You can bet your life that if a hot water problem strikes in your home, it will happen in the depths of winter—when you least need it.
Tackling those icy winter mornings without hot water is no joke. You need a fix as soon as possible.
But not all water heater problems are about water failing to heat up. Water can be too hot, discoloured, smelly, or you may have leaks in your home. These all need attention too.
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Before you can fix any hot water problem, you need to troubleshoot what the real issue is. It may require a visit from a professional plumber but equally, it could be something that you can identify.
Don’t worry too much. Hot water problems happen frequently and it shouldn’t cost you the earth to fix them. Most stem from simple problems with the water heater or tank.
Before picking up the phone to your local Calgary plumber, it helps to know the most common hot water problems for which we get called out to homes in the area…
Troubleshooting the five most common hot water heater problems
It’s worth mentioning before we delve deeper into the most common problems that if the pilot light goes out on your boiler, you won’t have any hot water.
Relight it and hey presto! The hot water runs again.
That’s nearly always the first thing to check. If it’s not the cause of your water problem, we will have to put on our troubleshooting hats and investigate the other common problem areas with hot water heating systems.
To make things easier, research the make, model, and age of your system so that you can pass the relevant information on to your plumber when you discuss the problem.
1. The water is too hot or too cold
Not all water heating problems result in cold water. Sometimes, the water can heat up too hot.
The most common reason for this is an accidental knock to the thermostat or because it was changed and forgotten. It may have been turned down in the summer months to save energy—and not turned back up again for the onslaught of winter temperatures.
Simply turn it back to the temperature you want and you should have hot water at the desired temperature again.
If your hot water doesn’t run even after you’ve turned an errant thermostat back to its rightful position, you may have a faulty thermostat. If so, it will need to be replaced by your plumber.
Other common causes of temperature fluctuations with a water heating system are problems with leaks, a damaged burner assembly, the temperature-pressure relief valve or mineral deposits reducing heating efficiency.
These problems are all discussed in more detail below and usually require a professional to fix or replace a faulty part.
2. The water heater is leaking
If you notice leaks from your hot water heater, it can be alarming. Water may start to pool near the unit or drip from the pipes. This could be the cause of your hot water problem.
Leaks can occur due to the advanced age of the tank, poor plumbing installation, lack of maintenance, a loose drain valve or problems with the pressure to the tank.
Many water tank problems require professional fixes but first check that it’s not a simple case of tightening a loose drain valve.
3. The burner assembly is damaged
A water heater relies on a clean and functional burner or “thermocouple” to heat the water. Therefore, it is an obvious place to look if you can’t get any hot water from your system.
If relighting the pilot light doesn’t produce the desired response, you may need to call your plumber to replace the damaged burner unless you know what you’re doing (always turn off the gas and water first).
4. The water is smelly or discoloured
Sometimes, hot water problems are not about the temperature but the appearance or smell of the water.
This problem can affect all or some of the faucets in the house and the issue may only be present when the water is first turned on.
Discoloured water is usually caused by the high mineral content of Calgary’s water supply. The water here is hard and mineral-rich and iron and copper can cause pipes to rust.
The discoloration is usually solved by installing a whole-house water filter or water softener. As well as reducing water discoloration, this will help save household appliances from scaling up and reduce the blockage of water flow in showerheads, taps and pipes.
If the tap water in your home smells strongly of rotten eggs or sewage, you may have a problem with bacterial growth in your hot water tank. Run the hot water for a few minutes and test it.
If flushing the water tank doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to call a plumber to replace the anode rod.
Other strong smells can be emitted if the pilot light has gone out or there is an issue with the gas line. The latter problem can be serious and you should ventilate the area, turn the unit off and call a plumber and your gas company.
5. Noise emitted by the heater
Sometimes, a noisy water heater can be unsettling for homeowners. It does not usually point to a major problem and is most likely due to the buildup of limescale and sediment from the hard water.
Flush your water heater out at least once a year and if the noise continues, get a professional technician to check if the heating element needs to be replaced.
If you hear a boiling sound from the unit, the heater may be overheating and this can lead to a dangerous pressure buildup. It needs professional attention as soon as possible.
Need help with maintaining or repairing your hot water heater?
If you run into problems with inconsistent water temperatures, no hot water at all, leaks or other problems with your water heating system, don’t attempt fixes without the proper experience, tools and knowledge.
Schedule an inspection with Alpha Plumbing on 403-470-5785 for an honest assessment from a qualified technician.