Trying to take a shower or wash dishes only to find out that you don’t have any hot water can be frustrating. The good news is that some water heater issues are fairly easy to troubleshoot and potentially fix on your own. With this in mind, here is an overview of the issues that can cause a water heater to stop working and how to know when it is time to contact a plumber.

Pilot Light Issues

Most traditional gas water heaters use a standing pilot light for ignition, this type of pilot light can easily go out for a variety of reasons. If the pilot light does go out, then your water heater won’t work until you relight it. As a result, this is always the first thing that you should check if your water heater isn’t working since this is usually something you can easily solve on your own.

Before attempting to relight the pilot, you will want to turn the pilot control knob to the “Off” position and let the water heater sit for five minutes. This makes sure that there is no residual gas in the unit, which can prevent you from getting the pilot light to ignite.

If you can’t get the pilot to ignite or it doesn’t stay lit, it usually means that there is an issue with either the thermocouple or the pilot gas tube. The pilot gas tube is what supplies gas to keep the pilot lit. The tube can often become clogged with dust and debris, which will prevent gas from flowing to the pilot. If you don’t smell gas when trying to light the pilot, you can try to carefully clean out the gas tube with a needle.

The thermocouple is a thin metal probe that detects whether the pilot is lit. The probe sits directly in the pilot light and works by detecting the heat from the flame. If the thermocouple doesn’t detect the flame for any reason, it will automatically close a valve so that no more gas flows to the pilot. This means that the pilot flame will instantly go out as soon as you release the pilot control knob.

Sometimes the thermocouple can become bent away from the flame, which will prevent it from detecting that the pilot is lit. Thermocouples also often become coated in dirt and grime, and this can also make it so that it doesn’t detect heat from the flame. Both of these issues are something that you may be able to fix on your own by gently bending the thermocouple to where it touches the flame or lightly scrubbing away the dirt with fine-grit sandpaper.

If this doesn’t work, then it may mean that the thermocouple is bad and will need to be replaced. You can have a plumber test the thermocouple using a multimeter to see if it is working correctly. There is also a chance that the pilot control is broken, which is also something that a plumber can test for and replace if needed.

Interrupted Gas Supply

If you can’t get the pilot to relight, you will also want to make sure that gas is flowing to the unit. If the pilot gas tube isn’t clogged and you still don’t smell gas when pressing in the pilot control knob, you should first make sure that the gas shut-off valve is fully open. You will also want to make sure that the flex gas line running to the water heater isn’t kinked as this can also block the gas flow. You can also check any other gas appliances you have to see if they still have gas flowing to them. If not, then you will need to contact your gas company to see what the issue is.

Dirty Gas Burner

If you don’t have your water heater maintained regularly, the gas burner ports can become clogged with grime. This will prevent as much gas from flowing and also make it so that the gas doesn’t combust fully. Both issues will lead to the unit producing far less heat and could make it so that the unit runs constantly without your water ever getting fully hot. This issue is simple to fix by having a plumber inspect the gas burner and clean the ports.

Tripped Circuit Breaker

If you have an electric water heater that stops working, the first thing you should do is make sure that the circuit breaker it is on isn’t tripped. You can also try to reset the circuit breaker to see if your water heater will now turn on. If your water heater continually trips the circuit breaker, it indicates that there is some electrical issue in the unit that you will need to have repaired. This can easily happen if there are any loose connections or wiring issues that cause a short that overloads the circuit.

Failed Heating Element

An electric water heater has two heating elements located inside its tank. If one of the heating elements wears out or fails, it can lead to the unit taking forever to heat or potentially never heating the water to the right temperature. Having both heating elements fail is quite rare, but it can happen. That being said, most commonly it is the lower heating element that fails, and this typically happens due to sediment buildup from not having the tank flushed regularly.

Replacing the heating element is a fairly easy task that usually won’t take a plumber all that long to do. However, you will first need to shut the unit off and let it sit so that the water in the tank cools enough that it can safely be drained. Once the unit is drained, a plumber can then test the heating elements and replace one or both if necessary. That being said, replacing a broken heating element generally only makes sense if the unit still has at least a few years of life left. If your water heater is 10 or more years old, you are probably better off replacing the entire unit instead.

Malfunctioning Temperature Control

The temperature control on both gas and electric water heaters can fail due to age or some other issue. This has the potential to cause the unit to heat the water to a much higher temperature than what you have it set to. More commonly a failed or malfunctioning temperature control will cause the unit to not heat enough, which can mean that the water is much colder than it should be or that the unit takes forever to reheat.

This is another situation where you will need to have a plumber inspect your water heater to determine if the temperature control is bad or there is some other issue preventing your water heater from working properly. If the temperature control is bad, it is also something that can easily be replaced.

Tucson’s Water Heater and Plumbing Experts

At Cal’s Plumbing, we can inspect your water heater to determine why it isn’t working and how to fix the problem. We service both tankless and traditional water heaters, and we can also help with preventative maintenance and water heater replacement. Our team also installs water treatment systems, including water softeners, water filters, and water purifiers. We can also assist with drain cleaning and a full range of plumbing installation and repair services for both residential and commercial buildings. Give us a call today if you need to have your water heater inspected or want to learn more about our services.

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