At some point in their time owning a home, every homeowner is going to experience an issue with their hot water heater. But, just what do you need to be on the lookout for when it comes to your water heater? How do you know when it needs to be repaired or—in the case of an older unit—replaced? In this article, we’ll review the water heater repair signs you need to watch out for, and when you need to bring in a plumber.
Not enough hot water
You turn on the shower in the morning, ready to start your day. You wait for the water to heat up. It never does. You’re about to take a cold shower on a cold morning—and, between shivers, you’re no doubt strongly incentivized to deal with the problem, right here and now.
For obvious reasons, larger families will be the first to notice diminished hot water capacity. It’ll start with the last person in the family not being able to take a hot shower in the morning. Then, from there, capacity will continue to drop and hot water will start to run out faster. Typically this is the point, when nearly everyone is having their routine disrupted, at which homeowners call us out to take a look at the water heater.
What causes a diminished supply of hot water? As scaling and sediment build up at the bottom of the hot water tank, it displaces room for water and prevents the heating element from adequately warming what remains. A plumber will need to drain and flush out the system, or—if the buildup and damage is too severe—replace the water heater entirely. There are other mechanical issues that can lead to the loss of hot water, but sediment buildup is typically the leading cause of hot water capacity loss.
The tank is damaged or leaking
All water heater tanks are slightly pressurized due to the buildup of heat inside the tank. The solid walls of the tank are designed to bear the brunt of this pressure day-after-day and year-after-year. However, when the tank’s structural integrity is somehow compromised, it can lead to significant problems for both your water heater and your home.
All water heaters have a guardian angel of sorts: a sacrificial anode rod. This rod of metal hangs from the top of the water heater and attracts corrosion away from the tank walls, preserving them for years. However, once corrosion has eaten away at this rod, it’ll go after those well-preserved walls. This can cause the tank to weaken from within. On the exterior, this will manifest in the form of small cracks and leaks. If you notice water is collecting at the bottom of the tank or that condensation is building on its exterior, that’s good enough reason to call a plumber right away. You could be on the verge of a tank burst.
Of course, you should also bring in a plumber if there’s been any exterior damage to the tank. In some homes, the water heater is located in the garage. Every plumber has received a few calls in their career of a homeowner backing their truck or car into a water heater. Even if there doesn’t appear to be any superficial damage, you’re better off safe than sorry. Call a plumber.
Your hot water is rust-colored
This is the other common byproduct of tank wall corrosion. You’ll notice that the water from the tap is rust-colored, or discolored in some way. Typically, by the time you notice this, there has been serious degradation and corrosion on the tank walls.
You’ll want to start by ruling out the possibility that the rust is coming from your pipes or municipal plumbing. To do this, run a test where you drain several gallons of water into a large bucket, using the hot and cold taps alternately. If you only notice corrosion in the hot water bucket, there’s a good chance your problem lies in your water heater.
Noticing water heater repair signs? It's time to bring in a plumber
There’s just no substitute for having a true professional inspect your water heater.
Here in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, you’ll want to give us a call. Our friendly, professional plumbers are standing by, ready to help with all your home’s plumbing needs. We fix and replace water heaters throughout the Chicago metro area and beyond. Call us now for a free VIP plumbing inspection.