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No Hot Water: What Can You Do?

No Hot Water

Nobody likes a cold shower, so naturally having no hot water can be a huge annoyance. There are a number of issues that can cause you to run out of hot water, many of which you should be able to fix yourself.

It is also important to note that gas water heaters operate very differently than electric water heaters, and although, some of the issues may be the same, we will look at troubleshooting each individually.

No Hot Water Tips

Tips for Both Gas And Electric Water Heaters

Tip #1: Wait For Your Water Heater to Re-Heat the Water

Often times you will run out of hot water if you have extra people over and they are all taking showers back to back. This can drain the hot water heater of the water it already heated, and leave you needing to wait while the water reheats.

Before doing anything, try waiting a little while to see if your hot water returns. If after waiting you still don’t have any hot water, then you may have a more serious problem.

Tip #2: Is The Tank Big Enough?

If you find that half way thru a shower you have no hot water, and this happens frequently, then you may need to reassess your hot water needs.

Hot water heaters are made in different sizes to accommodate both large and small households. Check to see if your hot water tank is large enough to meet household needs.

You can determine the size that best meets your needs, and then decide how you want to proceed. If feel you need to purchase a new water heater, one option may be to add a Point-of-Use or Utility Water Heater in a bathroom to help reduce the demand from your primary unit. 

Tips for Gas Water Heaters

Tip #1: No Gas Supply to the Water Heater

If you have no hot water at all, check to see if your water heater is actually getting gas. Sometimes, inadvertently the gas supply can be turned off or interrupted. Follow these steps:

  • Turn the gas control knob to PILOT
  • Remove the cover where your burner and pilot light is located (at the bottom of the water heater)
  • There should be a flame lit inside.

Tip #2: Your Pilot Light Has Gone Out

If you did not see a flame, it may simply mean that your pilot light has gone out. If that is the case you will need to relight it, however, keep in mind that many of the newer water heaters no longer use pilot lights, and instead use a spark ignitor or a glow plug. If this is the case, check your owners manual for instructions.

If your water heater uses a pilot light, check to see if the instructions are printed on the tank. But if not, here's how you relight a pilot light.

  • Turn the regulator to the “off” position and wait at least 5 minutes for the gas to disperse
  • Then, turn the regulator to "pilot"
  • If your water heater has the self-ignite feature, simply hold down the ignition button for about a minute, and then turn the regulator to "on"
  • If you need to light the pilot with a flame, use a long lighter and direct the flame near the pilot burner where the gas supply tube is located. Your pilot light should ignite.

If your pilot light does not ignite, or will not stay lit, it is also a possibility that the gas inlet valve has been closed. If this is the case, simply turn the handle parallel to the gas line and reattempt to light the pilot.

If you still are unable to get the pilot light lit, it could be that you have a defective thermocouple. If this is the case, you should call the gas utility company. They often do not charge for this service.

Tip #3: Check if the Burner is Properly Working

This isn't as hard as it sounds, but what we need to determine is if the problem is with the burner itself.

  • Begin this troubleshooting sequence when the burner is off
  • Set the thermostat to 120 degrees
  • Open a hot water faucet and allow it to run
  • Watch to see if the burner ignites
  • If the burner does not ignite: Continue to draw hot water, and adjust the thermostat higher

If the burner ignites - Replace the cover and reset the thermostat to its original position.

If the burner DOES NOT ignite - It is possible that your thermostat is not functioning properly. You should have it repaired by a professional.

Tip #4: Check for Gas Leaks

Natural gas, in its natural state, is both odorless and colorless. A product called mercaptan is added to help detect gas leaks. When mercaptan is added, the gas will smell like sulfur or rotten eggs.

If you detect the smell of gas, you should immediately turn off the gas valve control. These dials are often designed to be pushed down in order to shut them off.

Use your best judgment as to if you want to attempt to relight the pilot light, or to contact your gas utility company immediately. If after waiting 5 minutes and you still smell gas, or the gas smell is strong, you should contact them right away. Check out this resource regarding gas safety.

Tips for Electric Water Heaters

Tip #1: The Breaker Has Been Tripped

Check to see if your water heater has a switch that may have been turned off. Then check your circuit breaker box to see if any of the breakers have been tripped.

A tripped breaker will not be in the "off" position, but rather, it will not be "in line" with the others. If the breaker has been tripped, simply flip the breaker to the "off" position, and then back to the "on" position. This will reset the breaker.

If after resetting the breaker it trips again, you should contact a qualified electrician.  Water heaters demand their own dedicated circuit because they draw too much power to share. If you find your water heater is not on a dedicated circuit, you should contact a qualified electrician.

Tip #2: High-Temperature Cutoff Switch

Having no hot water could be a result of the High-Temperature Cutoff Switch being tripped. You can reset this switch by opening the panel and pressing a button; you should hear a clicking sound. If the switch reset, the power should have been restored to the water heater. If you still don't have power, your high-temperature cutoff is probably defective and needs to be replaced.

Tip #3: Water Inside the Compartment

If you find any water inside the compartment it is very likely that your tank is leaking and will need to be replaced. When the water came into contact with the thermostat it may have caused it to short or malfunction.

Tip #4: Heating Elements

There's a good chance that the problem is your heating elements. Keep in mind, that water heaters generally have a life span of no more than 10 years, and depending on the age, it may make more sense for you to replace the water heater than to repair the heating elements.

However, should you choose to replace one or both of your heating elements, it is a simple and inexpensive task. But be very careful that your water heater is turned off at the circuit breaker, AND that there isn't any electricity coming to the unit - even after the circuit breaker has been turned off.

Check Your Water Heater for Leaks

It's a good idea to check if your water heater is leaking. Leaks often start with a slight amount of moisture before they become a serious problem.

If Your Water Heater Can't Keep Up

If you find that there isn't anything wrong with your water heater, but it just can't keep up with the household demand, then knowing how to avoid running out of hot water is critical. Although, you always have the option of purchasing a larger water heater, sometimes learning to live with the situation is the preferable decision. Here are 2 tips that will help you keep the hot water flowing.

Tip #1: Don't Push Your Limits

The average shower uses 2 gallons of water each minute. If your water heater tank has a 50-gallon capacity, you may think you can take a 25-minute hot shower. But the reality is, a 50-gallon tank will only deliver about 33 gallons of hot water. This is because as the cold water enters the tank, the hot water becomes diluted.

You can expect, that at any given time, you will be able to draw two-thirds of your tanks capacity in hot water, regardless of your tank's size. So the 25-minute shower that you had planned, will only deliver approximately 17 minutes of hot water, the remaining time may mean that you will have no hot water!

Tip #2: Be Aware of the Recovery Time

Once your water heater has been drained, it will need time to recover so that it can deliver hot water again. On average, a 50-gallon tank will take approximately 20 minutes to refill, and it could take at least another 20 minutes to heat the water.

The fastest way to have hot water again is to not use any hot water during the recovery process. By not drawing any hot water while the tank is recovering, you are allowing your water heater to fill and heat the water uninterrupted.

If you draw water during the recovery process, you will be adding cold water to your tank. This will only lengthen the amount of time it will take for your water heater to fully recover and be able to deliver hot water again. If drawn early, the water may only be warm, or you may only have 10 minutes of hot water before it turns icy cold again.