You may think that the only sign of a water heater problem would be a lack of hot water. Unfortunately, the truth is far more complicated. Hot water heater failure can present itself in a number of ways. You may notice some, but others will be less obvious.
If you pay attention to the following warning signs that your water heater is starting to suffer, you can take action quickly and possibly avoid expensive repairs and equipment replacements.
1. Water Is Discolored or Gritty
Inside your hot water heater there is a component called an anode rod. Sometimes it’s referred to as “sacrificial,” because the point of the rod eventually wears down and rusts faster than the tank itself.
The material of the anode, like magnesium, helps to keep the water inside the tank in a chemical condition that prevents tank corrosion. The trouble is that the anode usually needs replacing at least a couple times over the life of the tank.
As soon as you start seeing rusty or muddy-looking water, you know that your anode is probably gone, and as a result, your tank is corroding.
2. Hot Water Smells Off
On occasion, you may notice that your hot water smells strange, or tastes funny. Some people describe it as a metallic taste, while others will recall a “rotten egg” scent. These odors have different causes, but both may require some attention.
The smell or taste of metal may come from iron pipes that are leaching the metal into the water. If you have old plumbing, this might be the culprit.
Water that smells like sulfur or rotten eggs may originate inside the water heater. An interaction between anaerobic bacteria in the water and the anode rod can create this problem.
Cleaning the tank and replacing the anode rod with one made of a different material may be an easy enough solution.
3. Tank Is Leaking Water
Even if all you notice is a damp spot or puddle on the floor, it is an indication your water heater tank is leaking.
Water heater leaking can occur because of sediment buildup, lack of maintenance, or simply due to their deterioration over time.
If your water heater is leaking around the seams, the tank may need to be replaced. If the temperature/pressure relief (TPR) valve is dripping and pooling around the bottom of the tank, that could be a sign of dangerous pressures developing inside the tank.
If you experience a leaking water heater, seek prompt attention from an experienced plumber to identify the cause.
4. Heating Process Makes Strange Sounds
It’s perfectly reasonable to hear sounds come from your water heater as it heats the water inside the tank. However, some noises are an indicator that water heater failure is on the horizon.
If your tank fills up with too much sediment, a common problem for many homes, that sediment makes it harder for the water heater to operate properly.
With a model running on natural gas, sediment sits between the heating element and the water. As the water gets hotter, the sediment could pop or crackle. Electric water heaters with heating elements inside the tank have to work harder to heat through the sediment.
In both cases, flushing out the water heater of any minerals or sediment helps the tank to run more efficiently.
5. Hot Water Runs Out Too Quickly
Water heaters are supposed to be drained and flushed every year or so. If you avoid this important water heater maintenance task for a few years, eventually the sediment takes up more space that you would have had for water.
Over time, you may start to realize that even though you have a decent hot water supply, it never seems to last long enough. In many cases, if you catch this sign of water heater failure early, you can have the tank cleaned out with very little damage from the accumulation.
6. Water Never Gets Hot Enough
Enjoying a lukewarm shower on a cold day is never someone’s idea of heaven.
If your hot water supply doesn’t seem to reach the temperature you would like, you can always try turning it up a little higher. Be careful not to set it too high, especially if you have small children in the house.
When this does not seem to solve the problem, you might have an issue with the water heater dip tube. The dip tube sends fresh cold water to the bottom of the tank for heating. If the dip tube gets cracked, it will drop the cold water on top, where it will mix with the hot water and cool the water in the tank.
A dip tube may be inexpensive and easy for a plumber to replace.
7. There’s No Hot Water At All
When you turn on the faucet and hot water never seems to arrive, the first thing you want to do is make sure your water heater is on. A tripped circuit breaker could cut power to the machine, rendering it unable to heat the water.
If all the circuitry seems to be in order and the water heater is on, your water heater could be suffering from a faulty heating element or thermostat.
Without the heating element, either electric or fuel-based, you won’t have hot water. The thermostat tells the heating element to turn on. If the thermostat is reading the temperature incorrectly, the heating element won’t turn on to heat the water, even if it’s working.
Professional service can quickly identify the function of both of these components.
Preventing Hot Water Heater Failure
At Carroll Plumbing, we understand the frustration and inconvenience that comes with having a lack of hot water, water heater problems or even worse, no hot water at all.
Our team of experienced plumbing technicians offer hot water heater maintenance to prevent failing water heaters, as well as perform water heater repairs.