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Why Is My Water Heater Not Working? 10 Possible Reasons

When your water heater isn’t working, it can be a major inconvenience. You may not have hot water for showers, dishes, or laundry. Not to worry! We’re here to help. In this article, we will discuss 10 possible reasons why your water heater is not working and what you can do about it. We’ll also give you some tips for maintaining your water heater so that you can avoid these problems in the future.

Diagnosing Issues With Your Water Heater – Before You Begin

Before we dive into the reasons why your water heater might not be working, it’s important to run through a quick diagnostic checklist. This will help you narrow down the potential causes of the problem and make troubleshooting easier.

Safety Precautions

Before you do anything, it’s important to take some safety precautions. Electric water heaters are high-voltage appliances and gas-powered appliances need to be inspected with care. First, shut off the power to your water heater. If you have an electric water heater, this means flipping the switch on your circuit breaker. If you have a gas water heater, this means turning off the gas at the valve. If it is necessary to handle any wiring, test wires with a voltage tester.

Once the power is off, open the cold water supply valve to release any pressure in the tank. Then, open the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and let some water drain out. This will help prevent any scalding if there is hot water in the tank. Now that you’ve taken these safety precautions, you can start troubleshooting your water heater.

Check Your Warranty

If you have a commercial or residential water heater and it is fairly new, yours may still be under warranty. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s website or your sales receipt to see if your water heater is still covered. Many warranties are only for a certain number of years and will not cover damage from normal wear and tear. If you need to call the manufacturer, find the rating plate on the water heater which holds important information such as model, serial number, manufacturing year, and more.

Recognize The Warnings Signs 

Water heaters can give some warnings that they are on their last legs such as:

  • Not enough or no hot water
  • Varying temperatures
  • Leaking 
  • Reduced water flow
  • Noises
  • Smelly/discolored water

Don’t ignore these signs. Call a professional and get your water heater assessed before it goes out or causes damage to your home.

Additional Reading: 10 Noticeable Signs Your Water Heater is Going Bad

How to Diagnose the Problem with Your Hot Water Heater 

If you think there might be a problem with your water heater, there are a few things you can do to try to diagnose the issue.

Check Your Power 

One of the most common issues is that a hot water heater is not receiving power. First, check the circuit breaker or fuse box. If the breaker has been tripped or a fuse has blown, it will need to be reset or replaced before you can continue using your water heater.

Inspect Your Pilot Light 

If your water heater uses gas, it will have a pilot light. This small flame ignites the burner whenever hot water is needed. If the pilot light has gone out, you’ll need to relight it. The process will depend on the model of your hot water heater.

You might find the instructions on how to relight your water heater’s pilot light glued to your water heater. If you don’t find them there you will need to determine if your water heater model needs to be manually or electronically ignited. You can find that information on the manufacturer’s website or in your hot water heater manual.

Test Your Water

Checking your hot water heater for both temperature and discoloration is essential. Cold water and brown muddy water indicate two very different issues. While cold water can be caused by the issues we have already covered, discolored water can come from a few different issues.

  • Mineral and sediment buildup
  • Corrosion

Still No Hot Water? Here Are 10 More Possible Causes

If you have ruled out the issues we have already covered and you are still not getting any hot water, there are a few more potential causes to investigate.

1. Water Leaks

One of the most common reasons a water heater stops working is leaks. Check all around your water heater for any signs of water. If you see water, it could be coming from one of these three places:

  • Drain valve
  • Pressure relief valve
  • Tank

If your water heater is leaking, turn off the power to the unit and call a plumber or water heater repair person to come to take a look. Do not try to repair a leaking water heater yourself.

2. Gas Leaks & Faulty Gas Valves

If your water heater is powered by gas, a gas leak may be the reason why it’s not working. If you smell gas, turn off the power to the unit and call your gas company immediately. Another possibility is that the gas valve on the water heater is faulty and needs to be replaced. Do not try to repair a gas leak or faulty gas valve yourself. This is a job for a qualified technician.

3. Faulty Heating Element

If your water heater has an electric heating element, it could be the reason why your water heater isn’t working. If you have a digital multimeter you can test the water heater’s voltage and resistance based on the owner’s manual. If it doesn’t return a reading your heating element is faulty and the heating element needs to be replaced. If you aren’t comfortable testing your water heater’s heating element then call a qualified technician.

4. Faulty Temperature Pressure Valve

As water heats up in a water heater it expands. The temperature pressure valve releases water from the tank when the pressure gets too high. If this valve is not working properly and doesn’t turn off when the correct temperature is reached, it can cause the water heater to stop working. If you notice dampness under the discharge line, first turn down the temperature of your water heater. If the dampness is still there, call a qualified professional to fix the faulty temperature pressure valve.

5. Rust & Corrosion

Rust and corrosion can go unnoticed until you have a leak in your water heater. Discolored water is a key indicator that something is off with your water heater and should be investigated. If you think your water heater may be rusting or corroding on the inside, it’s best to call a professional for help.

6. Failing Anode Rod

The sacrificial anode rod is a part of the water heater that protects it from rust and corrosion. Over time, the anode rod will deteriorate and need to be replaced. If it is not replaced, the water heater may rust and eventually fail.

7. Thermostat Control Issues

The water heater thermostat plays an important role in keeping your water heater at the right temperature. If the water heater thermostat is not set to the correct temperature the water may be too hot or too cold. The thermostat is hardworking, constantly maintaining the temperature of your water even if the water heater isn’t in use so it is important to have it set correctly.

8. An Improperly Sized Water Heater

Sometimes a water heater isn’t sized properly for the household. As too many people try to access hot water simultaneously, the water heater can’t keep up. This usually results in lukewarm water or no hot water at all.

9. Damaged Burner Assembly or Gas Control

In a gas water heater instead of an element, you have a burner assembly. If there is no hot water or not enough hot water, the problem may be with the burner assembly or gas control valve. The gas burner is one part of the larger burner assembly. This includes the thermocouple, main orifice, main gas supply tube, pilot burner, pilot orifice, and pilot burner gas supply. If any of these elements are clogged or not functioning properly, then the entire system won’t work as intended. Over time, all these components can become damaged and will eventually need to be replaced.

10. Age

Like anything, age can be a reason your water heater isn’t working. If your water heater is over 10 years old, it may need replacement. Over time, the elements in your water heater will break down and become less effective. The anode rod will also eventually stop working properly, leaving your water heater vulnerable to rust and corrosion.

Additional reading: How Much Does it Cost To Replace a Water Heater?

Avoid Future Issues with Regular Maintenance

Your water heater needs to be properly maintained in order to work properly. You should flush your water heater at least once a year to remove any sediment that has built up. You should also check the anode rod periodically and replace it if necessary. If you don’t maintain your water heater, it will be more likely to break down and stop working

Water Heater Inspection and Replacement Services in Portland

There are many factors that go into deciding when to replace your water heater and Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are here to guide you. We carry a variety of hot water heaters so that your home or business has the best and most efficient water heaters around.

Avoid extra costs and fewer repairs by scheduling a maintenance check for your existing water heating system before issues arise. No matter what you need, we’re always just a phone call away.

Whether you are in the market for a new water heater or simply have questions about your current one, Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning is here to help. We’ve been servicing the Portland area for over 70 years and our experience shows in the quality of our work. Give us a call today!

About the Author

Amanda Jacobs portrait

Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.