What Are the Signs of a Hot Water Heater Going Bad?

Being able to tell whether your water heater is going bad or not is incredibly important as it helps prevent the unit from causing serious damage to your house.

The warning signs of your water heater failing include a leaking tank, build-up of sediment, inconsistent water temperature, discolored water, unusual sounds, and low water pressure. The unit would also have to be replaced, in case it’s getting close to the end of its lifespan. 

What Are the Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is Going Out?

  1. Age – your water heater isn’t going to last forever, so, if the unit’s over 10 years old, you might start thinking about getting a new one.
  2. A leaking tank – in general, leaks are relatively easy to fix, but if it’s the actual tank that had developed a crack or had corroded, then you would have to replace the whole water heater.
  3. Cloudy or rusty water – this is a sign that either the pipes or the unit are corroded. The ‘cloudy’ water is caused by mineral deposits that might eventually clog the water flow and damage the heater’s components.
  4. You’re running out of water too fast – mineral build-up around the heating element or burner and an electrical problem might be to blame.
  5. Inconsistent water temperature – it might be an issue with the thermostat, but if it’s not, then it’s a sign that there is something wrong with the heating element.
  6. Weird noises – unusual sounds can indicate that there is a problem with the heating element, poor water flow, changing water pressure, or sediment build-up.
  7. Low water pressure – it looks like there are plenty of mineral deposits in the system. Unfortunately, the low water pressure would make sediment build-up form even faster.
  8. Frequent repairs – finally, if you have started spending too much money on the maintenance of your water heater, you might want to opt for a new unit that wouldn’t require expensive repairs.

Read: Why Gas Hot Water Heater Is Not Heating? – Troubleshooting Guide

Warning Signs Hot Water Heater Going Out

So, what are the signs of a hot water heater going bad?

  • A leaking tank
  • An old water heater
  • Accumulated sediment
  • Inconsistent water temperature
  • Rusty or murky water
  • Strange noises
  • Low water pressure

Read: Why Water Heater Is Leaking?

What Happens When a Water Heater Goes Bad?

You are surely going to notice a change in the quality of the water, its temperature, and its amount. It might change color and acquire a metallic taste, fail to maintain the perfect temperature, and you will start running out of hot water much faster than before.

Your energy bills might also skyrocket as you would have to use the water heater for longer periods, in order to get the same amount of hot water as before.

When the water heater goes bad, the chances are high that it is going to develop a leak. If you can’t see a giant puddle under a unit, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a leak somewhere in the system.

Read: Gas Water Heater Thermocouple Possible Issues

Water Heater Danger Signs

Water heaters can explode, so be extra careful, if you ever notice one of these signs:

  1. A rotten egg smell (this is an indication of a gas leak)
  2. Continuous knocking and popping sounds (air bubbles are trying to escape from underneath the sediment, this might cause the water heater to overwork and overheat)
  3. A faulty or leaking pressure-relief valve (if this element isn’t working, the pressure inside the tank might become too high)
  4. A poorly installed water heater (improper installation can lead to a short circuit, gas leakage, pressure build-up in the tank, and so on)

What Causes Hot Water Heater to Stop Working?

A tripped circuit breaker

Your appliance might have stopped working simply because the breaker got tripped. Find the electrical panel and flip the breaker back.

There is no fuel supply

Make sure that the gas valve is open and that there are no issues with the gas supply in your area.

The pilot light is out

If you have an old gas heater, you might have to relight the pilot light.

There’s an issue with the burner

If the burner is not igniting, then there might be something wrong with the thermostat. In all the other cases, it may be better to invite a trained professional to repair the burner.

Low water pressure

The water heater can stop working if there is a loss of pressure in the system. This might happen due to a faulty pressure-relief valve, loose fittings, and a change in the water supply pressure.

How Do I Know If My Hot Water Heater Element Is Bad?

If your water heater has a bad heater element, then you might have lukewarm water, no or small amounts of hot water, or a constantly tripping circuit breaker.

Electric water heaters usually have two heating elements.

If the upper element goes bad, then you won’t have any hot water or the water wouldn’t be able to reach the temperature set on the thermostat.

A faulty lower heating element leads to smaller amounts of hot water and/or it will cause your water heater to run out of hot water much faster than usual. 

Read: The Best Temperature For The Water Heater And Why?

What Is the Most Common Problem with Water Heaters?

The most obvious water heater-related problem is the absence of hot water. This might happen due to a wide range of reasons.

When it comes to the actual unit, the most common issues that you will most likely have to face are leaks.

Leaks can occur anywhere in the system. 

If the water heater is leaking at the bottom, then the chances are high that there is a problem with the drain valve. The top of the unit will start leaking, if the pipes or tubes entering the water heater are not connected properly/are damaged or if there is something wrong with the pressure-relief valve

Hot Water Tank Thermostat Problems

Electric water heaters have two thermostats (those with 30-gallon tanks or bigger). The upper thermostat has a high-limit switch that turns the unit off if the temperature of the water is too high.

You will have a small amount of hot water if the lower thermostat goes bad, and there will be no hot water at all, in case the upper element breaks.

How Do You Check a Thermostat on a Hot Water Heater?

Before testing your thermostat for continuity, you have to turn off the power to the unit at the electrical panel.

During the test, you would have to remove the thermostat’s wires and touch the component’s terminals with the multimeter leads.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then leave the task to a professional. 

How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

In general, water heaters last for around 12 years

The actual lifespan would depend on the unit’s design, the maintenance schedule, the quality of installation, the quality of water, and many other factors.

Which Is Better Gas or Electric Water Heater?

You can expect a conventional gas water heater to last for 8-12 years, while an electric unit has a life expectancy between 10 and 15 years

Tankless water heaters can last for up to 20 years.

Should I Replace My Water Heater Before It Fails?

Ideally, you would want to replace your unit before it fails completely.

This will give you more time to do your research and find the perfect replacement water heater. Moreover, you’ll be able to avoid an incredibly inconvenient emergency replacement and prevent water damage (some water heaters fail ‘with a burst’).

Read: The Best Temperature For The Water Heater And Why?

What Does the Reset Button Do on a Hot Water Heater?

You can use the reset button to turn your water heater back on after the unit loses power.

However, the main job of a reset button is to shut off your appliance, if the water gets too hot. It might also trip, in case the heating element has a short, the thermostat is faulty, or a wire somewhere in the system is loose.

Is a Water Heater Supposed to Be Hot to the Touch?

Your water heater should not be hot to touch. Such units are well-insulated which helps keep the heat inside, so you should be able to touch the system without getting burnt.

If your water heater got too hot, then it might be because:

  • The flue is blocked
  • There is a backdraft problem
  • There is sediment build-up
  • There is a missing door for the pilot light

How Often Should a Water Heater Be Serviced?

You should have your water heater inspected and flushed at least once a year.