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Water Heater Repair Guide

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Most homeowners take their water heaters for granted. If they have hot water, then the water heater is working! But, what if you don't have hot water? As one of Metro Atlanta's leading plumbing companies, we see tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages caused by faulty heaters every year! As a result, it is important to learn about proper maintenance and water heater repair so you and your family continues to have the hot water you deserve.

According to a recent study conducted by Allstate Insurance Company, water heater failures remains as one of the top 3 most preventable causes of water damage. In order to prevent your home from suffering unnecessary water damage cleanup costs, learn about a few water heater repair tips. Plus, some general maintenance to keep your water heater working efficiently.

Water Heater Repair Tips

There are various options when it comes to water heater repair. Some homeowners choose to attempt repairs themselves. Conversely, others call a local plumber because water heater repair depends on the type of water heater and your experience. As a result, we offer some of the most common repair solutions. However, we caution you to attempt only those repairs that you think you can handle without professional help. Always be cautious when working on pressurized plumbing lines, faulty repairs can fail hours, days and weeks after completion, typically when nobody is home, these breaches in the closed pressurized plumbing system will cause thousands of dollars in damages!

Electric Water Heater Repair

Many electric water heater issues offer simple solutions by replacing one or both heating elements or thermostats. However, remember to turn off the power to your electric water heater by turning off the circuit breaker or fuse that powers the unit. Additionally, shut off the water supply before attempting repairs, or you might find yourself with a bigger mess than you started with.

In general, there are three primary types of water heater elements that tend to need replacement: screw in, bolt in, and clamp in. If you suspect that the elements are the problem, repairing your water heater is pretty straightforward process. The process includes:

  • testing the elements,
  • removing them if they are indeed malfunctioning, and
  • installing replacements.

However, if the heating elements do not have any issues, the problem may be the thermostat, electrical circuit or cutoff switch. Testing these issues is more complex. Fortunately, they are relatively inexpensive to replace/repair (outside of electrical issues) if one of these parts cause your hot water problems. It's also important to keep in mind that water heaters have a general life span of approximately 10 to 15 years. Therefore, for older models, replacement might be better than repair. Also, hard water is tougher on water heaters overall.

If your home has hard water, it's possible that your unit may fail within the warranty period. If in doubt, call a repair technician for a professional opinion. Keep in mind after 10 years in age, threads and other portions of the connected parts to the water heater become corroded, replacing these parts can cause leaks at the entry point of the given part- this is why a replacement is a much better and cost effective option. When calling a plumber, be sure to ask for options on your replacement water heater, there are many and with rebates from the local utility companies, a direct swap to a new basic tank type may not be the best overall decision when looking at cost to operate and maintain over the life of the heater.

Gas Water Heater Repair

Experienced homeowners can also troubleshoot and provide simple repairs for gas water heaters. First, remember to turn the gas pilot control valve to the "pilot" setting for safety before attempting any repairs. Plus, shut off the water supply to the unit. Routine water heater repair and troubleshooting include:

  • checking the gas pilot flame and pilot operation.
  • retightening, repositioning, or replacing the gas thermocouple.
  • replacing the gas pilot control valve.
  • checking for proper flame from the burner.
  • replacing a sacrificial anode rod with a magnesium anode rod.
  • replacing the anode with a zinc-alloy anode.
  • removing sediment by flushing the water heater.
  • replacing the temperature and pressure relief valve.

Keep in mind that certain signs indicate that it's time to replace your gas water heater. For example, watermarks or heavy rusting in the bottom of the tank and/or water in the bottom of the combustion chamber means replacement is around the corner.

Water Heater Maintenance Guidance

Snappy recommends homeowners work with a trustworthy company that offers annual inspections. Although an annual maintenance plan cannot guarantee prevention of water damage to your home, routine inspections dramatically reduce it, as well as make you aware of issues that can arise and help to provide time to budget for replacement.

Plus, annual maintenance provides an action plan to avoid such catastrophes. Call Snappy to get more information on our Home Protection Plan, it provides annual maintenance on your heating and cooling systems as well as flushing your water heater!

We recommend that only the more advanced do-it-yourselfers attempt water heater maintenance. However, the following provides some basic "water heater 101" of what and why things require inspection.

Flush the Water Heater Tank

Sediment or "scale" is created when hard water is heated. The sediment builds up at the bottom of your tank style heater. This build-up at the bottom of the tank is NO GOOD for several reasons.

  1. Decreases heating efficiency because gas heaters have burners at the bottom of the tank, and electric heaters have elements at the bottom of the tank, the sediment acts as an insulator between the water you want to heat and the heating source. This process causes longer run times to properly heat, which equals more money out of your pocket. These extended run times also create premature failure on the mechanical parts of the heater.
  2. Accelerates damage to your tank because the accumulation of scale at the bottom of the tank becomes an insulator that causes longer run times of your burners or elements. This causes excessive heat at the bottom of the tank, which burns off the protective glass liner, causing the tank to rust and rupture at a quicker pace. It also can cover the bottom element of electric heaters causing it to short out.
  3. Harms the plumbing system because the sediment gets distributed throughout your plumbing system clogging aerators, supply lines and contaminating your potable water throughout your entire home.

Annual water heater flushes are offered as part of our annual maintenance plans. During an annual examination, we also inspect the anode rod and T&P safety valve to ensure your water heater is operating safely and properly.

Water Heater Winter Maintenance

Insulation works to protect your walls, roof and hot water heater. As part of your home winter maintenance, then consider water heater insulation. In particular, check the insulation (or r-value) of older tanks, which should be at least 24. If the r-value is lower, proper insulation could reduce standby heat loss by 25-45%. As a result, you may save between 7-16% in water heating costs.

If you are unsure of your water heater r-value, then the Department of Energy provides a few inspection tips.

  • Check with your utility company because some offer water heater insulating blankets at low prices or rebates. Some utilities even install these at a low or no cost.
  • Be sure that your water heater is not leaking. If your tank leaks, you need a new water heater.
  • For an electric water heater, consider insulating underneath the tank as well. A rigid piece of insulation (or bottom board) helps prevent heat loss into the floor. This could save another 4%-9% of water heating energy.

For step by step instructions, then energy.gov provides more thorough details. However, if you are unsure of the steps, then call a reputable local plumber for insulation (and other maintenance) help.