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Is My Hot Water Heater Broken?
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Plumbing 05/24/18

Is My Hot Water Heater Broken?

How Water Heaters Work

Edwin Ruud is credited as the inventor of what we know of as the modern water heater. Although there were iterations of the water heater prior to 1889, Ruud added the safety elements that made them safe for residential use.

A basic storage water heater tank holds anywhere from 30-100 gallons for residential use, contains either an internal heating element or an ignition and pilot, water lines going in and out, a temperature and pressure relief valve (T & P), and venting for a gas water heater.

Storage water heaters maintain a continuous water temperature and fire when water is used to heat the cold water supply coming in.

When you turn on your faucet or shower and call for hot water, homeowners are getting water that has been preheated and the water heater refills and heats as it is used. This is why, if homeowners do not have a higher capacity water heater, but use more than they have, they will eventually run out of hot water. Many homeowners look to tankless water heaters to solve this, as tankless water heaters provide endless hot water. Tankless water heaters heat water as it is used, so it is heating the water as it goes to the taps and has an endless capability to heat.

When homeowners run out of hot water or end up with a cold shower minutes in, it can be frustrating and a challenge to determine if the water heater is broken or just needs a small repair.

Is My Hot Water Heater Broken?

So how can homeowners tell if the water heater is broken and needs replacement, or if it just needs a pilot relight or simple repair?

The most obvious sign of a water heater needing attention is lack of hot water supply. But does it mean it is irreparable? Not necessarily. In fact, when a hot water heater stops producing hot water, a likely culprit is the pilot light. A pilot light can go out for reasons not related to the water heater or due to a bad thermocouple.

Luckily, if the water heater is within the warranty period and has been maintained, a faulty thermocouple can be repaired or you can replace the water heater fairly easy. The best way to determine if the thermocouple is bad is when the pilot light won’t stay lit. Homeowners can light their own pilot lights if they feel comfortable or call a professional plumber. Be sure to get a free estimate over the phone as many companies have a minimum charge and lighting a pilot is typically very easy to do. Homeowners can also check their warranty to see if parts are covered.

If homeowners are unsure of when the water heater was installed, they can find most information on the water heater manufacturer sticker, such as serial number, gallon size, and date manufactured. Additionally, many companies will also place a sticker of their own to let customers know who installed the water heater, when, track annual maintenance, and provide a number to call in case of an emergency.

Tankless Water Heaters

When a tankless water heater stops producing hot water, it is likely the heat exchanger. This is a part easily replaced and comes standard with a 10-year warranty on most tankless water heater brands. Tankless water heaters will also flash an error code that will tell homeowners exactly what is wrong making the search for repair much easier.

Other Signs of a Broken Water Heater

There are many other telltale signs that a hot water heater is in need of repair or replacement. Most of these signs are easy to spot as well.

Corrosion on water lines: If a homeowner’s spots hard build up or corrosion on any of the copper or steel lines coming into or going out of their water heater, it is a sign of a possible water heater leak or past leak that should be checked.

Water leaking from any of the lines or the T & P. If homeowners see active water dripping from the T & OP or water connections, they should call a plumber as soon as possible to avoid any water damage. While small drips and leaks might be easy to repair, if left unchecked, it could be a sign of a larger issue and cause major water damage if any of the lines burst.

Leaking from the bottom. When a water heater is actively leaking from the bottom of the storage tank, it is a sure sign of replacement. Most of the time, leaking from the bottom indicates deterioration from the inside after years of use. However, there are times when a tank is faulty and leaking could occur in a new water heater. Luckily, all professional grade water heaters come with standard warranties and offer extended warranties for homeowners peace of mind.

If homeowners find signs of leaks or malfunctioning storage tank water heaters, it may be time to upgrade to a tankless hot water heater. Tankless hot water heaters come with many benefits, but two that make a big difference are the standard warranty and water savings. Tankless warranties come standard 10-12 years, meaning in the time they might purchase two storage tank heaters, they will still have a working hot water heater with endless hot water.

Tankless water heaters also offer incredible energy savings as they do not store and heat a continuous amount of water like storage tanks. Hot water is only heated when homeowners call for it by turning on a tap or running a washing machine or dishwasher.

With all possible issues homeowners may face with their hot water heaters, either tankless or traditional storage tank water heaters, hot water heater troubleshooting, repair,  and replacement is a fairly easy process when they call in a professional plumber. Plus, all repairs should be easily detected and reputable licensed companies will happily offer a free estimate and the best options in a timely manner.

If you suspect your hot water heater is leaking or are thinking of upgrading to a tankless hot water heater, contact the experts at Bill Howe. Bill Howe Plumbing has installed over 25,000 water heaters in San Diego, so homeowners know they are experts.

Call 1-800 BILL HOWE (245-5469) for a free estimate today.


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