What’s Wrong With My Water Heater?

Water heater problems can be subtle, or they can be… less than subtle. Whatever the case, if you even suspect you have a water heater problem, you should act fast. Nobody wants to pay to replace a water heater because of a preventable issue. The best way to avoid that frustrating situation is to spot potential heater problems early.

Here are the four most common water heater problems, and what they mean. We see each of these issues on a near-daily basis, so we know exactly how to fix and prevent them. If your water heater has any of the following “symptoms”, these are your next steps.

Not Enough Hot Water

You probably encounter this problem in the shower or while washing dishes. As you run your water, you’ll notice it starting to cool down. Turning up the hot faucet may not work, or it may only heat the water for a short period. Your hot water probably comes back and works normally one or two hours after you use it up.

If you’ve never had enough hot water, your heater may be too small for your home. If you haven’t had a problem until recently, there’s probably something’s wrong with your heater’s thermostat. Try adjusting it to see if you can feel a difference. Even if the thermostat’s working, the heating element itself could have burnt out. It’s also possible that a clog has restricted water flow into or out of the heater. Luckily, none of these problems are hard to fix, as long as you call them in early.

Water is Too Hot

Unregulated water heaters can make water dangerously hot. You probably have this problem if you’ve been scalded by your hot water. It’s also a likely culprit if you have trouble getting your faucets to produce a comfortable temperature. This problem is easy to fix, but it can also be a serious health hazard if you don’t address it. If you think your water is too hot, don’t doubt yourself; look into it!

Start by finding your heater’s thermostat and mark its position with a pen. Turn the thermostat to a cooler setting. Wait a couple hours to see if the problem is solved. If it isn’t, listen for boiling in the tank and look for water that comes out of the faucet steaming. In those cases, your temperature-pressure relief valve may be malfunctioning. This is a serious problem that can be dangerous, so you should have it looked at right away.

Discolored or Smelly Water

If all your water looks rusty or smells weird, there’s probably a problem with your pipes. If only your hot water looks weird, however, your water heater is probably at fault. Hot water discoloration comes in several varieties. It could look orange or brown-ish, taste rusty, or feel grainy. It could also look yellow or green-ish and taste gross or feel slimy. Either way, it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with your water heater’s tank.

Usually, hot water discoloration means sediment has built up in your tank. Sediment is made up of hardened minerals that accumulate on the inside of the water heater’s walls. When enough sediment builds up, it causes all kinds of problems–including your discolored water. Try flushing your water heater tank to clean out built up sediment. If the water still tastes rusty, your tank’s rust-preventing anode rod may have worn out. A pro can replace an anode rod easily, but without one, your tank could rust beyond repair relatively quickly.


Water heaters can leak from several different places, and each leak means something different. If the leak is coming from a pipe above the heater, it’s possible the tank itself hasn’t been compromised. The cold inlet, hot outlet, and T&P pipes could all leak from above. Try tightening the problematic valve. If that doesn’t work, then the valve or pipe will have to be replaced.

If the leak is coming from the bottom of the tank, it’s important to determine exactly where it is. The leak could be coming out of the drain valve or your T&P valve below the tank. You can replace those valves and preserve the tank itself. If you notice the water tank itself leaking, however, that probably means it’s corroded beyond the point-of-no-return. Leaking water heaters are a big deal, so you should get yours replaced ASAP.

Water heater problems are a big deal, but they aren’t the end of the world. Don’t talk yourself out of investigating a problem. Trust your instincts: if you think you have a water heater problem, you probably do. Take them seriously and be proactive, and you’ll end up saving a lot of your time, money, and sanity.

Whatever happens, the last thing you should do is panic. Even if you’re afraid your water heater is going to explode, remember that you have back up: us. Give Ben Franklin a call anytime with your water heater problems. Whatever’s going on, we’ll figure it out and fix it up right.