Troubleshooting Your Water Heater
Sometimes knowing what is wrong with your water heater can be the difference between a smart repair, and a costly new unit installation. While it isn’t always cut in stone there are a few indicators that point to a water heater repair being the better idea of the two. These are important things to know when troubleshooting your water heater. If you have ever found yourself dealing with weird situations like ‘funny smelling water’, in increase in rust color in hot water, a metallic taste in only hot water, or loud popping noises randomly emitted from your unit then you might have been in a situation where you could have benefited from a unit repair. I must preface the rest of the information with a fact that most water heaters only last 10-15 years, and if your unit is that old I would suggest purchasing a new one even if it exhibits some of the traits that are highlighted below.
Indicators of a faulty Water Heater
Rust colored water is probably the most common indicator I have come across over the years. In the field it is quite common to hear this as well as witness it yourself. This is probably one of the easiest fixes for us as well. Many people aren’t aware but there is a device inside of the majority of Water Heaters called the anode rod or sacrificial rod. The sole purpose of the anode rod is to prevent the rest of the unit from rusting through electrolysis. The process of electrolysis is basically a process when there are two pieces of metal in water and one of them dissolves or breaks-down first to protect the other. In this way the anode rod protects the small pieces of steel in your unit from actually being targeted by rust and deteriorating over time. If the anode rode is totally dissolved then the steel in the unit will start to rust and this rust can get mixed in with your hot water. This is why a rust color in a water heater is a sure sign that the anode rod should be checked soon. It is very important that this is addressed in its early stages as rust on the tank itself will lead to corrosion that could puncture the tank and leave your home flooded. These are common indicators to look for when troubleshooting your water heater.
The next indicator is probably less common but something that always stuck in my head. When I was younger my parents used to take me on those oh so fun trips into the country to visit my grand parents for the weekend. I remember hating to take a shower there because the water always smelled like rotten eggs. When I told my parents they quickly shushed me not wanting to embarrass my grand parents. It wasn’t until years later when I was studying plumbing that I came across this is a signal of water heater failure. Usually a funny smell like this is actually the cause of a bacterial infection in the water heater. This can be harmless or it can be dangerous. Though types of dangerous bacteria that grow in water heaters are not as common it is important to get this remedied as soon as possible so that you don’t put yourself or your family at risk. Usually this can be addressed through a full systems flush and cleaning of the internal parts. In some cases we have had to switch to a special zinc anode rod to remove the bacterial infection. Water heaters in vacation homes or seasonal homes can be the most likely to get targeted by these infections as the water stays stagnant for longer periods of time.
Common Water Heater Problems
A less common but still quite frequent call that I get is over a popping noise randomly emitting from the unit. Usually this can be a quick indicator for an excessive buildup of sediment in the water heaters which leads to steam being released at the location of the mineral buildups. The release of steam is actually the cause of the popping sound. We usually treat this by flushing the entire system and sometimes cleaning the internals as well. Usually a full flush of the water will get all of the built up minerals out of the system as well. It is also important to note that the usual cause of the mineral buildup is from the anode rod deteriorating over time. This makes it important to also check the state of the rod during this maintenance.
While many situations can be remedied by repairing your water heater it is always good to just replace a new unit after about 10-15 years. The advancements in technology and energy efficiency usually make this the most long term cost effective solution. If you notice some of the other signs mentioned above then calling your local plumbing service for a repair is probably your best bet.
You may want to consider hiring a professional plumber when troubleshooting your water heater becomes too complicated. They are equipped with the right tools and expertise to handle any water heater situation.