Common Hot Water Heater & Boiler Problems and How to Fix Them
Cold winters are part and parcel of living in Calgary. We’re hardy people but tackling those icy winter mornings without heating or a hot shower would test the resolve of even the strongest!
That’s what can happen unless you maintain your hot water and boiler system regularly. Even well-maintained systems can occasionally run into problems.
Learning to identify common problems early can be the difference between prolonging the shivers and quickly regaining the cozy warmth you love.
Below are the main problems with hot water heater and boiler systems and how to fix them.
Common Hot Water Heater Problems
If you wake up to an ice-cold shower, it probably doesn’t mean that you have to replace your entire hot water system.
Stay calm. The first thing to check if there is no hot water at all is whether the pilot light has gone out.
If it has, relight it to fix the problem!
If that’s not the issue, you will need to investigate a little further, depending on what’s happening with your water…
Inconsistent water temperature
This is a common issue, with water being too hot or not heating up enough. Either way, it is a huge annoyance when you are in the shower.
There is one simple fix you can try yourself: adjust the thermostat on the tank.
On electric models, it is usually behind an access panel on the side of the tank and a layer of insulation. An electric thermostat is set at the factory level. It is usually not intended to be changed but sometimes you need to adjust it to see if it makes a difference.
With gas systems, the thermostat sometimes gets knocked by accident or people forget that they turned it down in the summer, causing inconsistent or unexpected temperatures.
Beyond that, there could be a number of fixes for inconsistent water temperature:
- Replacing the thermostat
- Replacing the temperature-pressure relief valve
- Replacing the gas control or burner assembly
- Removing mineral deposits that reduce the efficiency of the heater
- Installing a new tank because of a leak
Discoloured Water or Strong Odours
Discoloured or foul-smelling water can be a problem from all faucets in your home or just some (hot or cold).
If it occurs after a period away, then the problem may resolve itself after you run your system a while.
If not, then do some troubleshooting:
- For discoloured water
Water can become discoloured by minerals like iron and copper, which cause the pipes to rust.
The water in Calgary originates in the Rockies. It is high in calcium and magnesium, so limescale can create problems with plumbing and appliances.
A filter water softener will remove the hardness from your water supply and may resolve the discoloration issue.
- For smelly water
If smelly water is coming from the taps, it could be for a number of reasons:
- The pilot light may have gone out (sometimes characterized by a garlic-like smell)
- Bacteria inside the water tank (often smells like rotten eggs or sewage)
- The gas line – usually producing strong odours
For bacteria, you usually need to flush your water tank or replace a rusted anode rod.
Noise Coming From the Water Heater
A buildup of minerals and sediment in the system can contribute to a noisy water heater. It should be flushed out thoroughly at least once a year to prevent this happening.
The noise might also be due to sediment being burned by the heating element, a faulty heating element itself, or even an overheating unit (in the case of a boiling noise coming from the unit).
These problems generally need the assistance of a professional plumber.
Water Not heating Up
If the water is not heating up, the pilot light may have gone out (see the previous fix) or, in the case of electric water heaters, the circuit breaker may have tripped. Just check the breaker box to troubleshoot this.
Also, don’t forget to check the thermostat settings.
A more serious problem is when the gas control or burner assembly (thermocouple) is not working properly. If it malfunctions, it may need replacing to fix the problem and, again, it is advisable to get a plumber to do this.
Not Enough Hot Water Produced
Most problems related to a lack of hot water being produced are again caused by a faulty thermostat or thermostat settings.
Try adjusting the thermostat to the desired water temperature. Often, in the cold weather, water is cooled quickly as it travels through the pipes in your home. So, putting the thermostat up during the winter should solve the problem and produce more water at the desired temperature.
Other possible reasons for not having enough hot water are:
- A faulty element
- Loose wiring
- Your water heater tank is too small (in which case installing a larger tank or a tankless water heater would be a good option)
Water Takes Too Long to Reheat
With older electric water heaters, this is a common complaint. The time it takes to heat your entire water supply is roughly double with an old electric heater compared to a gas heater.
Newer electric heaters usually fare better. If you are having persistent problems even with a newer model, you may need to get the heating elements checked.
Leaks From the Water Heater
If you have a leak, the location of the leak can tell you a lot.
Water leaking from the top of your water heater? It could be due to:
- Loose cold inlet or hot outlet pipes
- A problem with the T&P valve
- A problem with the inlet valve
Water leaking from the bottom of your water heater? It could be due to:
- Condensation, which is perfectly normal
- A problem with the electric heating element gasket
- Water being expelled through the overflow pipe to release pressure in the tank
If the tank itself is leaking, it will probably need to be replaced.
Provide as much detail as possible when you call your plumber
Attempting to fix water heating systems without the required expertise and tools is asking for trouble. Physical injury, natural gas leaks, and further damage to the system can result unless you know what you’re doing.
Now you understand the nature of the most common issues, it should be easier to describe what’s wrong to a professional.
Alpha Plumbing can help you fix all of the above problems. Call us at 403-470-5785.