DIY Hot Water Heater Repair

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In the world of home appliances, it seems the water heater always draws the short straw. By that, I mean it is often overlooked both in terms of its importance and its workload. Let’s start with the former. We all love hot water. We depend on it to clean our dishes, wash clothes, and everyone likes a nice, hot shower. What’s more, we want all of those things on demand. This leads us right into the workload your water heater is saddled with.

Keeping water heated and ready for delivery¬† for appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines is full-time work. Factor in the afore-mentioned hot showers and baths – multiplied exponentially with the number of people living in the home – and it’s easy to see how your water heater can take a pounding. With the wear and tear that can build up quickly, your water heater is a candidate for a breakdown.

Can I Repair My Hot Water Heater?

Well, that depends. If the tank itself becomes damaged, this can result in a bigtime water leak and damage to your home. If that’s the case, replacement is usually the only option. However, many times your water heater can be repaired if it breaks down or isn’t working as efficiently as it should. While referring to your trust hot water heater owner manual, let’s check out the most common problem for electric and gas hot water heaters and what you can do to fix it yourself.

No Hot Water

Is there anything more shocking to the system than stepping into what you think is a hot shower and getting blasted by icy cold water? If your water temperature isn’t where you want it, chances are the issue lies with your water heater.

Electric Water Heater

If your water heater is electric, the thermostat and heating elements need to be checked.

1. First, check the circuit breaker and make sure it’s on and not tripped. Then safely turn it off or get professional assistance.

2. Next, shut off the water to the tank.

3. Most electric water heaters have two elements – one near the top and one near the bottom – which are controlled by separate thermostats.

  • Remove the metal covers on the heater to expose the thermostats and heating elements.

4. Make sure the power is off by touching the electrical connections with a non-contact voltage detector, then check the elements with a continuity tester (also called a hot water heater tester).

  • Both testers are inexpensive and can be found at most hardware stores.

If either of the elements aren’t showing power or are shorting out, drain the water from the tank and remove the element with a heating element wrench and a long screwdriver to turn it. Then replace the element with a similar one, such as the same wattage, etc.

If the elements are testing OK, try changing out the thermostat and/or the hot water cutoff switch (red button located near the upper thermostat).

Gas Hot Water Heater

If the heater is gas, the pilot light, thermocouple, and gas valve should be inspected.

1. If the pilot light isn’t lit, make sure you don’t smell gas and then try to light it.

2. If it doesn’t stay on when you release the button, this may be the result of a faulty thermocouple.

  • The thermocouple can be changed by shutting off the gas supply, unfastening the three bolts and two gas tubes that hold it to the valve, and removing it from the burner.

3. Install a new thermocouple the same way that you removed the old one.

If the pilot light won’t stay lit and the thermocouple has been replaced and is working, a new gas valve may be needed. A couple of other signs the gas valve may be bad:

  • The pilot button doesn’t pop up when you release it
  • The control knob can’t be turned

A gas valve can’t be repaired; if it’s not working, it must be replaced. Shut off the gas to the water heater immediately and replace it.

Call a Plumber

What we have just talked about are the basics of DIY water heater repair. Many times the repairs can be a bit more complicated, or if the tank is damaged and leaking, replacement is needed. Either way, call a professional plumber to handle anything other than simple water heater repairs. In the Fort Wayne, Decatur, Angola, Indianapolis, Greenwood, and Mishawaka, IN areas, that means call the pros at Masters Heating & Cooling!


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