When you find out your water heater’s not working it can really throw cold water on your plans. Whether you’re just doing the dishes or looking forward to a warm bath at the end of a long day, when there’s no hot water you need a fix, fast.
Water heaters come in many shapes and sizes, from the streamlined tankless to whopping 80-gallon tanks.
And they can be powered by natural gas or hooked up to your electrical circuit. Either way, there’s a lot that can go wrong.
It’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole when you suspect your pilot orifice is clogged – but it could be as simple as running the hot water tank dry.
So let’s dive into your hot water tank – and find out what to do when there’s no hot water in the house.
Easy Solutions To Hot Water Woes
Before you start disassembling your whole hot water heater, let’s check out some quick fixes. These simple issues could be the source of your hot water woes – and they might save you an expensive call-out.
Your Tank’s Too Small
If your teenager has just enjoyed a 15-minute shower, I’ve got a pretty good idea as to why there’s no hot water.
Hot water tanks have a limited capacity, and when it’s gone you’re going to be waiting for the tank to reheat. If your family has grown, or your demand for hot water has gone through the roof, then think about upgrading your hot water heater to a tankless model for limitless supply.
The Thermostat Is Set Too Low
It could be the case that your water heater is functioning perfectly fine – but you’ve got the settings wrong so that the water isn’t coming in as hot as you expect. Check that the thermostat is set to between 120° and 140°, and figure out who’s been messing with your thermostat!
It’s A Cold Snap
If the water coming into your home is colder than usual, then your hot water heater may be struggling to bring it up to the temperature you’re familiar with. A cold snap can hit your hot water heater – think about investing in better insulation for your heater and pipes.
Electric Water Heater Not Working? Here’s What To Check
If your home has an electric water heater, there are a few common reasons why it might have stopped functioning. Electric water heaters are more durable than their gas-powered counterparts, and they should last 10-15 years. But things can go wrong at any point, so let’s troubleshoot your electric water heater worries.
The Heating Element Is Faulty
The heating element is the primary component of an electric water heater and, unfortunately, it’s inevitable that it’ll fail eventually. If your hot water heater is around a decade old, then this is one common concern.
There’s no quick fix for a broken heating element – but you can get some more life out of your water heater by replacing the element. It’s a pretty simple job, so roll up your sleeves – or call out the engineer if you don’t want to get into hot water!
The Thermostat Is Faulty
Most tank water heaters over 20 gallons have two thermostats – the upper thermostat, which controls both the upper and lower heating element, and the lower thermostat which only controls the lower element.
If your hot water’s gone AWOL then it’s because your upper thermostat has a fault, and so your water isn’t getting heated at all. If the upper thermostat is working while the lower one fails, you’re more likely to see lukewarm water in your faucet. You don’t need a whole new water heater – just a replacement thermostat to fix this issue.
The Circuit Breaker Has Tripped
The circuit breaker is designed to trip if there’s an overload, and it does so to protect your circuit. Electric water heaters require their own electrical circuit, so open up your fuse box and see if the switch has flipped.
If your circuit breaker has tripped you can fix it by flipping the switch back on. But if your circuit breaker is tripping frequently, it can be a sign that you’ve got a faulty heating element.
Reset Button Has Tripped
The reset button – also known as the energy cut-off (ECO) and the high limit control – is designed to cut power to your water heater in case of a fault. And if your reset button has tripped, it can be a sign that something else has gone wrong in your water heater.
Flip the reset button to boot up your hot water heater. If the reset button keeps tripping, it could be because of a fault with the thermostat or heating element.
Your electric water heater will be short-circuited if anything has made it across the wiring connections. Go through the wiring to make sure your circuit hasn't been accidentally grounded.
Defective wiring could be shorting your system and keeping you out in the cold. Inspect the wiring of your water heater for scratches and fraying, burnt ends, or worn-out wire insulation. Defective wiring can be an easy fix, but if you’re not comfortable with electrics it’s a job for the electrician.
Sprung A Leak
Springing a leak doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got a geyser gushing from your hot water heater – it could be a subtle leak that causes pressure to drop and the system to fail. But if you’ve got no hot water, the leak is likely to be more considerable than a slow drop.
If you suspect there’s a leak then use the stopcock to turn your water off while you try to find it. Leaky connections can be fixed by replacing the connection or even simply tightening them up, but a leaky water tank almost always needs to be replaced.
Gas Water Heater Not Working? Here’s What To Check
Gas heaters have a shorter lifespan and are likely to give up the ghost after 8 to 12 years of use.
There are lots of common problems with gas heaters and some are an easy fix, but when it comes to gas heaters you need a double dose of caution. You’re dealing with a gas supply, and unless you’re confident in the DIY demands it’s better to call in the professionals.
Gas Supply Issues
If your gas-powered hot water heater is running on fumes then your hot water’s going to take a hit. Check that the gas valve isn’t closed and, on older heaters, that the pilot light is on. Newer models use electric ignitions rather than pilot lights – but these usually have a handy display to let you know if the heater is getting gas.
Pilot Light Out
In traditional gas-powered water heaters, the pilot light is on all the time, igniting the gas as it flows into your heater. If your pilot light goes out the gas can’t ignite and heat your water. Fortunately, relighting the pilot light is a simple task so go ahead and get that fire burning.
Clogged or Dirty Gas Pilot Light Orifice
Soot or oxide can build up in the gas pilot light orifice, causing the light to burn weakly and impact your water heater. Cleaning your pilot light orifice is a simple task – turn the heater off, disassemble the pilot light and clean out the tubing to get it up and running.
The thermocouple measures the temperature inside your water heater and prevents gas from accumulating. Sometimes a faulty thermocouple can stop your water heater from functioning altogether. Check that the thermocouple’s end is against the pilot light and that it’s well connected to the gas line.
Defective Supply Line
A gas leak is a serious issue and if you suspect you’ve got a defective supply line then it’s a good idea to get an engineer out straight away. Pinhole leaks in gas lines might hit your hot water, but they’re hard to find so it’s best to let the professionals take this one.
Air In The Line
Air can accumulate in your natural gas line, stopping your water heater from receiving the fuel it needs to run. Bleeding the air from your gas line is an easy task – use the igniter button to repeatedly light the pilot light to clear air from the line.
Defective Control Valve
The gas control valve is the point at which gas is introduced to your water heater and, if the valve is faulty, then your water heater won’t get the fuel it needs to burn, baby, burn. Defective control valves can be replaced cheaply, and for the DIY-savvy it’s a job you can take on yourself.
Clogged or Dirty Burner
If the pilot light is on but the main burner isn’t, then your burner could have built up so much soot that it can no longer function. You can remove the burner to carefully clean it before reassembling it. If your hot water’s back, you’ve solved the problem.
Gas heaters need to be appropriately vented and if any of these vents become clogged or dirty then the unit can malfunction. If your water heater has gone on the blink after a heavy storm, then it’s likely that wind has blown an obstruction down your flue. Clean the vent with a brush and a damp cloth – but anticipate a sooty mess.
Hot Water Not Hot Enough? Here’s What To Do
Sometimes there’s hot water, captain, but not as we know it. Don’t settle for a disappointing shower or a lukewarm bath. Here’s what to do when the water’s not hot enough.
Check The Thermostat
Whether your thermostatic is faulty or just set at the wrong temperature, this is the most common cause of lukewarm water from your water heater. If your thermostat is set to the correct temperature but the water still isn’t hot enough then it’s time to replace your thermostat.
Inspect The Burner
On a gas-powered water heater, the burner can be affected by a build-up of soot or sediment. You can inspect the flame in your water heater burner through the viewpoint at the base of the heater – a soft blue flame indicates it’s working correctly while an orange or yellow flame then there is an issue with the burner and it may need to be replaced.
Check For Leaks
If water is escaping from your hot water tank then the temperature could drop below the level set by the thermostat. A leaky water tank will need to be replaced.
Inspect Your Wiring
Loose connections might be the source of your lukewarm water woes as intermittent connections can cause the temperature to be heated on and off, never reaching the desired temperature. Turn the water heater off before examining the wiring!
Check The Dip Tube
The dip tube directs water to the bottom of the heater where it can be heated and then rise. A problem with the dip tube could mean your water isn’t being heated correctly.
Hot water is a modern convenience we’ve come to take for granted so it’s a shock to the system when there’s no hot water in the house.
And hot water heaters are expensive when they fail, so no doubt you’ll be hoping for the simplest solution.
Fortunately, whether you’re de-clogging a pilot orifice or replacing a thermostat, you don’t always have to spring for a whole new heater.
But if you’ve tried everything and you’re still not sure where the fault is, it’s time to call the plumber – don’t stay out in the cold.
Replacing your water heater isn’t all bad either – with so many energy efficient models on the market, it might even save you a few dollars down the line!