Having on-demand hot water is one of the many modern conveniences that make our lives easier and more comfortable. Most of us don’t stop to think about the systems in our homes that make this possible and know very little about the care and maintenance of these complex mechanical necessities.
Tell-Tale Signs That Your Water Heater Is About To Fail
A majority of the time, you won’t worry about anything being wrong with your hot water heater until you’ve had your first unexpectedly cold shower or notice that it is taking longer than usual to get the expected temperature from the tap. To prevent an unpleasant surprise, here’s a list of the top signs that your water heater may be on the verge of failure.
It Just Might Be Older Than You
Most hot water heaters have an expected service life of 8 to 12 years. If yours has passed this age, it could be just hanging on by a thread. As the average hot water heater ages, internal damage from sediment buildup and continual use, can cause it to develop a leak with little or no warning. Even if you don’t see any direct evidence of a problem, it’s usually a good idea to replace your unit once it reaches the age specified by the manufacturer.
You Could’ve Sworn You Used to Take Longer Showers
Your home’s hot water heater most likely has a capacity of around 50 gallons. When it’s working well, this should provide more than enough water to take a shower in reasonably hot water for at least 20 to 25 minutes before you notice a significant drop-off in temperature. If you’re noticing that you’ve got to keep your showers shorter to avoid the cold water sneaking up on you, your hot water heater might need to be serviced or replaced. Hot water heaters should be flushed out at least once a year to remove sediment, which helps maintain maximum capacity. If you’re already having this done, but still don’t have as much hot water as you used to, it may be time for a replacement.
Water Shouldn’t Smell, Should It?
If you’re beginning to notice that your hot water has an odd smell or appears cloudy as it comes out of the faucet, the hot water heater’s a likely culprit. As the heater ages, it may begin to release mineral deposits from the tank that mix with the water and impart a metallic odor or gritty feel. If this is happening in your home, you should know that these deposits can also clog faucet screens and lead to additional plumbing problems and must be addressed immediately.
Rust Is Not Normal
Hot water heaters are designed to prevent rust build-up resulting from constant contact with water. Cleverly, they include an anode rod (made of magnesium or aluminum/zinc) which is more attractive to the corrosive elements in the water than the material that comprises the tank and fittings. Over time, the rod will be consumed by oxidation and will need replacement. If you cannot replace the rod in your tank, the corrosion will start to spread until you have a new hot water system installed.
Hot water heaters come equipped with pressure relief valves to prevent an excess build-up of pressure in the tank. Hot water heaters can only withstand a certain amount of internal pressure before they fail. If the pressure relief valve is leaking or hissing, it’s possible that it is faulty, but it may just be doing exactly what it’s designed to do; relieving an overpressurized tank. The importance of this sign cannot be overstated. An overpressurized tank can explode, causing serious damage or physical injury to the occupants of the home.
Odd Noises from Your Tank
If you are hearing strange noises coming from your hot water heater like clicking or popping sounds, you will need to have your unit checked or replaced. These sounds mean that your system has a problem with a heating element or that the tank is experiencing metal fatigue from overheating.
Puddles Should Be Outside, Not Inside
Your hot water heater is designed to produce and store hot water so it will be available when and where you need it in your home. If there is a drip coming from your tank or a puddle around the base, you may have a problem. When this symptom occurs, you’ll need to check all of the pipe connections coming into and out of the tank. Also, pay careful attention to all valves and fittings to see if they are the source of the leak. If you can see water coming from the tank itself, you will need to replace your tank before it has the chance to flood your home.