Water Heater Repair

Quick Summary

Many of us take hot water in our homes for granted until suddenly, the water heater tank is malfunctioning. Learn about the different types of water heater problems and find out if they can be repaired, or if it's time to replace it. 

Top Water Heater Problems

Most people have run out of hot water in their homes at least once in their lifetime. Whether you were taking a shower and the water went cold, or you couldn’t get hot water from the sink, you might remember this unpleasant and cold experience. A water heater tank, also known as a water heater or hot water tank, is responsible for the hot water supply throughout your home.

There are two common types of water heaters: 

  • Tank — Runs with gas or electricity
  • Tankless — A more energy-efficient alternative

Gas and electric water heaters are the most common types of heaters, but tankless water heaters are increasing in popularity due to their lower energy costs. Other options for increasing water temperature in your water heater is with propane or fuel oil.

Water heater tanks use heating elements to produce hot water. When these elements suddenly take longer to heat the water or your tank runs out of hot water faster than usual, you might need a water heater repair or even a new water heater.

The heating elements may just be burned out and need to be replaced. Alternatively, water heaters tend to have a 10-15 year lifespan, so if you have water heating issues, you might need a complete water heater replacement.

Other types of problems you might experience with your hot water tank include:

  • Tripped circuit breaker — Check to see if your water heater tank switch needs to be flipped
  • Pilot light flickers out — If you have a gas water heater, your pilot light may need to be re-lit
  • Pipe leak — Older water tanks and pipes can corrode or need to be tightened
  • Strange noises — Scale buildup or sediment cause your hot water heater to make hissing sounds
  • Dirty or smelly water — A telltale sign that you may have corrosion in your tank or anode rod needs to be replaced
  • Temperature issues — A possible issue with your thermostat or your heating element may be failing

Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters

Searching for a water heater replacement can be confusing. You can choose between a heater with a tank or tankless, and you can select gas or an electric water heater. Either way, water heaters are becoming more energy-efficient than ever before.

Two primary consideration when deciding between gas vs electric water heaters are:

  1. Cost: Typically, gas water heaters are less expensive to run than electric water heaters. This is because the cost of natural gas is less than electricity in most places. However, electric water heaters may cost less initially, especially if your home doesn’t already have a gas connection.
  2. Efficiency: Both gas and electric hot water heaters are given energy factor (EF) ratings that are a measurement of the amount of hot water the heater produces to the amount of fuel required. A water heater is considered more efficient with a higher EF number. Typically, gas and electric models have similar EF numbers, especially if comparing similar sizing and manufacturers.

Tankless water heaters are usually the most energy-efficient and can be powered by gas or electricity. These water heaters draw water in through a heating element when a faucet is turned on, rather than storing hot water in a tank. Because these tanks only heat water as you use it, they can be up to 35% more energy-efficient than tank water heaters.

Common problems with electric water heaters include:

  • The circuit breaker has been tripped
  • The temperature cut-off switch may need repairing
  • Water leaks

Common problems with gas water heaters include: 

  • The pilot light may be out
  • There is air in the gas line
  • The gas valve on the gas-line may be turned off
  • The thermocouple may be defective

The cost of water heater replacements will depend on the type and size of water heater you choose. Typically, the more expensive the water heater, the greater the lifespan. The cost can range from $200 to over $3,000 for a high-efficiency storage tank heater, plus water heater installation costs.

Troubleshooting Water Heater Problems

If you’re experiencing hot water heater problems, you might be able to diagnose and fix the issue yourself. Let’s look at common problems and learn how to troubleshoot them yourself.

Before you begin searching for the issue, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the power by simply turning off the fuse or circuit breaker connected to the heater. If the problem is a lack of hot water, you’ll want to see if the circuit breaker has been tripped.
  2. If so, flip the power back on and give it some time to heat the water. You should be able to check the water heating element thermostat.
  3. Test the element and replace it if it’s faulty. If the thermostat is receiving power, it’s likely your heater needs element replacements.

Undersized Water Heater

If your home isn’t getting any hot water, you may have an undersized water heater or a faulty thermostat or element. Try pressing the high-temperature reset button by removing the access panel, insulation and safety guard. If this doesn’t work, you’ll want to check each heating element individually.

Too Much Demand

If your home isn’t getting enough hot water, ensure the demand isn’t exceeding the supply, or capacity of the hot water tank. If you don’t think you’re out of your hot water supply, you may want to investigate if one of your heating elements has failed.

Additionally, your home’s hot water supply may be too hot. If your water is scorching, check your hot water temperature settings.

Sediment Buildup

You may also be hearing strange sounds coming from your hot water tank, such as a low rumbling, popping noise or high-pitched hissing. This could be a sign of sediment buildup in your tank, causing the water to boil. You can first try to drain the tank to remove the sediment. If that doesn’t help, you might need to replace your water heater.

Corrosion

If your faucets are dispensing rust-colored water or water that smells like rotten eggs, you may have corrosion inside your water tank. Partially drain the water tank and remove the existing anode rod. If it’s corroded, replace it with a new one.

Benefits of Water Heater Repair Services

Troubleshooting your water heater might be out of your comfort zone or repairing the issue might be out of your wheelhouse. If so, there are water heater experts that can help.

By hiring a professional residential repair service, you’ll benefit from maintaining your warranty, extending the lifespan of your tank and resting assured that the repairs have been performed properly the first time.

Warranty and Lifespan

You might want to call a professional or plumber if the issue is recurring or persistent. If your hot water tank is still under warranty, you’ll want to hire a licensed, water heater expert to avoid voiding your warranty. Additionally, the life expectancy of your water tank could be extended if repaired by a professional.

Repairs Done Properly

Hiring a professional to fix your water heater is fast and efficient. These hot water heater repair experts can quickly diagnose and fix the problem. You can rest easy knowing the repairs are done correctly and most importantly, safely—especially because the improper mix of water and electricity could lead to severe injury or death.

If you’re experiencing a hot water issue, call an emergency response plumbing service. These experts will first diagnose the problem and make a recommendation to the homeowner. You may either need to replace the elements, the anode rod or the tank itself.

Improved Energy Efficiency

Once the issue has been repaired, you might even notice that your energy bills have decreased and your hot water tank is performing optimally. However, regular maintenance of your hot water tank can help prolong the life expectancy of your appliance and keep it running efficiently.

Water Heater Repair vs. Replacement

Knowing whether you need to replace your water heater or simply make a few repairs can be difficult. The lifespan of most water heaters is typically 8-12 years. If your unit is newer, it may just need a few easy tweaks, such as a new pressure relief valve or heating element.

Be sure to check your circuit breaker before purchasing a new water heater. You might just need to flip the switch to get your hot water tank working again. 

If your water heater is older than 10 years or if you notice leaking around the base of the unit, you might want to consider replacing it. Also, any type of corrosion or leaks might be a sign that it’s time to replace your hot water unit.

The more often you have to repair your hot water tank, the more likely you should purchase a new one. The good news is that most water heaters have become even more energy-efficient, which can help cut your energy expenses by up to 20%.

Cost of Water Heater Repair and Replacement Services

The cost of your water heater repair is largely dependent on the repair requirements. According to homeowner reports, the average price for hot water heater repair is $575 and generally ranges between $200-$900.

If you need to replace your thermostat, you can expect to pay between $100-$300.

Replacing your heating elements should cost between $200-$300.

Replacing your hot water tank might be a bit more costly upfront, averaging around $1,500 for a new tank and installation services. These costs would include: 

  • The purchase price of the new tank
  • Building permits
  • Installation materials
  • Professional installation by a plumbing service
  • Removal of your old tank

If you choose a tankless model, you can expect to pay around $3,500 for the same services.

Repairing or replacing your water heater can seem daunting, but the results are usually beneficial. Don’t suffer with cold, rusty or smelly water—call a water heater repair service near you.

Author:Water Damage Advisor
Water Damage Advisor

The Water Damage Advisor content team is made up of multiple contributors, writers, and editors. We are your resource hub for anything related to water damage, mold and restoration needs that you may be challenged with facing.

7 References
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  2. EnergyRates.ca. (2020). Heating with Natural Gas or Electricity? Compare your options. https://energyrates.ca/heating-with-natural-gas-or-electricity-compare-your-options/
  3. Bob Vila. (2020). Choosing a new appliance: Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters. https://www.bobvila.com/articles/gas-vs-electric-water-heaters/ 
  4. HomeTips®. (2020). No Hot Water - Water Heater Repair & Troubleshooting. https://www.hometips.com/repair-fix/hot-water-heater-problems.html 
  5. The Spruce. (2019). How to Troubleshoot and Repair an Electric Water Heater. https://www.thespruce.com/repair-an-electric-water-heater-1824636 
  6. Houselogic by Realtors®. (2020). When it’s Time for a Water Heater Replacement. https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/water-heaters-repair-or-replace/
  7. HomeAdvisor. (2020). How Much Does it Cost to Repair a Water Heater? https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/plumbing/repair-a-water-heater/ 
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