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How to Turn On a Water Heater (Electric and Gas)


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Stepping into your shower, only to find out that your household doesn't have hot water is never a fun experience. If your water heater has shut down, for whatever reason, you'll need to begin troubleshooting the problem. Knowing how to turn on a water heater is typically your first step.

This article will take you step-by-step on how to turn on an electric and gas water heater, so you can get your hot water flowing again.

30amp Water Heater Breaker

How to Turn On an Electric Water Heater

Although, in actuality, turning on an electric water heater is as easy as flipping the breaker in your electrical panel, there are a few steps you need to take in order to protect your heating elements.

Electric water heaters use heating elements to heat the water within the tank. If the heating elements are not completely submerged, and you turn your water heater on, the heating element will dry fire and need to be replaced.

If you already have a full tank of water, you can jump to step 5 and simply flip the breaker on and wait for your water to heat.

However, if your tank is empty, here's how to safely turn on your electric water heater:

  1. Ensure the drain valve is closed
  2. Open a hot water tap near your water heater
  3. Open the incoming water valve to your water heater, and allow the water to fill the tank
  4. Once you see a steady stream of water coming from the open hot water tap, your tank is full. You can close the tap
  5. Flip the breaker to the water heater in your electrical panel to the ON position 
  6. The water heater is now heating the water. Keep in mind that it'll take several hours for the tank to reach temperature
Gas water heater burner

How to Turn On a Gas Water Heater

In order to turn on your gas water heater you'll need to relight the pilot light. How you do this will depend upon the type of gas control valve your water heater has.

Newer Water Heaters

Most newer water heaters use a modern gas control valve that allows you to simply push a button in order to light the pilot.

There are several types of gas control valves on the market, and each works a little differently. Check your tank to see if there's a sticker on the side that explains how to turn on your specific model of water heater.

NEVER attempt to light the pilot light if you smell gas.  

Contact a professional plumber as soon as possible to troubleshoot the situation.

One of the more common gas control valves is the one made by Honeywell. Here's how to light a Honeywell Gas Control Valve:

  1. The gas control valve will need to be in the OFF position for 10-minutes before it will light. This is a safety feature to ensure all the gas fumes have left the chamber
  2. Turn the gas control dial on the gas control valve to the PILOT setting
  3. Press in the gas control dial. This allows gas to flow to the pilot
  4. Press the small square button under the gas control dial repeatedly for up to 90 seconds. This will deliver a spark to the pilot
  5. Watch the status light, located to the right of the dial. Once the status light begins to blink, the pilot has been successfully lit 
  6. Turn the dial to your desired temperature setting 
  7. If the pilot does not light, wait 10-minutes and then try again

Watch the Video

Older Water Heaters

Older water heaters will actually require you to physically take a match inside the burner chamber in order to light the pilot. Don't worry it's not as scary as it sounds.

Here's how to light a pilot light on an older gas water heater:

  1. Turn the gas control knob to the OFF position
  2. Wait 5 to 10 minutes for the gas to clear the chamber
  3. Remove the access cover to the burning chamber
  4. Use a flashlight to locate the pilot light tube within the burning chamber
  5. Turn the gas control knob to the PILOT position
  6. Hold a lit match to the pilot light tube and press and hold the reset button down on the gas control valve for about 60-seconds
  7. You should see the pilot light ignite
  8. Turn the gas control knob to the ON position
  9. Replace the access covers and set the temperature on the dial

Watch the Video

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