Unsure if your water heater is just on the fritz or burned out all together? Here are some tips to help you troubleshoot your water heater.
There are two types of conventional water heaters, gas and electric. An electric water heater can be used almost anywhere. A gas water heater is most likely to be installed in a home that already uses gas for another appliance such as a furnace or stove. Building codes may dictate the placement of gas water heaters, restricting them to areas outside of normal home activity.
It is likely if you are replacing a water heater, you'll simply replace it with the same type of unit that was already there. However, there are upgrade possibilities that should be considered. For example: if space allows, you may choose to increase the unit's holding capacity to accommodate your growing family. Another important consideration is the unit's energy efficiency. Replacement time is the perfect time to lower your energy bill by choosing a water heater that is more energy efficient.
When looking for a water heater, consider these features:
Before making any repairs or purchasing a new water heater, check the nameplate on the side of your current unit. Here you will find helpful information including the tank capacity, insulation R-value, installation guidelines, working pressure, model and serial number. If you have an electric water heater, the nameplate will also list the wattage capacity and voltage of the heating elements.
This information will serve as the starting point in your search for replacement parts, or a complete replacement unit. For an overview on the types of water heaters available, read our Water Heater Buying Guide.
The water heater gets quite a workout in most homes. Based on manufacturer's suggested service life, the life expectancy of a water heater is about 8 to 12 years. That, of course, will vary with the severity of local weather, the unit design, quality of installation and the level of maintenance your unit has received.
If your water heater is more than 10 years old, leaks around the base of the tank, and / or works erratically or not at all, it probably needs to be replaced. In any case, make sure that an electrical problem such as a blown fuse or tripped breaker is not the reason for the unit's failure.
Perhaps the most common problem connected with a water heater is water that isn't as hot as you want it to be. This is usually caused by a faulty thermostat or a defective heating element.
Here are some basic steps to follow when your water is not hot enough:
Electric water heater
Gas water heater
Other common problems and possible solutions:
If you are handy with tools, you might want to consider replacing your water heater yourself. For a direct replacement, installation is straightforward. Essentially, this involves putting the new unit in just like the old one came out, including the connection of supply water lines and electricity to the new unit. Masking tape is useful for marking water lines and electrical wires. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for your unit.
Be aware that it may be necessary to add threaded fittings (if they are not there already) to the ends of the existing pipes so you can connect them to the new water heater with the appropriate supply lines. If you have copper pipes, this will require "sweating" (soldering) the fittings to the pipes. If your pipes are rigid plastic (CPVC) you can add them by solvent welding. Flexible plastic pipes will require the installation of compression fittings attached with a wrench.
Consider these questions as you decide whether you want to tackle the job:
Today’s water heaters are manufactured to require little or no maintenance, but – as is the case with almost any appliance – many problems can be avoided with routine upkeep.
Here are some maintenance tips that could prolong the life of your water heater: