Introduction to Water Heater Troubleshooting

Water heater repair doesn’t always require professional help. Understanding the common water heater problems and how to troubleshoot them can help you save time and money. This DIY guide will walk you through the steps of inspecting both gas water heaters and electric water heaters.

Running Out of Hot Water

One of the most common water heater problems homeowners face is running out of hot water too quickly. This issue can often be attributed to a poorly adjusted thermostat or a malfunctioning heating element.

Check the Thermostat

For both electric and gas water heaters, first, check the water heater thermostat. It should ideally be set around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s set too low, you’ll run out of hot water faster than you’d like. Adjust the temperature up a bit and monitor to see if that solves the problem.

Inspect the Heating Elements

If adjusting the temperature doesn’t help, the problem might lie with the heating elements. Electric water heater tanks have two heating elements, an upper and a lower one. If either of these fails, it could result in an insufficient hot water supply.

Water Heater Produces Cold Water

If your water heater produces cold water, the high temperature limit, also known as the thermostat reset button in electric heaters, might have tripped. This can be caused by a faulty thermostat or a shorted heating element.

For electric heaters, you can reset the high temperature limit by opening the panel on the water tank, pushing the reset button, and then checking to see if the heater produces hot water. If the water remains cold, one or both of the heating elements may need to be replaced.

For gas heaters, check if the pilot light has gone out – this is often the cause of cold water. If it’s out, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to relight it. If it doesn’t stay lit, you might need a professional’s help as the issue might be more complex.

Inadequate Hot Water Pressure

Another common hot water heater problem is inadequate water pressure. This can be caused by sediment build-up in the water heater tank, which restricts the flow of water.

Flush the Tank

A good solution to this problem is to drain the water heater tank. You can do this by attaching a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the water tank and allowing the water to flow out until it runs clear.

Circuit Breaker Tripping

For electric water heaters, a frequent issue is the circuit breaker tripping. This can often be attributed to a faulty heating element.

If your circuit breaker keeps tripping, try to reset it. If it continues to trip, you’ll likely need to replace the heating element. While it’s possible to do this yourself, if you’re uncomfortable working with electrical components, it’s better to call a professional.

Inconsistent Water Temperature

If your water temperature is inconsistent, the issue could be with the thermostat. Try to adjust the temperature to a higher setting and see if it remains consistent. If it doesn’t, you might need to replace the thermostat.

Air in Water Lines

Air trapped in the water lines is another issue that might trouble you. This is often manifested as sputtering from the faucet when it’s turned on, or a loud, banging noise within the water pipes. This problem can lead to inconsistent water flow and temperature fluctuations.

The root of this problem can be traced back to a number of causes, including a recent water heater installation, repairs, or a water main break in the neighborhood. When air gets into the water lines, it can become trapped and disrupt the normal water flow.

Addressing this problem involves bleeding your water lines. Begin by turning off the water at the main, then open all faucets, starting with the highest point in your house and working your way down to the lowest point. Once water flows smoothly without any air sputtering out, close the faucets in the reverse order, starting from the lowest point. Finally, turn the water main back on. This should help to expel the trapped air, restoring normal water flow and temperature stability. However, if the problem persists, it might be a sign of a more serious issue that requires professional attention.


These are some common issues you might encounter with your water heater and steps to troubleshoot them. Whether it’s running out of hot water, dealing with cold water, or dealing with inconsistent water temperature, these problems can often be fixed with a bit of DIY water heater troubleshooting.

However, not all issues are simple to resolve, and some might require professional help. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional to ensure safe and effective water heater repair. Remember, water heaters are complex appliances, and it’s crucial to maintain safety