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 should be able to fix yourself.
It's 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'll look at troubleshooting each individually.
No Hot Water: What Are the Causes?
No Hot Water: Gas AND Electric Water Heaters
These solutions for a lack of hot water are universal to both gas and electric water heaters:
Wait for Your Water Heater to Re-Heat
Often times you'll run out of hot water if you have extra people over and they're all taking showers back-to-back. This can drain the water heater of the hot water it has already has heated, and leave you with cold water until the water reheats.
Before doing anything, try waiting to see if your hot water returns. If after waiting a few hours and you still don’t have hot water, then you may have a more serious problem.
Is the Tank Big Enough?
If you find that half way through 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 your household needs.
You can determine the size that best meets your needs, and then decide how you want to proceed. If you 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.
No Hot Water: Gas Water Heaters
If your gas water heater isn't delivering hot water, then check these possible solutions:
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 the burner and pilot light is located at the bottom of the water heater.
- Check to see if there is a flame inside. If not, your pilot light has gone out.
Pilot Light Has Gone Out
If you didnt see a flame, it may simply mean that your pilot light has gone out. If that's the case, you'll 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. If not, here's how to 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, there's 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.
Check if the Burner is Working Properly
This isn't as hard as it sounds, but what you 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°
- 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.
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.
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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.
No Hot Water: Electric Water Heaters
If you own an electric water heater you should check these possible solutions to solve your no hot water problem:
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.
Tripped breakers can be a little tricky to find since they do not go into the "off" position, but are inbetween off and on. Look for a breaker that is not "in line" with the others.
If you find that a breaker has been tripped, simply flip it 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, contact a qualified electrician to resolve the situation.
High-Temperature Cutoff Switch
If you have no hot water, it could because the high-temperature cutoff switch tripped. This switch can be reset 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 switch is most likely defective and will need to be replaced.
Water Inside Compartment
When you remove the panels on your water heater, the area inside should be dry. If you find any water inside these compartments it's highly likely that your tank is leaking. If this is the case, you'll need to replace your water heater.
When the water came into contact with the thermostat it may have caused it to short or malfunction, which is why you don't have hot water. If your tank is leaking there isn't a way to repair it and the leak will only get worse.
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. Depending on the age, it may make more sense for you to replace the water heater than to replace the heating elements.
However, should you choose 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, and they can also assess your water heater to determine if it would be more cost effective for you to purchase a new water heater.
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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 options that can help you keep the hot water flowing without purchasing a new heater.
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. 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!
Be Aware of Recovery Time
Once your water heater has been drained, it'll need time to recover so 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'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 10-minutes of hot water before it turns cold again.
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