A good water heater will normally provide at least 10 to 13 years of consistent service, but there are any number of things that could cause a breakdown somewhere along the way.  Water heaters are a special case for DIY home repairs.  Any mistakes could lead to horrible consequences, so only attempt your own repairs when you are completely confident in your knowledge and abilities.

In fact, the best repairs are the ones you do before there’s actually a big problem.  Preventative maintenance will save you a lot of time, money, and headaches, so keep an eye on your water heater so you can spot the warning signs before they get out of hand.  However, despite your best efforts, you may start noticing some of the common problems popping up.  For some of them, there are some simple things you can do to get everything running properly again.  For others, you may need to bring in a pro to get it fixed.

Just remember that a lot of things can go really wrong if you make a mistake, so, if you have any doubts at all, no matter what the problem is, be sure to contact someone who understands the ins and outs of the entire system.

Problem #1: Insufficient Hot Water                                

This may simply be the result of too much demand on an undersized water heater.  On the other hand, there might be something more serious going on.  The dip tube might be broken, allowing hot and cold water to mix in the tank, or perhaps there is a problem with the gas supply or the heating element.

If your family is simply using up more hot water at once than your tank can supply, it may be time to upgrade to something larger.   But be sure to check the heating element and gas supply to make sure it’s running as efficiently as it can.

Problem #2: Extremely Slow to Heat

There are a number of factors that could contribute to this.  A faulty heating element is usually to blame if this is something that started happening very suddenly.  Other causes might be that the tank is not sufficiently insulated, and a lot of the heat is leaking out, or perhaps the length and diameter of the pipes between point A and point B are affecting your ability to get hot water quickly.

If the heating element is the culprit, you may need to replace it (though sometimes a repair is possible), but if it is because of one of the other reasons, you will need to look into ways to increase insulation or, if the outlets are a long way from the heater, perhaps a tankless heater closer to the appliance is the answer.

Your plumbing system may take a couple minutes to delivery hot water to the fixture.   To ensure that you have immediate hot tap water, add a hot water recirculation pump to your water heater.  It creates a loop that circulates the water through the hot water pipes back to your water heater.  This is done either through a dedicated line or cold water line.

Problem #3: Strange sounds coming from the tank

There are several potential causes of those strange sounds that might be emanating from your water heater.  Smaller pangs could be the result of something as simple the minerals in the water getting pushed around by rising air bubbles.  A low rumbling noise might come from the water actually boiling inside the tank.  This happens when too much sediment builds up in the bottom of the tank, which leads to overheating and boilage.

You can take care of this by flushing out the water heater.  Simply drain the entire tank and then put some fresh water through it to make sure you get all the sediment out.  Once it’s clean, you can fill it back up, turn it on, and enjoy a more efficient experience.

You may also consider using a water softener in your home because that can help filter out a lot of those minerals that lead to these problems.

Problem #4: Water pooling around the base

If you start to see water pooling at the base of your heater, it could be due to a simple problem, but it might also hint at a more serious issue.  The leak might stem from the tank itself, the temperature and pressure relief valve, or even from one of the other plumbing connections.

You will need to test the valves and inspect the tank to find out if this is where your leak is coming from.  You can try flushing the valves to clear out any sediment and ease the pressure there.  You can also reduce the temperature of the water to stop the tank from overheating

Problem #5: Rust colored water

Assuming the discolored water isn’t a problem with the city’s water supply, you’ve probably got some corrosion going on inside the tank.  It could also be related to the anode rod failing, and leaving some residue.

If you flush out the tank and that doesn’t clear up the problem, you will need to replace the anode rod.

Doing Your Repairs

If something goes wrong with your water heater, and you’re going to attempt some repairs on your own, you need to begin with the simplest things first.  Start with a basic diagnosis to determine your problem and what may be causing it.  Then, once you’ve determined what needs to be done, take all the necessary precautions to ensure that you don’t do more harm than good.

Always pay attention to any manufacturer’s recommendations and follow them carefully.  And always – always – call a professional plumber if you aren’t sure how to go about the repairs.