Water Heater Noises and Other Common Problems

Water Softening Process
Man hands repairing pressure gauge and valve

The modern home isn’t complete without hot water, an amenity that has become synonymous with basic living since the mid 20th century. Once natural gas became the standard for home heating, as well as widespread electrical grids, hot water also became expected in every new home too. Today, that resource is provided like it’s been for decades earlier, with a home water heater.

The water heater technology hasn’t changed much either; it involves a water tank fed by a municipal water supply, a burner fueled by natural gas or an electrical heating element, and a connection for the hot water to feed to the home on demand. Water pressure pushes everything through as water doesn’t compress. So, the water in the tank gets heated regularly and, as it drains, new water comes in, causing the heater to turn on and restart the process all over again. For the most part, this design has worked well for about a decade, but after that, common water heater problems can start to occur.

Common Issues With Water Heaters

When the temperature control doesn’t work reliably, there either is a problem with the burner or the control setting. This is noticeable when the heater runs too hot or too cold. The first step is simple and only involves confirming the control dial is at the right setting. Too cold when warm means it should probably be moved to hot. Too hot, vice versa. However, when it is already hot and no warm water at all is coming out, or set to warm, and the temperature is scalding, it means the control mechanism or the heating process are not working right.

Pilot Light Went Out

Because the burner in a water heater is fueled by natural gas, it needs to be in constant burn mode when not heating to prevent a gas leak. This is the function of a pilot light and, when the fuel is needed, it provides the ready ignition for the fuel feed. An extinguished pilot light is a problem because, besides no heating, it also means the gas is leaking out. If gas is smelled, open and ventilate the area immediately. A gas utility professional or plumber is needed for a safe re-light.

If no smell, open the area anyway to be safe. Turn the temperature dial to cold or off. Then, the dial or regulator should be set to PILOT only, and the ignition switch button should be used or a long-neck lighter to light the pilot flame. If you’re unsure, don’t worry. Call a plumber to do this as well. With the pilot light lit, use the regulator controls to confirm pilot status. Only when clear and the pilot light stays on, then turn the temperature control to warm or 120 degrees.

Erratic Temperature Changes

Older water heaters struggle to maintain consistent water heating. This growing problem stems from wear and tear, a build up of residue inside the water heater tank, irregular heating of the water, and even a failing heating element. While flushing a water heater regularly and changing its anode rod help with keeping sediment and corrosion under control, a failing heating element involves a serious repair by a professional.

Leaking Water

Any connection point where a water heater is leaking is a problem. Leaking water creates an immediate damage problem to the exposed area, and it’s usually a sign of a bigger problem of a line failure likely to occur. However, because the water is under pressure and the water heater involves natural gas, a self-repair isn’t recommended. A licensed plumber should be called immediately for mitigation. If the tank itself is leaking, it is probably getting close to a structural failure, and serious repair or replacement is needed as well.

Professional Plumbing is the Right Answer

Unlike other home repairs, a water heater issue isn’t the area for guessing through a do-it-yourself project. There is simply too much risk involved with a natural gas connection and live water feed. Call a professional plumber for maintenance or repair when there are signs of a possible water heater problem. It will save money in the long run and avoid what could be a bigger problem otherwise.


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