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The Signs Your Water Heater Is Going Bad

a water heater

The middle of a shower or load of dishes is a bad time to learn your water heater has stopped working. As unpleasant as that would be, the reality is that a water heater gives signals before it quits working altogether. It’s a good idea to know the signs that your water heater is going bad.

Not Enough Hot Water

If you start having to plan showers around whether you also need to get hot water for other tasks soon after, you probably already know your water heater isn’t producing enough of the hot stuff. The problem might be as simple as a need to turn up the temperature a bit, which you can do and then see if that helps.

If you’re still running out of hot water faster than before, your tank might have a sediment buildup. This often happens in areas where the water contains a large amount of sediment. Periodic water heater maintenance should include a flush of the tank to remove any sediment. This allows your tank to more easily heat the water in the tank. A licensed professional can flush out your water heater safely and efficiently. They can also create a schedule that keeps the unit functioning at peak performance.

You also might want to check the circuit breaker that corresponds with your water heater to make sure it is still in the “on” position. If your tank has been flushed recently, the temperature is set at a high, but safe, level and the circuit is functioning, you might consider that your tank is too small for your needs. Talk to an expert to gauge whether your water heater is the right size or setup for you.

Water Temperature Too Low

Sometimes, your hot water isn’t running out quickly, but it isn’t quite hot enough. There are a few simple things you can check to see what is causing the lower temperatures.

First, if you have an electric water heater, be sure the power source is fully connected. If you have a gas unit, check that connection and be sure that the pilot is lit. In either type of unit, check the setting on the thermostat and make sure that it is set at a temperature that is comfortable for you. If it’s not, adjust it until it is to your liking.

Another thing to check in this situation is insulation around the pipes. If you don’t have any insulation around the hot water pipe, add some. This helps keep the heat in when the temperatures drop.

Inconsistent Temperatures

It can be normal for your water to cool a bit if you have spent a very long time in the shower. However, if the temperature runs hot, then cools fairly quickly or evens out to lukewarm, you might have a problem with your water heater’s thermostat.

If your showers are always lukewarm, you might have a problem with your water heater’s upper heating element. If the water temperature runs cold quickly, it might be a problem with the heater’s lower heating element. Contacting a licensed professional is the best way to determine if your thermostat is the problem. And, they can determine which element needs fixing or replacing.

Rusty or Cloudy Water

When the water from your faucets and fixtures starts to look murky or has a rusty tinge, that’s almost a surefire sign something is amiss. Water heater tanks are lined to keep corrosion at bay, but that lining has a finite lifespan and rust can start forming. Rusty water can damage and discolor your appliances.

If the discoloration isn’t too severe, you might be able to have your unit flushed or do other water heater maintenance. A professional will be able to advise you on the best course of action here.

Odd Noises

A water heater might make a little noise when the tank is filling, generally, newer units are pretty quiet. If you have an older unit, you can expect more noise than you would have with a new one. But, loud noises or those that differ from the unit normally sounds are a cause for concern. It might be something as simple as sediment clogging the system or the valves and connectors might have come loose. The problem might even be reduced water pressure coming into your home.

Unusual noises can mean your system is about to crash or that you must need water heater maintenance. This is a tough one to sort out with trial and error, so give a professional a call to get a thorough checkup and diagnosis.

Leaking Water

Your water heater shouldn’t leak or have water pooling around the bottom of the tank. Anytime you see water around the unit, you should act immediately. As you know, water and electricity do not safely mix. So, if you see a potential leak, first turn off either the electrical connection or turn off the gas.

Once you have taken that safety precaution and allowed the unit to cool down, you can check pipes, connectors and screws to see if they have come loose. If you see anything loose, tighten it up and then look at the kind of moisture you see around the bottom of the water heater. Some light condensation is normal, but if the moisture looks like anything more than that, you will need to contact a licensed technician. They will assess the cause and recommend and perform any plumbing repairs necessary to get the water heater functioning again.

Rising Repair Bills

If you are diligent about having your water heater serviced, you probably won’t have a lot of hefty repair bills. But if your unit is getting older and each fix gets more and more costly, it’s a pretty good sign that the water heater is nearing the end of its life.

At some point, buying a new water heater is a better investment than continuing to repair the one you have. Give your maintenance tech a call and weigh the pros and cons with them to see which route is the right one for you.

a white bathroom

What Is a Water Heater’s Lifespan?

As with all appliances, a water heater won’t last forever. If you have a fairly modern unit, you can generally expect about 10 years of efficient, low-maintenance use. A water heater that is pushing 10 years or more is teetering on the edge of decline. If your water heater is nearing this milestone and you are noticing any of the signs listed above, such as leaks, uneven temperatures or unusual noises, it is likely that replacing the unit with something more efficient would be your best bet.

There are a lot of factors involved in the decision of whether to fix or replace your water heater, so check with a licensed professional to make sure you are considering all the benefits on either side.

a plumber performing water heater maintenance

Water Heater Maintenance

Even a modern unit won’t run at its best without regular maintenance. There are a few things that you or a professional should do periodically to keep your unit working efficiently. Here are some of the most common things you should make sure you put on your to-do list:

  • Flush the tank once a year. This removes any sediment buildup, which can hamper the efficiency of your water heater. If you have hard water, you might consider flushing the tank more often. Allowing sediment to build up will shorten the life of your water heater.
  • If your thermostat is set above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, lower it to this temperature. Running it hotter will overheat the tank and damage it. Too-high temperatures can also burn your skin and will increase your electric bill, if you have an electric setup.
  • Test the temperature release valve every year. This valve is critical. It releases any pressure that builds in the water heater if the temperature or pressure rises too much. If that valve isn’t functioning correctly, you could risk an explosion.
  • Check the water heater’s anode rod regularly. If the rod has corroded enough that it is reduced by half, it’s time to replace it. Letting the corrosion go too far will increase the likelihood that your tank will also corrode, giving you rusty water in your faucets.

Staying on top of recommended maintenance can keep your water heater in top shape and doing its job. And keeping up with the care your unit needs is easier to manage with the help of a licensed professional. Professionals know exactly what to look for and how to spot trouble early on before it becomes a big problem. Letting an expert handle water heater maintenance also gives you peace of mind if you don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself.

ABC Can Help With All Your Water Heater Service Needs

Water heater problems can cause large disruptions in your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing issues, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals will efficiently fix any plumbing issues you may be having.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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