No Hot Water? Troubleshooting Your Water Heater!

Updated June 28, 2019

When you suddenly find you have no hot water you also find that your life becomes a lot more inconvenient. Not being able to have a hot shower or bath is one of the major issues caused by the hot water not working. For most people who like to feel refreshed before heading off to work or relax when they come home it is infuriating!

The hot water going AWOL is usually a problem with your water heater, whether it’s an electric or gas water heater you have. Fortunately, if you have no hot water there are some checks you can perform to find the issue without having to call out a contractor and that’s what this article is going to show you.

The benefit of troubleshooting the problem yourself is to find out whether there are any systemic issues with your hot water system, if any replacement parts need purchasing or whether the water heater as a whole will need replacing.

With that being said, it’s most likely that a contractor will need to be called to have a look at the problem as it may require a qualified professional to perform troubleshooting and water heater repairs up to a good standard. This is probably the quickest and most convenient way for you to get your hot water back up and running even though it will understandably come at some cost.

Need help with a repair or install? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.

Simple Checks for Gas and Electric Water Heaters

There are two simple things to consider if you have no hot water and this can apply to both electric and gas water heaters.

Tank Refill Rate:

Your water heater has a reservoir of water to heat up so that it’s ready to be used on-demand. If somebody in the household is hogging all of the hot water by taking extra-long showers, or maybe many people are having showers one after the other, the reservoir of on-demand hot water is being used before you can get your share.

In this situation, all you need to do is give your water heater some time to heat up some more water for you to use. It may take an hour or so depending on the make and model of your water heater.

You may also want to have a word with the members of the household and get them to take less time in the shower or to not fill the bath up so much!

Tank Size:

Water heaters come in various sizes and they are usually designed to meet the requirements of a house depending on its size. Of course, you may have a larger family than those who installed the current water heater and have found that the tank does not suit the lifestyle of your household.

The hot water reserve is just being used too quickly and can’t meet the demands of your household, causing there to be no hot water when you need it.

Look up the make and model of your water heater, find out whether it’s an electric water heater or a gas water heater. Try and find the manual or if there are any details about the model written on the information panel to find it’s water capacity.

Is your water heater tankless? If so then the tank capacity would not be an issue in your case as it will be connected to the main water supply and heating it on demand. If not and you think your tank capacity is too low for your needs, you may need to consider upgrading your water heater.

There also the option of having a utility hot water heater installed right into your bathroom or another room and is only used by the hot water faucets or shower in there. This allows your main hot water to be reserved for everything else.

Water Leaking:

There could be a water leak anywhere in your hot water piping system. An indicator of this is the water pressure of your water heater keeps dropping quickly which will cause your heater to be unable to work at full capacity resulting in you getting no hot water.

A water leak could also be caused by extremely high pressures, causing water to spill form the connections int he piping, or to actually burst the pipes if your pipes are quite old or damaged.

The only way you can really tell if there is a water leak somewhere in your piping is to pay close attention to the walls, floors, and ceilings. Are there any damp patches?

If you can identify a water leak, you can potentially fix it yourself if you know what you are doing. You may only need to tighten up a connection point or replace a section of piping. It’s still always best to have a professional do an inspection, it can save you time just in case the problem is worse than you think.

Need help with a repair or install? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.

Troubleshooting Electric Water Heaters

Electric water heaters have less “moving parts” than gas heaters making them somewhat more reliable, even if they are less efficient and more costly to run and replace. Fortunately, there are some components you can check on.

Leaking Tank:

If you have an electric storage heater there is the possibility of the tank leaking and disrupting the electrical components. If you notice water dripping on the outer casing or even streaks left by leaking water this could very well be your problem.

Do not be tempted to remove the casing to have a closer look as this could be extremely hazardous. Instead, give a contractor a call and explain that you 

Troubleshooting Electric Water Heaters (2)

have no hot water, give them the make and model of your water heater and what you suspect the problem will be.

Faulty Heating Element:

There’s every possibility that one or more of the heating elements in your water heater has kicked the bucket or was D.O.A and that’s why your hot water is not working. If your electric water heater is pretty old, remember that they have a lifespan of about 10 years. If it’s not that old, review your warranty as you may be able to get a replacement form the manufacturer.

However, heating elements are not that expensive to buy and can be replaced by yourself although it is quite dangerous to do so. If you decide to do this, ensure that your water heater is switched off at the breaker switch. It is safer and wiser to seek out a professional.

Tripped Breaker:

After mentioning the breaker the thought occurred that you should check your breaker first. Especially if it seems that your water heater is not doing anything and has no power going to it. It could be the simple case that the breaker has been tripped and is in the “off” position.

Just flip the switch back so that it aligns with the others.

Tripped High-Temperature Cut-Off Switch:

Electric water heaters have a built-in safety cut-off to prevent the water temperatures from getting higher than is appropriate. The switch could have been tripped causing the heater to no longer work.

The cut off switch is normally accessible through the upper thermostat or the internal electrical terminals. If you know where to look you may be able to reset the switch but you may be exposing yourself to live wires. Only do this if you know what you are doing and the electrical connection to the heater is cut off from the breaker.

Faulty Thermostats:

The upper thermostat found in all electric water heaters is a device which controls both the upper and lower heating elements. If there is a fault with this thermostat then the heating elements could have no input resulting in your having no hot water at all or for it to be intermittent.

The lower thermostat on the other hand only controls the lower heating elements which are used to modulate the temperature of the heated water. If they have a fault then your hot water may not be getting hot enough.

Either way, the thermostats will need to be checked by a professional and if they are faulty, they may need to be replaced.

Need help with a repair or install? Get a free estimate online from top local home service pros in your area.

Troubleshooting Gas Water Heaters

Even though gas water heaters have more individual elements that make up their inner workings when compared to electric water heaters making them a little more difficult to repair, they are deemed more energy efficient and cheaper to run.

Check the following to see if you can get to the bottom of why you have no hot water:

Gas Supply:

The most obvious and initial check you probably have already made is your gas meter. Have you been paying your bills? Is there a fault with your utility company? Because without gas, your gas water heater won’t have any fuel and there’s one reason why your hot water is not working.

Your gas meter might be A-ok but the gas supply may not be reaching your water heater. To check:

See if there is a lit flame inside your heater. Some will allow you to see this without removing the cover while others require you to remove the cover first.

Ensure that you have set the gas control to “pilot” before checking.

If you do not see a flame then there is potentially some interruption in the gas supply to your water heater and you will need a professional to come out and take a close inspection.

Testing the Burner:

The burner is the facility within the combustion chamber of a gas water heater which ignites the gas supply to create heat. A non-functioning burner would lead to you either getting no hot water or water that is not hot enough.

The burner is also controlled by the thermostat and so an issue with the burner does not necessarily mean the burner itself is faulty as it could be an issue with the thermostat. To test if the burner is functioning correctly:

  1. Make sure the burner is off.
  2. Set the thermostat to 120 degrees.
  3. Turn on a hot water faucet allowing it to run.
  4. See if the burner ignites.
  5. If no ignition, increase thermostat temperature by 10 degrees and repeat steps 3-5 until you reach 200 degrees.

At this point, the burner should have ignited if it has then reset the thermostat to its original position and replace the cover of your heater.

If not then there is the possibility that there is a problem with the burner or the thermostat and a professional contractor should be called out to check it.

Relighting the Pilot Light:

Older gas water heater models use a pilot light but modern models will use a spark igniter or a glow plug. If you have a modern heater, refer to the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

The instructions for relighting a pilot light should be printing on the front or side of your water heater tank otherwise it will be in the instruction manual that came with your water heater. In general, the following steps apply to most gas water heaters:

  1. Find the regulator and turn it to the “off” position.
  2. Wait at least 5 minutes for the gas to disperse.
  3. Turn the regulator to “pilot”
  4. If Self Ignition: Hold the ignition button or switch for a minute and then turn regulator to “on”
    If manual Ignition: Using a long reach lighter (such as a BBQ lighter) and ignite where the gas supply pipe is.

If you find the pilot light still does not ignite then there could be an issue with your gas supply or the thermocouple. Seek help from a local contractor or your utility company.

Gas Leaks:

Natural gas is made of a mixture of refinery gasses which are methane, ethane, propane, butane, and pentane. They are obtained during the gas or crude oil refinery process. It is both colorless, odorless and harmful to the human body if ingested or inhaled.

The natural gas that reaches your home has an additive called mercaptan which gives the gas a pungent sulfur smell; similar to that of rotten eggs. This enables you to be able to detect a gas leak.

If you can smell gas in your home, make your way to the gas shut off valve and turn off the gas immediately. Wait for 5 minutes and determine whether if the smell is still persistent and if so, call your utility company immediately and they will advise you of the procedure you should take.

About the Author

Dave Miller is a HVAC technician with over 10 years in the industry. Dave created HeatTalk with the ambition for it to become a resource for individuals looking for answers, whether they be a layman, student or a professional.

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