Warning Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is Going Out

Last Updated On June 12, 2024

Updated on November 17, 2021



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warning signs your water heater is going out

You probably squeeze every bit of use you can out of the appliances in your home until they completely break down. Same here!

However, if you wait until your water heater breaks down, it can leave you with cold water unexpectedly – putting the whole household in an icy mood. 

That’s why it’s best to know the warning signs of a failing water heater and prepare before you wind up shivering under the showerhead in the morning while you wait for your new unit.

In this PlumbingNav guide, we will cover:

  • What you need to know about water heater failure
  • Top warning signs hot water heater is going out
  • What does a water heater failure look like
  • How to avoid your hot water heater from going out
  • What should you do if your water heater goes bad?

What's In This Guide?

      What You Need To Know About Water Heater Failure

      All water heaters give out at some point, especially after they work for years to provide your family with hot water. 

      The most common reasons for water heaters to break down involve corrosion and sediment buildup.

      Generally, storage tank water heaters last 10 – 15 years, and tankless water heaters last 20 years. However, numerous variables come into play that can affect how long your water heater lasts. 

      Some factors that affect the quicker deterioration of a water heater include:

      • Hard water
      • Not performing regular maintenance 
      • Excessively high temperatures
      • High usage

      When you notice problems, you may debate whether you need hot water heater repair or whether you need to replace the entire device.

      Top Warning Signs Hot Water Heater Is Going Out

      If you know to keep an eye on the warning signs, you can replace your water heater before it’s too late. 

      Look for these indications of a failing water heater. 

      High Temperatures

      When sediment buildup covers the thermostat, it can damage the thermostat sensor and force it to work overtime, generating dangerously hot water. 

      Sometimes, flushing the water heater can resolve the problem. However, if that doesn’t get the temperature back to a reasonable range, you may need to consider looking into new models. 

      Leaking Tank 

      If you notice a leak in the tank of your water heater, this usually means that the tank has succumbed to corrosion. Corrosion is a natural process where metal begins to rust.

      Anode rods help prevent corrosion, but only to a certain degree. 

      Ensure the leak takes place at the tank and not at the different valves or the plumbing, which you can replace yourself without replacing the entire unit. 

      Rotten Egg Smell

      Sometimes you don’t see the water heater failure as much as you smell it. When the water gets bad, you will know due to the rotten egg, or sulfur, smell. 

      The hydrogen sulfide gas gets into the water through naturally occurring processes in the ground, and it can affect the quality of your water. See this post to learn how you can get rid of this smell.

      Discolored Water

      When rust gets into the water, it can cause discolored, slightly yellow water color. The rust comes from the corrosion of the tank or other materials inside of the water heater.

      Rusty water may not be safe!

      Regular Electrical Trips

      You may notice your electric water heater not producing any water at all. This can be due to the water heater constantly tripping the electric breaker.

      You can reset the water heater, but you shouldn’t need to reset it over and over again. If you do, it may show signs of electrical components not working properly.

      did you know warning signs your water heater is going out soon

      What Does A Water Heater Failure Look Like

      A failing water heater looks quite different from the day someone installed it. It will have more rust and corrosion over the entire unit, and you may notice rusty water. It may also seem to sputter and struggle when it runs. 

      A tankless water heater will not show wear and tear quite as easily. However, you may see corrosion on the valves and notice the unit getting louder. 

      How To Avoid Your Hot Water Heater From Going Out

      Just like your car, your water heater will last longer if you keep up on regular maintenance. Here are some things you can do to prolong the life of your water heater. 

      Two of the main ways people prolong the life of their water heater include changing the anode rod and flushing the water heater. 

      Change Anode Rod

      A sacrificial anode rod attracts the corrosive materials in a water heater tank so that they deteriorate the anode rod instead of the tank itself. However, when the anode rod experiences corrosion to the point of completely deteriorating, you need to change it out. 

      There are three types of anode rods that work best in different situations: 

      • Aluminum – inexpensive and works well with hard water
      • Aluminum/zinc – eliminates sulfur smell with water
      • Magnesium- high-end and effective but requires constant replacement with hard water

      Flush Water Heater 

      Flushing the water heater removes calcium deposits in the tank of your storage tank water heater or the inside of your tankless water heater. 

      You should flush your water heater regularly, especially as it gets older. 

      To flush your storage tank water heater, you simply open up the drain valve to release the water in the tank and keep it running until the water looks clean. 

      Tankless water heaters benefit from a tankless water heater kit that includes a pump, bucket, and hoses to clean out the device. 

      View the inside of four dissected old water heaters:

      Safety Reminder:

      Shut off power to your water heater before performing maintenance! You should also turn off the power source, whether it be fuel or electricity. If you smell carbon monoxide coming from your gas water heater, leave the premises immediately and call for professional assistance, as that’s the sign of a dangerous gas leak. 

      What Should You Do If Your Water Heater Goes Bad?

      If your water heater goes bad, get a new water heater! 

      An old water heater, especially when it contains high levels of rust and calcium deposits, won’t provide healthy potable water (drinking water). This means you can’t use the hot water faucet while cooking or brushing your teeth, and you need to keep your mouth closed in the shower. 

      Defective water heaters may also build up pressure inside the tank. You will know that the unit has too much pressure built up if the pressure relief valve constantly automatically opens to literally let out some steam. If this valve breaks, the unit can become even more pressurized to the point of water heater explosion.

      Are you interested in an upgrade? Look into getting a new tankless water heater to save room and increase efficiency. You may see a return on your investment thanks to the lower utility bills each month.

      FAQs For Warning Signs Hot Water Heater Is Going Out

      What are the signs your hot water heater is going out?

      Some of the signs your water heater is going out are:

      • High temperature
      • Leaking tank
      • Rotten egg smell

      When should I worry about my water heater?

      Worry about your water heater when it approaches its life expectancy. 

      Storage tank water heaters last 10 – 15 years, and tankless water heaters last 20+ years. 

      What is the most common problem with water heaters?

      The two biggest reasons water heaters start to deteriorate are sediment buildup and corrosion. 

      What do you do when your hot water heater goes out?

      Buy a new one! 

      What causes a hot water heater to stop heating?

      A water heater may not heat water properly if it does not have power or fuel. It may also not heat properly if your home’s hot water demands are too high or components in the device, such as the heating element, break down. 

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      About Plumbing Navigator

      We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

      About Plumbing Navigator

      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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