5 Signs Your Water Heater is Failing

We’ve all heard the horror stories about water heaters becoming pressurized rockets that explode through the roof of the house or about families leaving on vacation and coming home to find the water heater has ruptured and filled the home with water. These are gripping tales of woe that seize the heart of every homeowner for many reasons. One, it’s because, while rare, the stories are true. Two, it’s because water heater failures can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and sometimes cause irreversible damage.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent such catastrophes from happening. If you are regularly monitoring and maintaining your system, you can watch for trouble and hopefully prevent system failures.

signs of water heater failing

Something is definitely wrong with a hot water heater that fails to do its primary job. There are a number of things you can check, and some of them call for a simple fix while others require more extensive repairs. But first, ask yourself some questions. Are you not getting any hot water at all? Or is the water lukewarm instead of hot like it should be? Is the water from the tap taking forever to warm up? Barring any overuse issues, such as the hot water simply being all used up from the tank, the answers to these questions will help troubleshoot the problem.

Why this is bad: If you’re getting lukewarm water or the water is taking forever to warm up at the tap, this is likely to be a problem related to sediment buildup in the tank. On the other hand, if there is no hot water, or even warm water, your pilot light may be out. This would prevent your whole system from functioning and producing hot water for the house. 

water heater failing - hot water

If you can hear a popping sound coming from your water heater tank, this means you probably have a large amount of sediment at the bottom of your tank. This can happen naturally over time as calcium and magnesium collect in the tank from your hard water. As that sediment layer gets thicker, when the gas kicks on to start heating the water, it has to get through that sediment layer first. So, the popping, knocking noises are air bubbles escaping the sediment.

Why this is bad: In order to get through that sediment layer, the water heater must work much harder to heat the water. This can cause overheating as well as a lot of wear and tear on the tank itself. Those minerals can break down and deteriorate the inside of the tank.

What you can do: You need to flush out your tank immediately. For instructions on how to flush your water heater yourself, see below. Otherwise, a licensed plumber can perform this service for you, which is recommended as part of your annual water heater maintenance.

    Click here for instructions on how to flush a water heater

signs water heater failing

If you turn on the hot water anywhere in the house and it comes out a rusty color and/or tastes like rust, it could be that your anode rod has expired and your water heater is starting to rust. Your water heater tank is made from steel, which is mostly iron. All tanked water heaters have an anode rod, sometimes called a sacrificial anode rod, installed in the tank that is designed to deteriorate to save the interior of your tank.

Why this is bad: A rusty tank not only makes your hot water look and taste foul but also, it is susceptible to failure. If you’ve ever seen an old, rusted car, the same thing is happening to the inside of your tank. If the tank is rusting, it’s just a matter of time before it fails. And a failed hot water tank could mean leaks, ruptures, and floods.

What you can do: First, check the anode rod to see if it has completely deteriorated. Next, you may need to drain the tank and inspect the insides. If the damage is minimal, you could replace the anode rod and be sure to replace it regularly to prevent further damage to the inside of your tank. However, if the damage is substantial, you’ll need to replace your water heater before it fails.

   Click here to find out how to check or replace your anode rod yourself

signs water heater failing

The T&P valve is designed to open and release pressure inside the tank if the temperature or pressure gets too high. If your T&P valve is either always leaking or if you test it and no hot water comes out, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

Why this is bad: Think about it this way: if the T&P valve is designed to release pressure but doesn’t do its job, internal pressure in the water heater will continue to build and build until the water heater actually explodes. While very rare, water heaters have been known to rocket through the roofs of houses, leaving 50 gallons of boiling hot water and steam in their wakes. What a mess! Mineral or salt buildups, rust, corrosion, or mechanical equipment failure can cause T&P valves to malfunction. A failed or malfunctioning T&P valve can lead to quite a mess and in some extreme cases, can lead to catastrophic damage.

What you can do: Testing the T&P valve is relatively simple. Raise and lower the test lever several times, which should lift the brass stem that is attached to the valve. When you raise the test lever, hot water should rush from the drainpipe down the drain. If either very little or no water comes out, the T&P valve must be replaced immediately. Replacing the valve is something you can do yourself or you can hire a licensed plumber to replace it for you. But do make sure you get it fixed so the tank doesn’t overheat! If you decide to have a plumber perform the replacement, you should have him perform a thorough maintenance check as well so you can be sure everything else in the water heater is functioning properly. Particularly if rust or corrosion caused the valve to fail, it may be evidence of further corrosion inside the tank.

    Click here to learn more about how to check your T&P valve

signs water heater failing

A leaking tank is never a good sign! Whether rust, corrosion, or failing parts, small leaks lead to bigger ones!

Why this is bad: If your anode rod has expired or too much sediment has built up in your tank, rust and corrosion could be leading to leaks around seals or seams in your tank. If your valves themselves have failed or the seal around your valves has failed, this could also lead to leaks. As mentioned above, a malfunctioning T&P valve could also lead to leaks. Either way, leaks must be investigated and fixed to avoid bigger problems like total failure and flooding.

What you can do: First, if the leak is really bad, shut off the water to the tank at the water shut-off valve. Next, start draining the tank from the drain valve and call a plumber. If the leak is minor, perform a visual inspection to see if you can detect where the leak might be coming from. If you can find the origin, look at the steps above to determine which component might be the culprit. Otherwise, if there is pooling around the base of the water heater and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from, have a professional plumber come and diagnose the system. Particularly if the water around your tank is a rusty color, call a plumber immediately! Chances are good the inside of your tank has corroded and must be replaced.

signs water heater failing
Manufacturers recommend that you have your water heater inspected once per year. Be sure, in this yearly check, to examine the outside of your tank for leaks, test the T&P valve, inspect the anode rod, and check the water at the bottom of the tank for high levels of sediment.
There are many other components in your water heater; if you don’t feel comfortable checking everything yourself, have a licensed plumber come and perform the check for you. If you don’t have a plumber you trust and are in the central Utah area, give Any Hour Services a call and we’ll send out a water heater specialist from our plumbing department who can make sure your water heater is in good shape for years to come!

Author: Amber Smith-Johnson
Copyright © 2021 by Any Hour Services


Apr 26th 2022

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