7 Reasons Your Water Heater Isn’t Working

When your water heater stops working, it can be a major inconvenience. Water heater problems can happen for multiple reasons, from a mechanical failure in the heater to an outside influence. Here are the top 7 problems we see when it comes to water heaters:

When your water heater stops working, it can be a major inconvenience. Water heater problems can happen for multiple reasons, from a mechanical failure in the heater to an outside influence. Here are the top 7 problems we see when it comes to water heaters:

1. No Power or Gas

If an electric water heater is not producing hot water, it could be a simple problem like a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Additionally, some electric water heaters have a circuit-style safety switch located near or on the thermostat. Other simple solutions include an unplugged or faulty power cord for electric water heaters. For gas water heaters, it could be as straightforward as being out of gas.

2. Thermostat

Thermostat issues can often be tricky to diagnose. Thermostats are typically less prone to failure than heating elements. However, testing the thermostat is necessary when your water heater stops working. If the thermostat goes out in a single-element heater, there will be no hot water at all. Two-element water heaters sometimes have a thermostat for each element. The upper thermostat can serve two purposes. First, it can control the upper element in the top of the tank. When the water in the top gets hot, the thermostat shuts down power to the upper element and reroutes power to the lower element. If the lower thermostat goes out, the heater will still produce a limited amount of hot water. However, if the upper thermostat goes out there will be no hot water at all. The reset button, called a high-limit switch, is designed to prevent water from exceeding 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If the high-limit switch continually pops out, the reason is probably from your water exceeding 180 degrees, indicating a faulty thermostat.

3. Pilot Light

On a gas water heater, a thermocouple or thermopile allows the pilot light to stay lit. The pilot light keeps thermopile or thermocouple hot, which creates a small electrical current that keeps a solenoid-style gas valve open. If the pilot light goes out, the gas valve closes to prevent gas from reaching the burners, preventing a dangerous build up of gas. The thermocouple or thermopile can sometimes fail and cause the pilot to go out. However, other issues can also cause the pilot light to go out. Often times the pilot can be extinguished by something as simple as an errant draft or temporary disruption in gas service. Occasionally the gas valve will become defective and need replaced. As in most cases with metals, gas valves will corrode if exposed to excessive moisture conditions. This can particularly be a problem if the heater is located in damp areas and especially if the area becomes flooded.

4. Electronic Ignition

The gas electronic-ignition system has been shown to be safe and reliable. It is currently used in many gas applications including water heaters, furnaces and boilers. An electronic ignition system for gas water heaters employs a solid-state circuit that controls flame ignition and maintenance. Electronic-ignition systems do not use a thermopile or thermocouple to produce a flame, but a sensor to measure voltage. If the flame sensor becomes clogged it can prevent the current from being read by the electronic-control sensor. Typically, the sensor will start working again after being cleaned.

5. Temperature and Pressure-Relief Valve

Temperature and pressure-relief, or TPR, valve is a safety feature designed to relieve excess pressure if the water temperature inside the tank overheats. If this valve were to fail the water heater could explode with the power of a small rocket-like bomb, creating potential cause for property damage and even death. If the TPR valve is leaking it should be replaced asap. It is important to note that the TPR should never be capped off, as this will cause the pressure to rise to dangerous levels. Due to this potential danger, the TPR valve and water heater should be tested annually to confirm both are working properly.

6. Loss of Water Pressure

Water heaters can stop working partially or completely due to a loss in water pressure. This is caused by a number of issues. The TPR valve will open if the water temperature or pressure gets too high. If the water-heater inlet is connected directly to the main water supply line without a safety valve, then any increase in the volume of water will typically just flow back to the water main when the water is heated, sometimes causing a leak. Another possibility is that the water pressure from a municipal water supply has risen above the TPR valve setting. Installing an expansion tank can help solve problems caused by moderate increases in water-supply pressure. However, any significant increase in water pressure will still cause the TPR valve to open, causing a leak. Installing an expansion tank at the water-line inlet will provide the increased water volume someplace to escape to, preventing the opening of the TPR valve. A loss of water pressure can also be caused by an adjacent water line, loose heating-element bolts, connections and fittings, bad gaskets or a compromised water tank. The water pressure can be temporarily reduced by lowering the setting of the thermostat. A TPR valve leak can be improved by placing a bucket under the valve and opening the handle to flush it. If the valve still leaks after being flushed, then it will most likely need repaired or replaced.

7. Loose Parts

If water is leaking from a fitting, it is possible that the nuts may just be loose. Likewise, if water is seeping from the bolts on the heating element, the bolts probably need tightened. If water is leaking from the bottom of the tank it may mean the tank itself has a leak, or it has a bad gasket. While you may be able to handle some issues on your own, it is best to call a professional. Kenneth McDonald Plumbing & HVAC can handle any plumbing repair issues that may arise and are here to serve all of your plumbing needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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