We use hot water when we’re doing the dishes, washing our hands, running the washer and – of course – taking a shower. Hot water is one of those luxuries that we often take for granted. Unfortunately, because water heaters are so problematic, we’re all likely to feel our relaxing shower turn icy and unpleasant sooner or later.
Hot water tanks are a staple in American homes, and they are one of the most aggravating appliances. The average water heater only lasts between eight and 12 years, but the good news is that it’s possible to keep your water heater working for longer by conducting regular maintenance.
So how do you know if you need a simple fix or a replacement of your water tank? Here’s are some troubleshooting tips to follow before you purchase a whole new unit:
Make Sure the Water’s Getting Heated
Before you call in a plumber or start browsing hardware stores for new hot water tanks, you should check to see if the pilot light went out. On a gas hot water heater, the pilot light is a critical component that works with the burner to heat the water. But if the pilot light goes out, then there’s nothing to ignite the burner.
Activating your pilot light is simple, and the only real tool you need is a lighter. First, make sure that the tank is receiving gas. Then, turn the heater’s valve knob to “pilot” (or hold down a button, depending on the model you have) and light it. If you’ve done it correctly, you should hear a whooshing noise, which is the sound of the burner kicking on.
Flush Your Water Heater
All water has small amounts of minerals and sediment in it, which is fine. However, over time, sediment and minerals can accumulate inside of the hot water tank. It’ll build up on the bottom of the tank and, if left untreated, this buildup can do three things:
It can take up space, meaning there’s less space for water.
It can cause the heating portion of the tank to work harder and perhaps even less efficiently.
Over time, it can cause the bottom of the tank to corrode out, possibly resulting in water damage.
The good news is that this is likely a relatively simple fix – all you need to do is flush the tank, which should get rid the sediment and mineral buildup. You should refer to your hot water tank’s manufacturer’s manual for how to do this properly, but in general, flushing your tank consists of fastening a hose to the drain spigot on the tank, running the hose to a drain, then turning on the spigot to empty the tank. It’s recommended that you perform this flush at least once a year to minimize sediment buildup.
Other Issues with your Hot Water Tank
If the pilot light is on and a tank flush didn’t do your heater any good, then there are a few other issues you should monitor:
Incorrect temperature: Check the temperature gauge on your boiler to make sure it’s where it should be. Most manufacturers suggest setting the temperature on the heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heating component failure: All water heaters include heating components that work to turn incoming water into hot water. When these elements fail, you likely won’t get any hot water at all. If you have an electric heater, check the fuse box to make sure nothing has been tripped. If you think bad heating components are the culprit, contact someone who can repair them.
Burner contamination: Burners can become dirty and even corroded. When this happens, they’re not going to heat the water in the tank adequately. You can try cleaning the burner to see if it makes any difference.
Other component failures: Other components that are crucial to the water heating process that may fail over time include gas control valves. After all, if the hot water tank isn’t receiving any gas, it’s going to be unable to heat the water.
If you’ve done all of this troubleshooting and still don’t know why your water heater isn’t working as it should, chances are you’re in need of a new one. While hot water tanks have short lifespans, the good news is that they’re fairly affordable. For more information about water heater maintenance, replacement, or installation, contact HEB Plumbing and Sprinkler today.