Have you ever been ready to wash a sinkful of dishes only to have no hot water? What about halfway through a shower and the warm stream suddenly turns cold, leaving you to decide whether to brave the freezing water or just give up and leave the shampoo in your hair?
Being without hot water is frustrating in any situation. But, quite simply, hot water heaters don’t last forever.
Knowing the warning signs that your hot water heater is going out, though, can help you avoid being caught in the cold. To assist you in monitoring your water heater for issues, we’ve compiled a list of some of the common warning signs.
How Your Hot Water Heater Works
There are several different kinds of water heaters. Some are heated by gas, and others are heated by electricity. However, gas and electric heaters work in essentially the same way. A bigger difference is whether your water heater is a traditional water heater with a tank or a tankless heater.
Conventional Storage Water Heaters
A storage water heater typically consists of a tank that stores hot water. Depending on the size, they may hold from 20 to 80 gallons of water. Essentially, the water in the tank is maintained at a constant temperature.
The water supply is brought into the water heater through a dip tube, where it is heated, either via a gas burner or through an electric heating element. When you open a faucet to access hot water, cold water flows into the tank through the dip tube, displacing the hot water and allowing it to flow out.
Tankless Water Heaters
Unlike a conventional water heater that holds a tank of water at a constant temperature until it is needed, a tankless water heater is a bit different. It’s in the name – tankless water heaters do not have a tank. In general, these water heaters heat water as it passes through them. The water is only heated when it is needed.
Average Lifespan For A Water Heater
Like everything in your home, water heaters wear out over time, and they typically last anywhere between eight and twelve years.
This lifespan can vary, based on how well it has been maintained, the quality of the water in your area, and the brand and quality of your unit. A safe bet is to keep an eye out for issues if your water heater is reaching the age of about eight years old.
Warning Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is Going Out
There are a few common signs you can watch out for that might indicate that there is an issue with your water heater. These signs can tell you that it’s time to contact a service company or plumber to take a look at your water heater before the issues become major.
1. Leaking water coming from your water heater tank
If your water heater is leaking, there may be a number of issues. This could indicate a failure of one of the connections, or an issue with the pressure inside of the tank. Small amounts of condensation are normal, but large leaks are not.
2. Hot water not lasting very long
If you hop in the shower or start washing the dishes just to have the water go cold within a few minutes, this could be a warning sign that your hot water heater is not functioning properly. You can start by trying to adjust the temperature on your water heater itself, but if this doesn’t work, you’ll want to contact a technician.
3. Unusual noises
If your water heater is making odd noises, this can mean that the internal heating element is deteriorating. Noises such as pops and cracks can also be caused by sediment inside the water heater, but you’ll want to contact a technician who can inspect the heater and determine if there is an issue.
4. Inconsistent water temperature or water pressure
Inconsistent water temperature or pressure can signal issues with the heating element or a buildup of sediment. Your hot water heater probably needs to be drained, and the connections and heating element inspected.
5. Colored or off-smelling hot water
If only the hot water in your bathroom and kitchen has an odd smell, while the cold water is just fine, this may indicate that the problem lies with your water heater.
Common Problems vs. Warning Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is Going Out
While these warning signs can indicate a serious problem with your water heater, they may just mean that your water heater needs a simple fix. The solutions can range from draining your water heater to simply adjusting the thermostat.
To learn more about common water heater problems and their fixes, check out our blog post on the topic.