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Water Heater Repair: When to DIY and When Not to DIY

When your water heater starts to act up, you might be tempted to take matters into your own hands before calling a plumber. While there are certain steps you can take to safely troubleshoot the problem, there are some situations that are best handled by a trained professional.

In this blog post, we’ll provide you with some tips for troubleshooting one of the most common water heater issues we come across, as well as a list of water heater repairs we would not recommend attempting without any specialized training and experience under your belt.

Safety First: While this blog post does aim to give you tips for troubleshooting your water heater, we always encourage you to use caution. Water heaters can be dangerous if handled incorrectly. The natural gas in a gas water heater has the potential to explode, and electric water heaters are high voltage pieces of equipment. Both can also contain some scaldingly hot water.

The “Don’t DIY” List of Water Heater Problems

The situations on this list are best left to a professional. If you encounter any of these problems, contact a plumber right away to avoid any potentially dangerous situations that could affect you or others in your household.

Rumbling, Creaking, or Popping Sounds

This problem occurs due to sediment buildup. The sediment forms a layer on the surface of the water inside your water heater. As the water boils, the sediment layer boils too, and the air pockets inside of it pop.

In the beginning, you might only need to flush the sediment out of the tank, but that doesn’t always solve the problem. If the sounds continue even if the unit is flushed regularly, this is a sign that the unit is likely to crack or leak, in which case you’ll have to replace it. For your safety, DIY water heater replacement/installation is not recommended.

Leaking

Technically, there are a couple of things you should do yourself when this happens. These are not repairs--these steps will simply keep the problem from getting worse until your plumber arrives. Be sure to avoid the water, as it can be extremely hot!

  1. Turn off the water heater’s power supply. If you have a gas water heater, look for the on/off dial or switch. If you have an electric water heater, go straight to your circuit breaker box, find the breaker for your water heater, and switch it off.

  2. Close the main shut-off valve to prevent water flow.

After this, contact a plumber. The repair may just involve tightening a loose fitting or replacing the drain valve. However, if there’s a problem with the temperature and pressure valve, an excessive buildup of pressure in your water heater can make the valve release scalding water and steam.

Cloudy, Orange or Reddish Water

When you see murky water with a rusty tinge to it coming out of your faucet, you’ll probably think that there’s a problem with your pipes--but what if this happens even if you’ve recently gone through the process of repiping? Cloudy water with a metallic taste or odd smell can be clues that mineral deposits from your water heater are entering your plumbing. It can also indicate that the tank itself has become rusty.

Troubleshooting Your Own Water Heater

Common water heater issues often have to do with no hot water coming out or not enough hot water coming out. Here are tips on how to troubleshoot your water heater when that happens.

Keep in mind: This issue could be occurring because your household’s water usage has exceeded your tank’s capacity. Sometimes this happens if two showers are running at once or if you try to shower while also using your dishwasher and/or washing machine on a warm setting. If this particular issue is becoming more frequent, it’s probably time to consider upgrading to a water heater with a higher capacity. If this is the case, a plumber can help you determine an appropriately sized water heater to meet your household’s hot water needs.

What to Do If You Have a Gas Water Heater

There might be a lack of hot water because the pilot light has blown out.

  1. Check your water heater to see if the pilot light has gone out.

  2. If it has, simply reignite the pilot flame. After that, you should start getting hot water again.

  3. If the pilot light won’t light or stay lit, at that point it’s best to involve a professional plumber to avoid any gas-related hazards.

What to Do If You Have an Electric Water Heater

Sometimes there’s a lack of hot water simply because the main switch to the water heater has flicked off or a fuse has blown.

  1. See if there is actually any power going to the water heater.

  2. If there isn’t any power, check your circuit breaker box to see if there’s a tripped breaker or blown fuse.

  3. Once you’ve taken care of the tripped breaker or blown fuse, locate the upper thermostat and press the reset button (it’s usually red).

  4. In about 10-15 minutes, you should start to receive hot water. If that is not the case, then it’s time to contact a plumber for more advanced troubleshooting.

Water heater repair and troubleshooting can get complicated if you’re new to it. What’s more, it can be difficult to tell on your own if your water heater can be repaired or if it needs to be replaced.

Rather than going through the stress of not being sure if you’re buying the right parts or performing the repair correctly and safely, you may prefer to bring in a plumber to get their professional assessment of the situation. Remember: your personal safety is always more important than saving a few bucks.

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