July 26, 2021 • In GEM Featured Blog Post, Plumbing • 5 Min Read

Water Heater Maintenance: What Can Go Wrong and What to Do

GEM

By GEM

There’s nothing better than a warm shower after a long day, unless your water unexpectedly turns cold, leaving you to deal with a struggling water heater. It’s important to understand how your water heater works, how to maintain it, and what can go wrong– that way, you can keep a comfortable water temperature year-round in your New England home.

How Does Your Water Heater Work?

Water heaters should be tipped for their extra fast service — within seconds, they’re responsible for delivering hot water to all your taps and appliances. Water from your home’s water lines is fed into the bottom of your water heater tank where it starts to warm up. As it heats, the water rises and eventually exits at the top to be delivered wherever you need it.

Water Heater Size and Type

There are two main types of water heaters: tank and tankless. Traditional models store and preheat water in big metal cylinders or tall drums usually located in your basement or laundry room. In a tankless system, water gets heated by a gas burner or electric element as it travels through pipes.

The choice between the two ultimately depends on your needs for water heater size, your home’s fuel source, and budget. Trying to maintain a water heater of the wrong fit will feel like running a marathon. But even with the right fit, it’s important to look out for what can go wrong.

Common Wrongs/Issues With Your Water Heater

Don’t let these common water heater problems give you cold feet (cold water is more than enough!). Many of them can be spotted yourself and handled before they turn more severe.

Water heater leaking

If your water heater is leaking from the top, you may be dealing with loose cold water inlet pipes or hot water outlet pipes, or a loose relief or inlet valve. You can try tightening them with an element wrench to see if the leaking stops. No luck? Your tank may be corroded––time for a replacement! 

Is your tank leaking from the bottom? Condensation (try turning up the thermostat), a leaking or loose drain valve, or tank over-pressurization may be the culprit. Try tightening any loose elements with a wrench, and if you notice leaking from your relief valve, check to see if your temperature is set too high (it should be around 120 degrees Fahrenheit). If this doesn’t do the trick, corrosion may be responsible for your problem and replacement should be your next step!

 Water heater not heating (or heating too much)

There are several reasons why your water may be turning a cold shoulder, or just as unpleasant, giving too warm of a welcome:

  • No hot water: Can’t escape the freezing cold water? First, check your water heater’s circuit breaker to see if the power has tripped. If it has, switch it off, then switch it back on. Your thermostat may have also tripped. If these aren’t the causes, the heating elements may have failed and need to be replaced. If you have a gas water heater, check if you have gas flow and that your pilot light is on. 
  • Not enough hot water: If your water temperature isn’t quite cutting it, your thermostat temperature may need to be adjusted, or your unit may be too small for your home’s hot water demands. 
  • Water is too hot: If your water is too hot, your thermostat may be set too high and need adjustment.

Is your hot water issue still tanking your at-home comfort? Contact us here at GEM to check on your water heaters’ thermostat and the size of your unit in the New England area.

Water heater pilot light keeps going out

If you have a gas water heater and the pilot light keeps going out, you may have a dirty, bent, or damaged thermocouple.

  • Dirty thermocouple: Your thermocouple needs some cleaning. Turn off the main gas supply valve and wait for the thermocouple to cool before scrubbing off dirt and grime with sandpaper.
  • Bent thermocouple: If your thermocouple is bent or too far away from the pilot light, you can manually straighten or move it to slightly wrap around the blue flame. Before attempting this, turn off the main gas supply valve and wait for the thermocouple to cool.
  • Damaged thermocouple: If your thermocouple is broken, it’s time to replace it.

Water heater making noises

Your water heater’s job isn’t to drop a beat — if it’s making noise, there’s likely sediment buildup in the bottom of your tank. You can try flushing the sediment out by emptying the tank completely, opening the cold water intake, then filling the tank halfway while allowing the stream to rinse out the sediment inside. Empty the water through the drain valve and repeat the process until there’s no sediment left.

If sediment buildup has caused your tank to rust and leak, you’ll need a water heater replacement. Preventative maintenance, like installing a water softener and flushing your water heater out once or twice a year can relieve you of these issues in the future.

Smelly or rusty hot water

There’s no fun in questioning whether your water is safe enough to drink or clean with. If it’s coming out of the faucet rusty-colored, or smells like either rotten eggs or sulfur, the inside of your tank is likely facing corrosion or bacteria buildup. In any case, it’s best to call a professional plumber to have a look and replace the anode rod in your tank.

Importance of Water Heater Maintenance

Unfortunately, water heaters don’t last forever. With a lifespan of about 8 to 12 years, proper water heater maintenance is so important. Here are a few maintenance hacks you can attempt yourself:

  • Adjust your temperature: Set your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees. This can save you up to 5% in energy costs for every 10 degrees the temperature is lowered.
  • Wash out sediment: Drain your tank water a couple of times a year to wash out sediment buildup that can cause severe problems and permanently damage your unit.
  • Water heater performance tests: Test your temperature-pressure relief valve regularly by quickly lifting it and letting some water flow out a couple of times. After the test, see if water continues to flow, which would indicate the need for a replacement.
  • Insulate your pipes: Consider insulating your pipes with fiberglass pipe wrap to protect them and make them last longer. 
  • Examine your anode rod: Inspect the anode rod after 2 or 3 years of having your water heater, and then every year thereafter. If you notice large chunks of metal coating missing, or portions missing entirely, it’s time to replace your anode rod. 

It’s best to check your water heater for any issues, like leaks, every 2 to 3 months. Even with maintenance, water heaters aren’t bulletproof– if you’re running into any issues or seeking a replacement in the New England area, GEM Plumbing & Heating can help with reliable service!

We can also lend a virtual helping hand– one of our Remote Assist experts can walk you through your water heater system and diagnose any issues right over video call!

Try Remote Assist

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