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No Hot Water: 8 Common Problems with Fixes


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Discovering you have no hot water is never fun. It can definitely get your day off to a bad start, especially if you were planning on taking a hot shower! 

In this article, we'll cover the reasons why your water isn't getting hot and point you in the direction on how to fix the problem. There's a number of reasons you can run out of hot water, many of which you may be able to fix yourself.

What to Do When There's No Hot Water

Here are a few of the most common reasons you have no hot water in your home:

Gas burner

Pilot Light Has Gone Out

Gas Water Heaters

Gas water heaters use a pilot light to ignite the burner and heat the water within the tank. When the pilot light goes out, the burner will not ignite and the water will no longer be heated.

What to Do

Check to see if the pilot light is lit. If you don't see a flame, then the pilot will need to be relit.

This article will show you how to check and relight a pilot light.

If the pilot light will not ignite or stay lit you'll need to do a little further troubleshooting. There's a variety of things that could cause your pilot light to go out

Ball Valve with a Blue Handle

No Gas

Gas Water Heaters

If your pilot light won't light, there could be a problem with the gas supply. 

What to Do

Locate the gas control valve on the water heater and check to make sure that its set to the ON position, and not to PILOT or OFF setting.  

If the gas control valve is set to ON, then the problem could be the shut off valve on the gas line.

The gas control valve will have a gas line connected that supplies the water heater with gas. Follow the gas line until you find a ball valve. The valve will allow you to shut off the gas supply to the water heater.

The ball valve handle should be inline with the gas pipe. If it's not, the valve is either partially or fully closed.

Fully open the gas valve and relight the pilot light.

Hands holding a gas burner

Faulty Thermocouple

Gas Water Heater

If you were able to light the pilot, but it won't stay lit, then the problem is likely the thermocouple.

If the thermocouple is faulty, it won't be able to sense the pilot flame. As a safety precaution, the flow of gas will be shut down. This will extinguish the pilot light and prevent it from staying lit.

What to Do

In order to work properly, the tip of the thermocouple needs to be within the pilot light's flame. If it's not within the flame, you can try to adjust the position.

It's also possible that the thermocouple is faulty and needs to be replaced.

Thermocouple's are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. However, if you are uncomfortable doing this type of DIY project, you can always call a professional.

This article will show you how to troubleshoot and replace the thermocouple.

Gas water heater control valve

Thermostat / Gas Control Valve 

Gas Water Heaters

Although less common, it's always possible that the gas control valve or thermostat is faulty.

If your pilot light is lit, but the burner doesn't ignite, then the problem could be with the thermostat.

However, if you're having troubles with the pilot light, (and you've exhausted the other potential issues) there's a chance that the gas control valve is faulty.

What to Do

To check if the burner is igniting, draw hot water from your water heater. The burner should ignite when a few gallons of hot water has been drawn from the tank. A good time to check if the burner is heating the water is after taking a shower. 

If the burner does not ignite, the problem could be with the thermostat. Unfortunately, the thermostat can not be replaced on gas water heaters since it is part of the gas control valve. You'll need to replace the entire gas control valve.

This article will show you how to troubleshoot and replace a gas control valve.

Gas control valves are not cheap, so you may want to consider purchasing a new water heater if yours is reaching old age. We recommend having a professional plumber verify the problem and replace the control valve.

Check if the breaker tripped

Tripped Breaker

Electric Water Heater

If you have no hot water at all or your water is lukewarm, the best place to start troubleshooting an electric water heater is at the home's electrical panel.

What to Do

Check your electrical panel to see if the water heater breaker was tripped. Electric water heaters require a dedicated circuit breaker, so you won't notice other electric appliances not working if your water heater was tripped.

When checking your electrical panel, keep in mind that a tripped breaker will sit in-between the on and off position. So, you'll need to look closely at the breakers.

If the circuit breaker was tripped, flip it off and then back on. This will reset the breaker.

If the breaker trips again, the problem could be the high limit switch and/or the heating elements.

If you are unable to find the source of the problem, contact a qualified plumber

Resetting the high limit

High Limit Switch

Electric Water Heater

As a safety precaution, if the water within the tank exceeds 180°F, a high limit switch will shut down the power to the water heater.

There are four common reasons a high limit switch will trip:

  1. Faulty heating element
  2. Loose electrical connections
  3. Faulty thermostat
  4. Faulty high limit switch

What to Do

If the high limit switch tripped, it can be reset on the upper thermostat which is located behind an access panel.

It's possible that whatever caused the high limit switch to trip was an isolated incident. However, if it trips again after resetting it, you'll want to find the cause. 

You may want to contact a professional plumber to troubleshoot the issue and determine if it would be cost effective to repair your water heater.

Water heaters typically have a service life of about 10-years. Depending on the age and condition, it may make more sense to purchase a new water heater.

Corroded water heater heating elements

Faulty Heating Element

Electric Water Heater

It's not uncommon for heating elements to go bad.

They can break or develop an electrical short which can cause the high limit switch to trip. In some cases, they'll even trip the circuit breaker in your electrical panel! 

Sometimes they won't trip the electrical at all and just stop working or become less effective.

If you have no hot water, lukewarm water, or slow recovery times, there's a good chance that your water heater's heating elements are to blame.

What to Do

The heating elements are located behind the access cover on the water heater's tank. The head of the element can be seen within the thermostat, and the element protrudes into the tank.

Heating elements can be tested using a multimeter. This article will cover how to troubleshoot and replace heating elements.

The majority of water heaters use two heating elements, so if one goes bad, you'll need to decide if you want to replace both at the same time.

Although replacing both is not necessary, it's a simple and inexpensive task and can give your water heater a boost in performance. Especially since over time, heating elements tend to be less effective and replacing them both can give your water heater a tune-up and boost of performance.

Although, you should consider the age and condition of your water heater before investing time and money. Sometimes the best move is to purchase a new water heater rather than replacing the heating elements.

Gold fish in fish bowls

Water Heater is Too Small

Gas and Electric Water Heaters

If you find you're frequently running out of hot water, it could be that your water heater is too small for your household.

Hot water heaters are designed to accommodate both large and small households, but there isn't a one-size-fits-all. Which is why it's critical that your water heater is sized correctly to meet your household hot water demand.

What to Do

If your water heater is too small, then you may want to consider purchasing a larger water heater, otherwise you'll continue to run out of hot water.

This article will help you select the correct sized water heater to meet your household hot water needs. 

However, there's another, and less expensive option. If your current water heater is still in good condition, you may want to consider adding a point-of-use water heater.

A point-of-use water heater can easily be added to a bathroom or kitchen. It'll help lower the demand on your primary water heater, by increasing the amount of available hot water. 

These small water heaters come in a variety of different tank sizes, and they're even available in tankless models.

One of our favorite point-of-use water heaters is the Bosch Tronic 3000.  

Faucet with a drop of water

Before Troubleshooting

Just because you don't have hot water doesn't mean your water heater isn't working.

In many cases your water heater simply can't keep up with the demand.

If this is the case, there typically isn't anything technically wrong with your water heater - it just simply can't meet your household demand.

Before jumping in and troubleshooting, replacing parts, or calling a plumber we recommend giving your water heater a little time to recover.

Pocket watch

Wait for Your Water Heater to Re-Heat

Often times you'll run out of hot water when you have extra people over and they're all taking showers back-to-back. This can drain the water heater tank of the hot water it already has heated, and leave you with cold water until it can recover.

What to Do

Before doing anything, give your water heater a few hours.

If after waiting you still don't have hot water, then the problem may be more serious and you should check out the sections above for additional troubleshooting. 

It's also possible that your water heater is too small for your household demand.

Waiting for hot water in the shower

When Your Water Heater Can't Keep Up

It's not uncommon to find that there isn't anything wrong with your water heater, other than it simply can't keep up with the household demand.

If this is the situation you find yourself in, you may choose to purchase a larger water heater, or you may decide to purchase a small point-of-use water heater for a bathroom or kitchen.

Here are a few tips to stretch your existing hot water if you don't want to shell out any cash for a new water heater:

However, there are a few things you can try if you don't want to shell out the cash for a new water heater just yet.

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 is diluted and cooled.

You can expect, that at any given time, you'll be able to draw two-thirds of your tank's capacity of hot water, regardless of the tank size.

In other words, the 25-minute shower you planned, will only deliver approximately 17-minutes of hot water, the remaining time will be a bit disappointing!

Be Aware of Recovery Time

Once you've used all the hot water in your tank, your heater will need time to recover before it can deliver hot water again.

On average, a 50-gallon tank takes 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 hot water while the tank is recovering, you're allowing your heater to fill and heat the water uninterrupted.

If you draw water during the recovery process, you'll be adding cold water to your tank. This will only lengthen the amount of time before your water heater is fully recovered, and thus be able to deliver hot water again.

If drawn early, the water may only be warm, or you may only have a few minutes of hot water before it turns cold again.

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