Troubleshooting Common Issues

A Lowe's professional contractor tightening the connections on a water heater.

Perhaps the most common problem connected with a water heater is water that isn’t as hot as you want it to be. This is usually caused by a faulty thermostat or a defective heating element. Check the following when your water isn’t hot enough.

Electric Water Heater

  • Make sure the power is connected and reset the thermostat.
  • Flush the heater to remove sediment from the tank.

Other Common Problems and Possible Solutions

  • Hissing or Sizzling Noises: Sediment may have collected in the tank. Drain the tank until the water clears. Remove and soak the elements in a pan filled with white vinegar for up to an hour and scrape off the collected scale.
  • Leaking Pressure Relief Valve: Replace the valve.
  • Leaking Water Supply Pipes: Tighten the fittings. If that doesn’t work, shut off the water and replace the fittings

When Replacement Is Necessary

If you’re replacing a water heater, you can replace it with the same type of unit. However, you might also consider upgrading to a larger tank or a tankless heater.

When looking for a water heater, consider these features:

  • Gallon Capacity: 40-gallon and 50-gallon heaters are the most common.
  • Recovery Rate: The number of gallons the heater will heat in an hour.
  • Dimensions: You may need a certain width and height based on where you’ll locate the unit in your home.
  • Energy Efficiency Ratings: A sticker on the side should list the estimated annual cost of operating the unit. High-efficiency models can reduce costs and save energy.

Before making repairs or purchasing a new water heater, check the nameplate on the side of your current unit. Here you’ll find helpful information, including the tank capacity, insulation R-value, installation guidelines, working pressure, model and serial number. If you have an electric water heater, the nameplate will also list the wattage capacity and voltage of the heating elements.

This information will serve as the starting point in your search for replacement parts or a new water heater. For help choosing a water heater, 

  • How will you dispose of your old water heater? Check local codes governing disposal of such appliances.
  • Will you be able to physically handle the unit? Water heaters are bulky and heavy. You’ll need assistance.
  • Do you have the tools necessary to do the job? Water heater installation requires adjustable wrenches, screwdrivers, a hack saw and pliers. You may also need a propane torch if your installation uses copper pipe.
  • Do you have time to do the job? Once you start replacing a water heater, you have to finish.
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