Troubleshoot Water Heater Problems: No Hot Water

Hot water heaterIn this installment of our series on how to troubleshoot water heat problems, we’re going to look at the oh-so-common issue of no hot water. Whether you’re maintaining commercial water heaters or are sitting in your home or office wondering, “Where’d all the hot water go?”, most of the time troubleshooting water heater problems can be done quickly and painlessly. The key is diagnosing the hot water heater problem correctly. So here are some steps to take to get the hot water flowing once again.

Determine the Type of Water Heater

First of all, you have to know what kind of water heater you’re working with. Gas (both Natural Gas and Propane) and electric are your two most general types of water heaters. Each type of water heater has its own system for making hot water.

Gas water heaters use a pilot light and gas to turn up the heat until water gets to a certain temperature, at which point it will turn the gas off. The heating element looks like something on a gas stove top. This process keeps going as long as you still have gas and your pilot light is on.

Electric water heaters have a heating element inside the water heater that gets the water hot. It’s similar to what you would see inside an electric oven. When the temperature drops too low, the heating element kicks in warming the water up to a certain temperature.

Check the Obvious Cause of Water Heater Problems

The first thing to check is that the heating element of your water heater is getting what it needs. This is by and far the most common issue that will cause a lack of hot water.

For gas water heaters, physically check that the pilot light is lit. If the pilot light is out and you smell gas STOP! Turn off the gas to the water heater and let the area air out for a while. You do not want to strike a match if the pilot light is out and there has been a buildup of gas. That’s the wrong way to get the water hot!

For electric water heaters, check to see if the breaker has tripped in the breaker box. Sometimes the heating element will draw too much power and trip the breaker.

Water Heater Thermostat

Another common issue is the water heater thermostat is broken or set too high. In some areas of the country the water temperature can vary by as much as 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) between the summer and winter. This means you may need to adjust your water heater thermostat up to compensate in some regions.

This symptom will usually be not enough cold water as opposed to no hot water. But it’s worth checking to see if your thermostat is set properly. In some cases, if you’ve had plumbing work done, the thermostat may have been turned all the way down for safety purposes, so, again, it’s worth checking.

What Next?

If your pilot light or breaker is fine and the water heater thermostat is set to a reasonable level, and you still don’t have hot water, then it may be time to get more aggressive with testing. In our next installment we will cover some more techniques you can use to delve into troubleshooting your water heater problems safely and effectively.