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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Water Heater Woes

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy
Nothing like waking up on a crisp, cool morning only to discover that you have no hot water.  Even worse is to walk into your garage only to wind up wading through an inch of water after your water heater springs a leak.  Since the water heater is one household appliance that is not only a necessity, but it also consumes a good deal of your home’s resources, I thought I’d take the time to walk you through the ins and outs of water heater maintenance.

Staying out of hot water – Whether your water heater is powered by electricity or gas, they all pretty much work the same, unless you have an on-demand system.  The heating element warms the water up to a preset temperature.  Then the temperature is maintained inside the tank until needed. Sounds simple, right?  Well, it is when everything works right.  When things go wrong, you can get into hot water pretty quickly.  Below are some common problems:

      1.      No hot water – Generally when this occurs, the first thing you want to check is either the breaker box if the unit is electrically powered, or the gas supply if it’s not.  If this fails to solve the problem, it’s probably a balky thermostat which is no longer able to perform its function of regulating the wter temperature.  If you want to learn how to find and replace the thermostat on your water heater, here’s a link:

      2.      The water is too hot – This problem also points to the thermostat.  Hopefully the issue can be solved by adjusting it.  On most models, the thermostat is located behind the access panel on the side of the tank, below a wad of insulation. If that doesn’t solve the problem, refer to the link above if you want to save yourself a service call.

      3.      Not enough hot water can usually be resolved by turning up the temperature on the thermostat.  Especially during the winter months, it may be necessary to raise the water temp to provide you and your family with sufficient hot water.

Image courtesy flickr
Water leaking from the bottom of the tank. – A heater with water leaking from the bottom can occur because of a leaky heater element gasket, condensation or a valve opening to release excess pressure.  The first step is to turn off the cold water going to the tank once the source of the leak has been found.  This is done by locating the in-line valve which is the thingy with a handle at the top of the tank.  When the handle is in-line with the pipe it’s open so water can flow to the tank.  Turn it perpendicular to close the valve and stop more water from entering and leaking from the tank.  Depending from where the leak is emanating, you may or may not be able to fix it.  But you can stop the leak from flooding your garage or basement by shutting off the water valve.

      5.      Water leaking from the top of the tank could be due to a loose or leaking outlet pipe, or it could have been caused by a failure of the pressure valve atop the tank.  Since this kind of leak could cause an electrical short, the first step is to trip the breaker that feeds the water heater.  (If it’s a gas-fired model, turn the thermostat setting to OFF.) The next step is to turn off the cold water going to the tank once the source of the leak has been found.  If the source is a leaking pipe or valve, this can be repaired by removing the leaky component, taking it to a plumbing supply store and replacing the cracked one with new.  The same process can be accomplished if the water pressure relief valve at the top of the tank has sprung a leak.  For a step-by-step procedure for replacing the valve, go to this link:

      6.      If the water takes too long to reheat, this  can be an indication of a build up of sediment encrusting the electric heating element.  While replacing the element might be necessary, the first thing I would do if this issue crops up is to drain the tank to flush the sediment from the bottom of the tank.  To do this requires a bucket.  Once the water pouring into the bucket.  Runs clear, shut the drain and open the water valve to begin refilling the tank.  If this doesn’t solve the issue, the heating element will need to be replaced.  Here’s a link to a few other DIY fixes from This Old House:

Image courtesy USAF
      7.      Water heater repair notes – Sometimes stopping a leaky pipe is as easy as using a wrench to tighten the coupling.  At other times an application of Teflon tape at the point where the threads protrude from a pipe will be sufficient to stop a slow leak.  The most important thing you need to keep in mind when attempting a DIY fix is not to make a bad situation worse.  Over-tightening a connection could cause the threads to be stripped which will then require the plumber to cut the pipe off.  You also run the risk of snapping a pipe by applying too much leverage.  Once a fitting has been hand tightened, it should never take more than a quarter turn with a wrench to completely tighten it.

      8.      Does your water heater have a tummy ache? – If the tank makes odd groaning or gurgling noises, that usually indicates there is air entering the tank as the water drains out.  Try opening the shutoff valve to let some hot water drain into a bucket to purge air from the system.  Then tightening the drain valve and listen to see if the moaning and groaning in the tank has ceased.  If that doesn’t solve the problem, you’ll need to drain the tank and replace the valve.

 Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. Most people don't realize if they flush their water heaters twice a year it can double the life of the thing.

  2. There is nothing worse that getting up on a cold day to take a shower and you have zero hot water! Great tips to keep things going right!


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