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No Hot Water: What Can You Do?


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Nobody likes a cold shower, so naturally having no hot water can be a huge annoyance. There's a number of issues that can cause you to run out of hot water, many of which you may be able to fix yourself. This article will take you through the common causes of why you don't have hot water.

But before we begin, it's important to note that gas water heaters operate differently than electric water heaters. And although, a few of the issues may be the same, it's fair to assume that the source of the problem is very different. For this reason, we'll troubleshoot both the gas and electric water heaters separately.

Washing hands at a hand sink

No Hot Water: Gas AND Electric Water Heaters

In this section, we'll take a look at why you don't have hot water in EITHER a gas or electric water heater.

Many times the reason you don't have hot water is that your hot water heater can't keep up with the demand. In this case, there typically isn't anything technically wrong with your water heater - it just simply can't meet your household demand.

If this is your problem, there are two things you can do:

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.

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 below for additional troubleshooting. 

Gold fish in fish bowls

Water Heater is Too Small

If you find that half way through a shower you have no hot water, then it's possible that your hot water heater isn't large enough to handle the demand. This is true especially if you're running out of hot water frequently.

Hot water heaters are designed to accommodate both large and small households, but there isn't a one-size-fits-all. So it's critical that your water heater is meant to handle your household demand.

If your family has grown, then it's fair to assume that you'll need more hot water. Or maybe, the hot water heater was never large enough to begin with. Either way, there's very little as frustrating as when you turn on the faucet and you have no hot water!

If your hot water tank isn't large enough to meet your household needs, you may want to purchase a larger water heater. This article will help you determine the size that best meets your household hot water requirements.

Although, another (and less expensive) option is to add a point-of-use (POU) or utility water heater in a bathroom or kitchen. This will help reduce the demand on your primary water heater.

There are quite a few POU water heaters to choose between. We really like the Bosch Tronic 3000 and it's available in three different sizes, ranging from 2.5 to 7.0 gallons.

Bosch Electric Mini-Tank Water Heater Tronic 3000 T 2.5-Gallon (ES2.5) - Eliminate Time for Hot Water - Shelf, Wall or Floor Mounted

Bosch Tronic 3000

Mini Tank

Gas Water Heater in Garage

No Hot Water: Gas Water Heaters

If you own a gas fueled water heater that isn't delivering hot water, then there's a number of things that could be wrong. You'll need to do a little troubleshooting to pinpoint where the problem is originating.

But don't worry, it's not too hard.

If You Smell Gas

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

You might be surprised to learn that natural gas is actually both odorless and colorless. Because of this, a product called mercaptan is added so the gas will smell like sulfur or rotten eggs. Since the smell is unpleasant, you'll be more likely to notice a serious gas leak.

Use your best judgement whether or not you want to continue troubleshooting. 

You could try waiting 5 minutes, but if you still smell gas, or the gas smell is strong, you need to contact your gas company immediately. They'll send someone out to inspect the situation and verify that you're not in danger. Check out this resource regarding gas safety.

Gas water heater control valve

Check the Gas Supply

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. Here's how to check:

How to Check the Gas Supply:

  • Turn the gas control knob to PILOT
  • Remove the cover where the burner and pilot light is located at the bottom of the water heater
  • Check to see if there's a flame inside. If not, your pilot light has gone out

Gas burner

Pilot Light Has Gone Out

If you didn't see a flame when you checked your pilot. It could be that your pilot light has simply gone out and needs to be relit. 

However, not all pilot lights are the same these days. Newer water heaters typically use spark ignitors or glow plugs. Although, less common, some of the older or less expensive water heaters still use the old style pilot lights. Read more about pilot lights here.

We highly recommend checking your owners manual for instructions on how to light a pilot light for your particular water heater. In fact, many manufacturers have the instructions printed on the tank for your convenience.

But with that said, the video below uses a very common gas control valve, so you should at least get an idea of the process involved.

Watch the Video

How to Light a Pilot Light:

If your water heater uses a pilot light, check to see if the instructions are printed on the tank. If not, here's what to do:

  • 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.
Ball Valve with a Blue Handle

If your pilot light does not ignite or will not stay lit, there's a possibility that the gas inlet valve is closed. Follow your gas line until you find a small lever-type handle. 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. Read more about thermocouples here.

Hands holding a gas burner

Burner is Not Working Properly

If everything checks out with your pilot light, the next thing to troubleshoot is your burner. Since the burner is what actually heats the water within tank, it makes sense that if you don't have hot water this may be the cause.

Fortunately, troubleshooting the burner isn't as hard as it sounds.

How to Troubleshoot the Burner:

You'll begin the troubleshooting sequence when the burner cycles off.

  • Set the thermostat to 120°F
  • 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: One common problem is that your thermostat is not functioning properly. You should have it repaired by a professional.

Electric Current

No Hot Water: Electric Water Heaters

When there's no hot water coming from an electric fueled water heater it could be a variety of issues. With a little troubleshooting you should be able to identify the problem. 

Check if the breaker tripped

Did a Breaker Trip?

Water heaters are required to have a dedicated circuit within the home's electrical panel. The first thing you need to check is if the circuit tripped.

Tripped breakers can be a little tricky since they do not go into the "off" position. Instead, when they trip they sit in-between on and off. Look for a breaker that's not in line with the others.

If you find that the breaker has been tripped, you'll need to flip it "off" and then back to the "on" position. This will reset the breaker.

However, if after resetting the breaker, it trips again, contact a qualified electrician to determine the source of the problem. There are several issues that could be causing your water heater to continually trip the breaker and it's best to leave the troubleshooting to the professionals.

Although, one common reason could be a broken or shorted heating element. If this is the case, and you're comfortable working with electricity, you could fix it yourself. We'll cover this below.

You may find that your water heater is NOT on a dedicated circuit. This situation needs to be resolved by qualified electrician. Water heaters demand their own dedicated circuit because they draw too much power to share.

If you find that the circuit has not been tripped, it's also possible that there's a wall switch between the water heater and the electrical panel. If your house has been wired this way, it can be very annoying since someone could inadvertently turn off your water heater!

Resetting the high limit

High-Temperature Cutoff Switch

Another possible reason you don't have hot water is because the high-temperature cutoff switch was tripped.

The high-temperature cutoff switch is also called a high limit switch or simply a reset switch. It's a safety switch that's designed to shut down the power to your water heater should the water within the tank reach 180°F.

There four common reasons that will cause the high-temperature cutoff switch to trip: A faulty heating element; loose electrical connections; faulty thermostat; or a faulty high-temp cutoff switch.

Watch the Video

How to Reset the High-Temperature Cutoff Switch:

  • Turn "off" your water heater breaker at the electrical panel
  • Remove the upper panel cover
  • Carefully remove the insulation (if you notice water inside the compartment see below)
  • Press the button (often red, but may be black). You should hear a "click"
  • Replace the insulation
  • Replace the upper panel cover
  • Turn your water heater breaker "on" in the electrical panel

If the switch reset, it should begin heating water again. It may take up to an hour for your water heater to fully reheat.

If you still don't have power to your water heater, then your high-temperature cutoff switch is most likely defective and will need to be replaced.

Also, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your water heater for the next day or so. High-temperature cutoff switches trip for a reason, so just because you successfully reset it doesn't mean that it won't trip again. If this is the case, you need to find out why it keeps tripping. There's a good chance it's one of the other reasons listed above

Using a sponge to clean floor of standing water

Water Inside Compartment

If noticed any water inside the compartment when resetting the high-temperature cutoff switch, your water heater is almost certainly leaking. The area behind the panel should always be dry.

Water inside either the upper compartment or lower compartment is a good indication that your tank is leaking. If this is the case, you'll need to replace your water heater.

Although, this is not good news, the fact that you had no hot water may have just saved you from a major mess. When water heater tanks begin leaking, we often don't notice a problem until it's too late. Gallons of water can cover your floor while your water heater continues to fill.

The inconvenience of running out of hot water was most likely caused when water came in contact with the thermostat. This caused a short or malfunction. Unfortunately, when a water heater tank begins leaking, there isn't a way to repair the leak.

Corroded water heater heating elements

Heating Elements

Possibly the most common reason for running out of hot water with an electric water heater is that there is an issue with the heating elements. Electric water heaters use immersion heating elements to heat the water. Most water heaters have two: A top one and a bottom one.

Heating elements can break or develop an electrical short (which could be one reason the circuit breaker tripped). Whatever the cause, if your heating elements are not properly working, it will impact the amount and temperature of hot water your water heater can deliver.

Watch the Video

How to Test Heating Elements:

You'll need a flat head screw driver and a multimeter.

  • Turn the water heater "off" at the electrical panel
  • Set the multimeter to continuity
  • Remove the panel cover
  • Carefully remove the insulation
  • Find the "head" of the heating element and place a probe on each screw
  • If your multimeter reads "1" you need to replace the element

If your problem is the heating element, you have a couple of choices.

First, you should consider the age and condition of your water heater. Water heaters generally have a service life of no more than 10 years. Depending on the age, it may make more sense to purchase a new water heater than to replace the heating elements.

The other option is to replace one or both of your heating elements. It's a simple and inexpensive task that many homeowners choose to do themselves.

Or, you can contact a professional plumber to replace them for you. A plumber can assess your water heater and help you decide if it's more cost effect to buy a new one or replace the heating elements. 

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.

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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