, regular maintenance to keep it working at peak performance. The instructions for these procedures should be in your owner’s information. If you’re not comfortable performing any of these water heater maintenance items, consult a professional.

Water Heater Maintenance Requirements

  • Drain and flush: minerals in tap water can build up sediment in the bottom of the tank. After the first six months of operation, drain and flush the water heater. Make this a routine practice.
  • Inspect the venting and air supply system, the piping systems, the air filter, the main burner and the pilot burner. Do this visual inspection annually.
  • Minerals can cause the temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P valve) to leak or to clog. This should be manually operated on an annual basis to make certain the waterways are clear.
  • Some newer water heaters have filters or screens in place to prevent debris and dust from getting into the unit’s combustion chamber. You’ll need to inspect, clean and replace the air filter if necessary, then repeat this practice on an annual basis.

When the Hot Water Runs Cold

Problems are sure to eventually arise. When that happens, there are a few things you can do to pinpoint the problem. If you’ve got a gas water heater, remember that gas is flammable and can explode. Make certain to turn the gas off before attempting any troubleshooting. If you’re uncertain or unsure in any way, call a professional to check your water heater.

Troubleshooting a gas water heater is a little more difficult than some home repairs. We offer here a few common problems that can occur and some general tips for troubleshooting them. Check your owner’s manual or call a professional if you have any questions or concerns.

  • There’s no hot water. First, don’t panic. If you have a gas water heater, check to be certain the gas is on and that the pilot light is lit. Gas water heaters have a thermocouple as a safety feature when the pilot light is not on. It prevents gas from leaking into your home. If you have an electric water heater, check the circuit breaker to make sure it is not turned off or tripped.
  • There’s only a little hot water. Check the thermostat. For gas water heaters, be certain there are no clogged vents or flues.
  • Unable to light the pilot light. Your owner’s manual should include information on how to relight the pilot. Be sure to follow those instructions. If the problem is a bad gas valve, you’ll need specific instructions on how to deal with this. The best way, and the safest for you and your family, is to have a professional tackle these repairs.
  • Water is too hot. Check the thermostat first; a defective thermostat may be the problem.
  • Rusty or dirty looking water. This can have multiple causes, including water heater failure. If you have galvanized iron pipes, they can corrode over time and discolor the water. Temporary disturbances in public water supply can mean end-use discoloration in your home’s water. Turn on the cold water; if the water here is discolored, your water heater is not the problem.
  • Leaking tank. A leak is never a good sign. A hot water heater can leak from four possible points: the tank itself, the water lines, the drain valve or the pressure relief valve. Your best bet in this case is to seek a professional’s help.

Safety First

Performing your own water heater maintenance can seem like a good idea… But there are risks when working with gas and electricity, and working on a water heater can pose a danger. Give us a call at (574)295-6844 or request service online if you aren’t comfortable with your own DIY skills.