What Are Common Water Heater Problems?

Tank water heater problems can be so annoying.  One usually learns of water heater problems at the most inopportune time like taking a bath or a shower, washing clothes, or washing dishes.  Hot water supply is something most people take for granted and are generally alarmed when they lose hot water.

While problems in water heaters may seem endless, let us explore some common reasons water heaters malfunction.  First, the power source of the water heater needs to be identified, generally gas or electricity.  If the power source is electricity, a larger, 240-volt breaker will be installed in the electrical service panel and should be labeled as such.  And obviously, there will be no gas service line to the water heater and there will be no gas vent (pipe) installed above the water heater.  If the water heater is powered by gas, you will observe gas service lines located at the bottom of the water heater and a gas vent (flue) installed above the water heater.

Now that you have determined the type of water heater installed in your house, consider these conditions if the water heater is not working properly.

Gas Water Heater

Gas water heaters are controlled by thermostats that engage the power (gas) to heat the water.  Proper ventilation is required to get rid of gas fumes to the outside environment (typically through the roof).  Simply stated, the water heater is powered with the use of a pilot light flame or an electrical spark igniter to burn the gas and heat the water.  A gas water heater is a complexity of gas service, ignition, temperature and safety controls, and exhaust – all needed to provide hot water to your bath, shower, sinks, and dishwasher!

Common problems with gas water heaters are an extinguished pilot light, a defective thermostat or thermocouple (the electrical thing that turns the gas off if the pilot light goes out), interrupted gas supply, corroded water service line connections, and a defective pressure/temperature release valve.  Extinguished pilot lights can be reestablished following the manufacturer’s recommendation for lighting the heater, which are usually printed on the water heater tank. Many times, a pilot light is extinguished because of back draft in the exhaust vent during heavy winds. A defective thermostat or thermocouple is a mechanical component that requires replacement by a licensed plumber – they cannot be repaired.  If the gas supply is interrupted, a search for the cause of the interruption should be performed by a licensed plumber since the integrity of a gas line is especially important for safety.  A defect pressure/temperature release valve is often identified water flowing from the discharge line of the valve on the exterior wall of your house.  If an established, pressurized flow of water is observed, then the valve is likely opened due to excessive pressures or temperatures in the water heater.  Another cause for water flow is a defective valve.  Often, milder water flow or dripping is observed at the exterior pipe, which is indicative of a gasket defect in the valve.  In any event, a licensed plumber should investigate, and repair defects associated with the pressure/temperature release valve.

Electric Water Heater

Like the gas water heater, electric water heaters can experience malfunction of the pressure/temperature relief valve.  Other common problems that may arise in the electric water heater are defective thermostats, defective heating elements, and corrosion at water service line connections.  A licensed plumber should investigate the electrical features of the water heater if hot water supply is interrupted with an electric water heater.

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