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5 Failing Water Heater Symptoms You Should NEVER Ignore

failing water heater symptoms

Over time your hot water heater will need to be repaired or replaced, even with proper care and use. There are signs along the way that could alert you of a failing water heater. Here are 5 failing water heater symptoms you should never ignore.

1. Lack of Hot Water

Is your shower water lukewarm? Does it take a long time to get hot water from the tap? The most common sign of a failing water heater is a lack of sufficient hot water.

Most standard water heaters contain a 30 to 50-gallon storage tank. As the water is heated (usually by a gas or electric source), water minerals separate and settle at the bottom of the water storage tank. Over time, these mineral deposits build up in the tank and create a barrier between the burner and the water. This means that less heat reaches the water -- and your showers get colder!

The more the sediment builds up, the harder your tank’s heating element has to work. Eventually, the heater will fail -- either leaking or ceasing to operate altogether. The result? A costly water bill caused by leaking and a heater that needs to be completely replaced!

How to Solve It

Schedule annual flushing of your water tank. If your home is prone to hard water, invest in water conditioning to keep water appliances running at their most efficient level.

2. Popping or Rumbling Noises

Water heater noises are another common culprit of water heater failure. If your water heater is making popping, creaking, or rumbling noises, it’s time to call Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. Hard water and mineral buildup are also to blame when it comes to water heater noises. The distinct popping water heater noise is caused by minerals forming a layer on the surface of the water heater. The sound is caused by pockets of air in the sediment layer boiling along with the water in your tank.

How to Solve It

If your water heater still makes noise once sediment has been flushed from the tank, there is probably a more serious problem with the unit overall. Heaters that pop, creak or rumble despite periodic flushing are most likely on the verge of a crack or leak. The best alternative is a replacement before the tank causes a costly leak.

3. Cloudy Water

Does your water look cloudy? Do you detect a metallic scent -- or even taste -- in your tap water? Murky water and funky-smelling water are both signs of a failing water heater. Mineral deposits travel out of the water heater, clouding up the hot water flowing from your taps. A metallic odor and even taste can accompany these deposits. These mineral deposits can impact faucets, clogging elements that control the flow of water. Additionally, a cloudy orange or reddish color in water could mean your water heater tank or house pipes are rusty.

How to Solve It:

If cloudy or rusty water bothers you, you can filter water for a short-term fix. While it does not look appealing, the EPA reports that rust in water does not cause any immediate health concerns. But once rust has reached your tank or pipes, the only solution is to replace them. Take a proactive approach to replace tanks or pipes before corrosion causes a leak.

4. Leaking or Faulty Pressure Relief Valve

There are two major symptoms to pay attention to when it comes to the pressure relief valve on your water heater. Are your temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve leaking? Or, does hot water not flow through the pipe when you test the valve? Both scenarios may involve more than just a valve replacement.

The TPR valve opens to release pressure buildup in the water heater when the temperature or the pressure gets dangerously high, preventing a possible explosion. A buildup of mineral salt, rust, and corrosion can cause a TPR valve to freeze and fail to function.

While rare, a failed safety relief valve can cause catastrophic damage. If your water heater TPR valve malfunctions, water in the tank could exceed boiling point, expand into steam, and propel the tank like a rocket through multiple floors, reports the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. This can cause both personal injury and extensive property damage.

How to Solve It

To test the TPR valve, raise and lower the test lever several times so it lifts the brass stem that the valve is fastened to. Hot water should rush out of the end of the drainpipe. If no water flows through the pipe or you get just a trickle, consult a plumber to replace the valve and ensure that debris or equipment malfunction is not causing a malfunction.

Temperature and pressure relief valves should be professionally tested once a year to assure they are working properly. If you notice a leak, or if the valve does not respond to your test, call a plumber immediately.

5. Leaking Tank Water

Is water pooling beneath your tank? Corrosion within the water tank can lead to fractures and cracks. Leaking hot water from the tank is an obvious sign of trouble and requires replacement of the water heater. A leaking water heater can flood your entire home if not replaced immediately.

Remember, if the leak is from the TPR valve, it could be caused by excessive pressure inside the tank or overheating.

How to Solve It:

If the tank leak is severe, turn off the water supply at your water shut-off valve. While this is only a temporary fix, it will at least prevent a basement flood (and not to mention, gallons of wasted water).

If the leak is coming from the tank and not the valve, it is most likely the tank’s inner lining has corroded due to sediment buildup, age, or neglect. The water heater tank will have to be replaced.

If the leak is coming from the TPR valve, it is essential to call a professional plumber to ensure your tank doesn’t overheat. The good news? You will most likely need to replace only the valve element -- not the entire water tank.