Tips to Troubleshoot Your Water Heater

Your water heater does a lot of work behind the scenes to keep everyone under your roof supplied with plenty of hot water. From cooking and cleaning, to taking a bath or shower, hot water is something you rely on every day.

It’s your water heater’s job to make this creature comfort a viable reality day after day. Like so many other appliances and systems in your home though, things can go wrong on occasion. It’s a fact of life, unfortunately. However, if you know the signs to look for and some basic strategies to employ, alleviating the most common problems isn’t all that difficult.

Let’s take a closer look at some tried and true ways to troubleshoot your water heater.

Problems with Temperature

The most common water heater problems have to do with temperature regulation.

Cold Water

No one likes taking a cold shower, that’s for certain. If you notice a lack of hot water coming from your shower head, it’s likely due to a shortage of power, a faulty thermostat, or a heating element that’s gone bad.

The first place to check is the power. Try resetting tripped circuit breakers and replacing any fuses that have blown out. After that, check the power switches to make sure they’re turned on and the indicators are lit. Lastly, check the thermostat to make sure it’s receiving power.

If you have a gas water heater then check to make sure the pilot light is lit, the gas supply is turned on, and the thermostat is working.

Luke Warm Water

If your water doesn’t get hot enough for your liking, or you don't have enough hot water, then a number of things could be the cause. Your water heater may be too small, your hot and cold connections may be crossed, your heating element or thermostat are not functioning properly, or your dip tube has been damaged.

Ruling out crossed connections is easy. All you have to do is turn off the hot water at the water heater, and turn on a hot water faucet. If water still flows, chances are you have a crossed connection.

Check to make sure the thermostat is not set too low. Check the lower heating element with a water heater continuity tester to make sure power goes through it. If power does not go through it then it will need to be replaced.

Pro Tip: If you need to replace your water heater element, there is a special element wrench available to help you remove your old element

If you have a gas water heater, check the thermostat setting, and then inspect the burner orifice to make sure it is clear. You should also inspect the flue pipe to make sure it's not clogged by some type of debris.

If you experience hot water and then it turns cold within a few minutes, your dip tube most likely has failed. Every tank type water heater has a dip tube on the cold inlet. The dip tube forces the cold water to enter at the bottom of the tank. If the dip tube is damaged or has failed, the incoming cold water will just go straight over and out of the hot water outlet since it is the path of least resistance. In order to correct this you will need to turn off the cold water inlet to the water heater or the main water supply and replace the dip tube.

Scalding Water

If your water heater puts out water that’s way too hot, your thermostat is probably set too high or is out of calibration. An electric water heater thermostat must be mounted so the back of it touches the tank. If it doesn't it will provide an incorrect temperature. Your owner’s manual should have directions about how to adjust the thermostat. We recommend somewhere around 120 degrees for the best balance of efficiency and heat. If you adjust your thermostat but the temperature of the water does not change, after hot water has been used for a few hours, then you will need to replace the thermostat.


Like anything in your plumbing system, leaks are a common problem when it comes to water heaters. They can be caused by a whole host of issues including: a stuck or faulty temperature and pressure relief valve, improper water pressure, overheating, a bad gasket on the inlet or outlet flex pipes, or even just a simple hole in the wall of your tank.

If you notice leaks, make sure all inlet and outlet connections are tight and corrosion free. Check your heating elements to make sure they're not loose. Lastly, check for leaks on and around your tank. Gas water heaters can produce condensation drops or even a small puddle on the floor but will evaporate. If you notice wet spots that don't evaporate, it’s a sign that your tank might be corroding from the inside. If this is the case, it’s time for a new water heater.

If water is leaking from your T&P (temperature and pressure relief) valve then you may have a thermal expansion problem. The T&P valve is an emergency relief valve and should not be operated regularly. Manually opening and closing the T&P valve will cause it to leak. If it is leaking, then replace it. If it continues to leak after you replaced it then you could have a thermal expansion problem. Thermal expansion can happen when water is heated. Since water cannot be compressed it expands. If your home has any type of back flow prevention valves like a pressure reducing valve, or other devices that can prevent the expanding water from pushing back into the city main then the expanding water has no place to go. This expanding water will cause your water pressure to be increased in your water heater. As pressure increases it will cause your T&P valve to open to relieve the pressure. If this type of situation is not corrected the water heater will wear out much sooner than it normally would. There are some simple solutions to solve this problem and you can find out what you can do by reading more about Thermal Expansion

Odd Noises

Over time, you might notice your water heater starting to make odd noises when it’s being used. It may even make loud popping sounds. This is almost always caused by sediment buildup in your tank. As cold water enters the water heater, there is a dip tube on the cold side that forces the water to the bottom portion of the water heater. So, any sediment in the water, also gets deposited to the bottom of the water heater.

The fix for this problem? Your water heater needs to be flushed. However, flushing a water heater is not a simple task. Since there are so many things to consider when flushing a water heater, we have dedicated another page for in-depth instructions regarding How To Flush Your Water Heater.

Discolored Water

If you notice that your water isn’t clear like it should be, you might be looking at corrosion inside your tank. This can be caused by the deterioration of the sacrificial anode rod. An anode rod is installed in every tank type water heater. It is there to protect the tank from negatively charged electrons in water that would otherwise attack the tank. As the anode rod does it's job it will continue to corrode until it eventually must be replaced. If you suspect this is the case, we offer a step by step by step guide on How to Change a Water Heater Anode Rod.

Pro Tip: Anytime you turn the power to your water heater off to work on it, make sure to turn on a few hot and cold-water faucets, and let them run for awhile to get any trapped air out of the system, before turning the power back on.

Take Care of your Water Heater

Your water heater is an essential part of your plumbing system. Thanks to this singular piece of equipment, you’re able to shower, cook and clean with ease. Every once and a while really look at your water heater, you may notice something you haven't noticed before.

Water heaters don’t last forever though, and things can go wrong from time to time. If you know what to look for and have knowledge of the right steps to take, troubleshooting your water heater is something you can do on your own.

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