3 Common Water Heater Problems (And How to Fix Them)

2017 Jan 04
Posted in: Plumbing

If you’re like most homeowners, you rarely think about your water heater. Until there’s a problem.

And if your water heater is acting up, you don’t want to wait to get it fixed.

To help, we’ve listed the 3 most common water heater problems along with some solutions that can help you protect your hot water supply.

Have a particular issue not listed and need help ASAP in the metro Phoenix area? Just contact us and we’ll send over an experienced plumber immediately.

Problem #1: My water heater is making popping sounds

Solution: Have a professional “flush” your water heater.

Explanation of the problem: If your water heater is making popcorn or “rumbling” noises, it likely has sediment buildup and needs to be flushed.

So, what is sediment buildup? 

Well, first off it’s a common problem in Arizona because we have hard water (water with a high amount of minerals). Over time, those minerals settle onto the bottom of your water heater tank, which creates a thick layer of sediment (or “sediment buildup”).

Water Heater Sediment
Source

Now, as that layer of sediment builds, a small amount of water gets trapped underneath. That water gets overheated by the burners and eventually produces steam bubbles that naturally rise. That upward movement jostles the sediment pile, creating popping noises.

Sediment buildup doesn’t just cause scary noises, either. It forces your water heater to work extra hard to heat the same amount of water. The result? Much higher utility bills. And if that sediment isn’t flushed out, it eventually leads to costly damage to your water heater.

To learn more about this issue and for instructions on a DIY water flush, check out our article, “Water Heater Makes Popping Sounds When Heating? An AZ Plumber Explains”.

Problem #2: My water heater is leaking

Solution: First, determine if the water heater is actually leaking vs. just producing condensation. If it’s actually leaking, locate the leak and have a professional repair it. Note: Some leaks can’t be fixed and therefore the entire water heater must be replaced. See why below.

Explanation of the problem: Water heater leaks can stem from something as simple as a valve that needs to be tightened to much more complex (and costly) situations such as a corroded tank that needs to be completely replaced. To determine the root cause of your leak, follow these steps:

Step 1: 

Check to see if that water surrounding the tank is really just condensation. You see, it’s normal for your water heater to produce some condensation when the incoming water is the coldest (during winter months).

You’ll know your tank is just producing condensation when:

  • There’s only a small amount of water surrounding the tank
  • The water doesn’t immediately return after it’s cleaned up

Are you determined that it’s not condensation and you actually have a leak? Then continue on to step #2.

Step 2: 

Turn off the gas or electricity to the water heater. Then turn off the water supply to the water heater. Dry the water on and around the tank as much as possible and watch for where the leaking is happening.

Step 3:

Check these 4 leak-prone areas next and follow the instructions to attempt to stop the leak yourself. If the leak persists after following the instructions, call a professional to repair the leak.

1. Cold water inlet valve

Water Heater Cold Water Inlet Valve

If the valve that delivers cold water to your tank has gone bad, it will drip water onto your tank. First, try tightening the valve to see if that stops the leaking. If it doesn’t, the valve most likely needs to be replaced. 

You can attempt to replace the valve yourself following these instructions or have a professional replace the valve.

2. Heater drain valve

Water Heater Drain Valve

Drain valves can start leaking water if it’s come loose or if it’s gone bad and needs to be replaced. If you have a plastic drain valve, water can leak out of tiny cracks and holes from wear and tear over time. Before replacing the valve completely, first try tightening it.

Use an adjustable wrench to tighten the nut. If the leak continues after this, you may need to replace the valve. Try following these instructions for a DIY drain valve replacement or have a professional complete the job.

3. T&P relief valve

Water Heater T&P Relief Valve

If your T&P relief valve is leaking from its base where it screws into the water heater, it needs to be replaced. Follow these instructions if you are replacing your T&P relief valve on your own.

If there is water leaking from the piping attached to the T&P relief valve and also from the open end of the pipe, you probably have a temperature or pressure issue with your tank that needs to be addressed. Have a professional inspect your tank to determine the issue.

4. The tank itself has corroded and is leaking

Water Heater Corroded Bottom

If the tank itself is leaking, this most likely means that you need a new tank immediately. Check for corrosion along the bottom of the tank. Signs of corrosion means the inner lining of the tank has deteriorated and that the water heater is in danger of bursting. 

To avoid costly water damage, contact a professional to replace your water heater as soon as possible.

Problem #3: Your electric water heater keeps tripping the circuit breaker

Solution: First, turn off the water heater. Contact a plumber immediately. Do not continue to reset the breaker and don’t replace the breaker with a higher rated breaker. Avoid using hot water until the problem is fixed. If the plumber says everything is working properly with the water heater, have an electrician check the electrical connections.

Explanation of the problem: 3 problems can cause your water heater to draw more power than it should and trip the circuit breaker:

  1. A bad heating element
  2. A bad thermostat
  3. Wiring problems

For an in-depth explanation of each of these issues, check out our article, “Why is My Electrical Water Heater Tripping My Circuit Breaker?”

Have a professional inspect your water heater to determine your problem and best solution.

Have other water heater problems and questions? Ask an AZ plumber

If you’re having water heater problems, we’re here to help.

Just contact us today with your questions and we’ll respond with the help you need immediately.

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