Hot Water Heater Repair and Maintenance Tips: Troubleshoot Tank or Storage Unit Thermostats and Heating Elements
There are three types of hot water heaters: tankless (instant), solar, and the tank (or storage). This article is focused on basic tank-type repairs and maintenance.
The tank, or storage-type, is powered by either electricity or natural gas, just as a tankless water heater is. All repairs dealing with gas connections should be done by the local gas utility company or a qualified and licensed plumber.
Work done on natural gas connections by an untrained and unlicensed person is dangerous and most likely in violation of local regulations and building codes.
Typical Water Heater Problems
This appliance is fairly simple. Cold water enters the tank, the water gets heated, and the hot water is stored until the demand comes in from the bathroom tap or shower, or the kitchen sink or dishwasher.
Unless the home has a water softener system, either whole-home or dedicated, scale in the form of mineral deposits will accumulate in a “honeycomb” fashion and will eventually limit the volume of water that can be stored. This results in the heated water supply running out too soon.
How to Drain the Water Tank
Many repairs involve draining the tank. Follow the following steps:
- Turn off the power to the unit at the circuit breaker.
- Shut off the cold water supply to the heater.
- Allow sufficient time for the water to cool.
- Connect a hose to the drain located at the bottom of the appliance and route the end of the hose out of the home.
- Open the valve and let the unit drain completely.
- Open the water supply and allow the tank to flush until the water on the exit end of the hose runs clear for a few minutes and then turn it off.
When the Water Doesn’t Get Hot
Another problem in improper heating. A specialist should be called in for a natural gas burner as noted above.
For an electric model, the first thing to check is the circuit breaker. If it’s tripped, no power is getting to the heater. Just reset the breaker.
Many units have an upper and a lower thermostat and heating element. Try to reset the upper thermostat. If this doesn’t solve the problem, use an analog or digital multimeter to make sure power is getting to the upper heating element. If not, replace the thermostat after turning off all power to the appliance, shutting off the water supply, and draining the tank.
It’s also possible that the element itself is defective. These are easy to replace. If the problem is still present, repeat the above steps with the lower thermostat and heating element.
When the Heater Makes a Banging or Popping Noise
This is usually caused by mineral deposit scale build-up on the heating elements. The solution is to remove them and either clean them or replace them.