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5 of the Most Common Water Heater Problems & What to Do

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Ah, the water heater. You may not think of it much until something goes awry with the precious water coming from your taps. First, it’s too hot, and now it’s too cold. Now, there’s not enough pressure to have a proper shower. But, don’t fret—your water heater probably needs some attention, and we can help.

We ask a lot from our water heaters, and they work hard to fulfill our need for hot or cold water whenever we want. It’s no surprise that a few common water heater problems arise, both from tank water heaters and tankless water heaters

As a homeowner, it’s helpful to know the issues so you can accurately describe them to the water heater technician if you bring one in (and we’ll explain below why you should).  

Water heater maintenance can be daunting—we know because we created a full-fledged business out of it. Please don’t hesitate to contact Action Furnace if your water heater is causing issues. You don’t have to live with unreliable pressure, hot and cold temperatures scolding and freezing you in the shower, or fixing this yourself. We’re here for you!

Problem #1: Water Temperature Issues

This first problem acts as an umbrella for myriad water temperature issues you might encounter:

  • The water is too hot.
  • The water is too cold.
  • The water takes too long to heat up.
  • It doesn’t heat up enough, leaving you shivering after a tepid shower in the winter. 

Yes, your water heater is responsible for heating your water supply promptly, and when this doesn’t happen, it could be from a number of causes.

  • Your water heater’s thermostat may have been bumped too high or too low. Or, it was turned down during the summer months, and someone forgot to turn it back up.
  • Your pilot light may be damaged or burnt out (gas water heaters), or a breaker was tripped (electric water heaters). 
  • Your water heater is not big enough for your household.
  • There’s an issue with crossed hot and cold water connections.

What to Do About It 

First, you can check the thermostat and set it to your desired temperature. If that doesn’t fix the issue, your faulty thermostat may need some maintenance, in which case, you should call in a technician to have a look.

If it’s a pilot light or breaker issue, you can reignite the pilot light according to your water heater’s directions or flip the breaker switch. 

If you’re not comfortable performing these fixes alone, we’ll be happy to take a look for you and get your temperature control back to normal.

Problem #2: Sediment Buildup in the Tank or Lines

Are you hearing odd noises like popping, hissing, or knocking? Sediment buildup in your water heater can sound like pinging through your pipes as it runs through the lines.

In and around Calgary, the water is “hard” as it has lots of minerals like iron and copper and high concentrations of magnesium and calcium (thanks, Rocky Mountains!). This means your water heaters are more susceptible to accumulating buildup.

This also affects the water pressure since it can get stuck in your faucets and showerhead. The sediment can slow down the water in your pipes, especially if you have an older tank with a smaller pipe diameter.

What to Do About It

To mitigate the buildup, you need to flush out your water heater as it could be built up in the tank or the pipes. You can flush the tank on your own (carefully!), but if you don’t feel confident doing so, please call a pro to ensure no damage is caused to your water system.

Water Heater leaking from underneath as well showing signs of rust around the bottom rim

Problem #3: There’s a Leak Somewhere

If you experience a sudden drop in temperature, your instinct is to look at the water heater for answers. And you see water pooling around the unit. You, my friend, may have a water heater leak. This could be a TP valve failure, a leaking gasket, or loose valves. (Here’s a reminder about the parts of a water heater.) 

What to Do About It

Check for loose valves around your tank and tighten them securely (but not too tight). If you’re not sure where to look, or it appears to be leaking from the gasket or TP valve, call a water heater technician.

Problem #4: Discoloured Water Coming Through Your Taps

It’s early Monday morning, you turn on your tap to brush your teeth, and you see rust-coloured or dirty water flowing out of—not the ideal start to the morning. This could be caused by corrosion inside your water tank resulting from a failing anticorrosion anode rod. 

What to Do About It

Call a professional to assist you with replacing the anode rod to ensure it’s done correctly. If this issue is left untreated, you’ll likely need to replace the entire unit because the corrosion may damage the tank lining and cause a leak.

Problem #5: Your Hot Water Has an Unpleasant Odour

Say you’ve spent all day hiking or riding your bike, and you can’t wait for a hot shower to get clean, but out pours smelly hot water has an odour like rotten eggs or sulphur. This could be a sign of bacteria buildup in your water heater, which is especially common for well-water systems. It could also be a sign of a faulty anode rod.

(Note: if both your hot and cold water emits an unpleasant smell, it could be another issue—best to have a technician take a look for you.)

What to Do About It

You can follow the guidelines in problem #2 and flush the tank, attempting to remove the bacteria and clean your system. Or, you’ll need an anode rod replacement. Either way, the team at Action Furnace will be thrilled to help get your water heater running (and smelling) great again.

Have Your Water Heater Checked Regularly

Having regular maintenance on your water heater can help prevent these common issues from arising. Your friendly technician from Action Furnace can identify these issues before they become a huge, messy, or expensive problem.

Written by Ryan Tutak

Ryan is considered one of Calgary's most knowledgeable residential HVAC specialists. Working in the industry for over 12 years, he's helped thousands of homeowners with their heating and cooling systems. Outside of running Calgary's most reputable HVAC business, you can find him on the Golf course practicing his short game or traveling with his family. His main goal is to create a positive collaborative culture, one in which his employees are excited to come in and are motivated to work hard. He spends the majority of his day working directly with Home Comfort Advisors, Service and Maintenance Technicians, and Customer Service Representatives ensuring they are fully prepared to lead the Home Service Industry in Customer Service.

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